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Ms Chee Siok Chin called on the world’s democratic leaders to band together even as the autocrats learn from one another how to make repression more effective.
The SDP leader was speaking at the Fifth World Movement for Democracy (WMD) Assembly held last week in Kyiv, Ukraine. Dissident-turned-President Victor Yuschenko was at hand to welcome the participants.
The WMD is a global network of democrats, including activists, practitioners, academics, policy makers and funders who come together to cooperate in the promotion of democracy.
Ms Chee spoke about how the PAP Government uses its trade, business and investment relations to dissuade the international community from paying attention to the violation of basic rights in the country.
She pointed out how regimes in Russia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Africa were learning from each other in using trade to fend of democratic development.
She was invited in a plenary session on Defending Civil Society together with prominent dissidents such as Venezuela’s Carlos Ponce (right in photograph), Egypt’s Saad Ibrahim (second from right) and Russia’s Yuri Dzhibladze (fifth from right). (Looking on are Paul Graham of the Council of Community of Democracies, third from right, and Doug Rutzen from the International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law, left)
As the world’s dictators are learning from each other, Ms Chee urged the democrats to stand together to “stop this tumour from spreading” by paying more attention to the tactics used by the Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party.
She told the audience about the oppression in Singapore, adding that the system in Singapore is a threat to democracies around the globe.
At one of the workshops, Ms Chee presented the Singapore case on the best strategies to counter government restrictions on assembly, association and advocacy. She told the participants about how the government abuses the rule of law to prohibit peaceful assemblies.
Even when protesters abide by keeping assemblies to four persons or less, the police will bend the law and make arrests or threats. Ms Chee said that Singaporeans must distinguish between just and unjust laws; laws that are meant to protect the people and laws that are meant to perpetuate those in power.
As such, the only viable strategy is to defy unjust laws by engaging in peaceful protests. She said that democracy and human rights advocates were encouraged by their counterparts in Malaysia and Burma. A participant form Bahrain echoed Ms Chee’s call, noting the similarity in his country.
Ms Chee also conducted a press conference attended by local journalists with democracy advocates from Egypt, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Russia. She was asked about how active opposition political parties are in Singapore. Ms Chee said that the Singapore Democrats were vocal against the many injustices in the country. That is why other than harassment from the police, the party is being sued by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his son, PM Lee Hsien Loