Chee replies to Clarence Chang

December 15, 2005
Singapore Democrats

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Below is Dr Chee Soon Juan’s reply to Mr Clarence Chang’s piece Singapore bashers abroad. Mr Chang is a journalist with The New Paper, an afternoon tabloid owned by the state-run Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). The Straits Times, Today, and Lianhe Zaobao (Chinese daily), all SPH newspapers, have also published articles criticising Dr Chee over the same subject. All of them have refused to publish Dr Chee’s replies.

Mr Clarence Chang is in dire need of enlightenment (Singapore bashers abroad, The New Paper, 7 Dec 05).

Like the rest of his colleagues in the PAP-controlled press room, Mr Chang lambastes me for hurting Singapore’s image and cites my protests, questions, and call for civil disobedience as examples.

It is vintage PAP. When it cannot answer the charges and uncomfortable questions its opponents raise, it launches ad hominem attacks. It is a tried and tested strategy of dictatorships all over.

In a familiar fashion, Burma’s daily, The New Light of Myanmar, regularly says that Aung San Suu Kyi has “sold herself and the country to foreigners” and calls on her party, the National League for Democracy, to dump her.

Hong Kong’s opposition leader Martin Lee has been accused by the Communists in Beijing of “bad-mouthing” the territory whenever he is overseas.

Dissidents like Kim Dae Jung, who became South Korea’s president; Benigno Aquino, whose assassination toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos; Andrei Sakharov; whose dissent helped to bring an end to the Soviet Union; and even Nelson Mandela were all accused by their governments of what the PAP and its newspapers are accusing me of today.

I bring up these examples not to compare myself to these luminaries, but to highlight that dictatorships invariably resort to accusing their opponents of being traitorous individuals out to destroy the good name of the country. (By the way, Mr Chang would do well to cite where I have compared myself to Mahatma Gandhi.)

By pasting the image of the PAP all over the image of the country, any criticism of the ruling gang will be quickly portrayed as disloyalty to the State. Let me say it again: the PAP is not Singapore and Singapore is not the PAP.

Another reason why I mention these democracy figures is because each and every one of them have, in the course of their struggles, reached out to the international community for support. Aung San Suu Kyi tells the democratic world to “use your liberty to help promote ours [in Burma]” and calls for economic sanctions on Burma. Martin Lee recently told the US Senate about the China’s encroachment on democratic freedoms in Hong Kong. Kim Dae Jung sought exile in the US and campaigned for democracy in South Korea from there.

Without the international community’s support, and at times intervention, dictatorships will continue to punish, censor, and intimidate their hapless citizens.

Mr Chang uses that much-loved PAP word “antics” to describe my call to the international community to put an end to the hypocrisy of killing small-time drug peddlers. Then he stops. He dares not continue about what the hypocrisy is: The Singapore Government’s investments in Burma of which “over half”, according to former US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Gelbard, “have been tied to the family of narco-trafficker Lo Hsing Han.”

Mr Lo Hsing Han, together with his son, who has been banned form the US for suspected drug activities, is known to travel freely in and out of Singapore. Remember, drugs produced by Mr Lo find their way into Singapore and are consumed by Singaporeans.

International experts have also said that Singapore’s financial system is where the drug syndicates launder their money.

Execute small-time drug couriers while dealing with druglords? This is hardly the way to deal with the drug problem, is it? It is also the one point that the PAP continues to censor.

I would be happy to debate and take on the PAP on this matter in Singapore. The problem, as I have pointed out, is that the PAP will not allow the subject to be discussed in this country.

The piece also mentions my citing of the Michael Fay and Julia Bohl cases. Again, it suddenly ends and doesn’t follow through to show how they support the writer’s point (which is that I am a Singapore basher).

I brought these cases up to show that the PAP does bow to external pressure, in these cases the American and German governments. It is Singaporeans that the PAP does not listen to, the very people who supposedly give the PAP its power.

In the Bohl case, the German authorities intervened and the marijuana she was carrying was subsequently “purified” and found to be less that the original amount which would have led her to the gallows. Ms Bohl was also convicted of consuming the drug ketamine, and to have possessed other drugs, not just marijuana. She was also convicted of allowing her apartment to be used for narcotics trafficking and was accused of belonging to a drug syndicate that supplied drugs to nightspots in Singapore. She was sentenced to five years in prison but served only three for good behaviour.

Compare this to the late Shanmugam s/o Murugesu who had also carried marijuana, but nothing else. A Singaporean, Shanmugam served in the army for eight years and the Singapore Sports Council for another four. He had also represented Singapore in sports. Despite the protests of Singaporeans, he was executed.

Such criticisms of our Government, whether they come from me or the international community, are not “potshots”, as Mr Chang derides. They are matters that call out to our national conscience and Singaporeans need to examine them, and where necessary make amends.

If we are going to engage the internationally community, which we increasingly must, then let us not continue to dismiss international opinion of us out-of-hand. It will be to our country’s detriment.

The honesty to ask questions of our own conscience requires courage; the stupidity to constantly thump our chests in misplaced nationalistic bravado needs only cowardice.

I want my country to have a soul where we can be honest and courageous, rather than nationalistic and cowardly.

CHEE SOON JUAN

Secretary-General

Singapore Democratic Party

Singapore bashers abroad
Clarence Chang
The Electric New Paper

07 Dec 05

If it’s Singapore-bashing season, you know Dr Chee Soon Juan is just around the corner.

To me and other post-1965 generation Singaporeans, he has always been an enigma.

Dr Chee claims to be anti-PAP, not anti-Singapore but his many antics have hurt Singapore’s image.

Intending to speak up for the plight of workers, he created a stir outside the Istana in 2002. Police officers later moved in and arrested him for speaking without a permit.

He got the publicity he wanted – foreign photographers clicked away as he was led into a police van.

To some foreign observers, the self-titled ‘pro-democracy’ fighter was denied freedom to speak.

On assignment in Washington DC last year, I remember the astonished faces around me as he suddenly popped up at a terrorism talk by then-PM Goh Chok Tong to highlight what he called Singapore’s ‘marginalised’ Malays.

He showed up too at Williams College in Boston in 1996, where Mr Goh was being conferred an honorary degree.

His much-publicised heckling of Mr Goh at the last election, his numerous run-ins with the law, his legal tangles with PAP leaders – they all have attracted foreign media attention as well.

His latest tactic: Urging Singaporeans to use civil disobedience as a catalyst for change.

Then last week, in the thick of the media uproar over Australian drug trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van’s hanging, he even compared himself to Mahatma Gandhi. This, coming after his call for a so-called ‘global protest’ against Singapore while he was in Australia two weeks ago.

The SDP chief had been quoted as saying on Australian Broadcasting Corporation television: ‘The international community… should put a stop to this insanity.’

Last Friday night, he also said in a phone interview with CNN: ‘The Singapore Government is always saying we’re a sovereign country and our law must take its course… Well, this is not true!’

He cited the reduction of American teenage vandal Michael Fay’s caning sentence in 1994, and of German student Julia Bohl’s drug smuggling charge in 2002 as examples where foreign ‘pressure’ has and can work.

‘Singapore continues to do this kind of excruciatingly hypocritical executions of small-time drug peddlers,’ he added.

‘The international community must… help us in Singapore evolve democracy and be able to change some of these very unjust laws.’

Such antics might provide soundbites for the foreign media but do Singaporeans appreciate them?

A typical comment came from The New Paper reader Ace Kindred Cheong.

He wrote in this paper: ‘Does Dr Chee realise how many people the world over have died from drug abuse?… Does he want to see drug addicts lying in a daze on our streets as is happening elsewhere?’

Straits Times reader Siow Jia Rui put it even more bluntly:

‘As a Singaporean, it is shameful of Dr Chee to actively call on other countries to interfere in Singapore’s judicial process. This is another clear example of how low he will stoop to undermine Singapore…’

Dr Chee, whatever his intentions and whatever the issue, always seems to be saddled with the label ‘Singapore basher’ – someone who scores opportunistic own goals against his own country.

A fellow journalist had this rhetorical question: If Dr Chee is almost bankrupt (which he himself had claimed this year after the High Court ordered him to pay $500,000 in damages for defaming Mr Goh and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew), then how is he still able to jet around the world so frequently?

Indeed, a check with the SDP’s own website throws up a number of foreign organisational links, like the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia, and the World Movement for Democracy.

Dr Chee’s supporters, no doubt, will accuse his political enemies and the local media of demonising him.

They’ll argue that he’s anti-PAP, not anti-Singapore, which is why he hasn’t packed his bags and left.

In fact, Dr Chee has said he intends to stick around and campaign for political reform come election time – even though, after his $4,500 fine in 2002 for speaking on religion at the Speakers’ Corner, he’s not eligible to stand as a candidate this time round.

Even people who are sympathetic towards him are not thrilled at the way he strikes out. If he’s truly sincere in wanting to change the status quo in Singapore, he first needs to make the domestic audience – his fellow citizens – trust him.

Fighting his battles from the outside, and throwing his weight behind foreigners who fire potshots our way, will never endear him to Singaporeans.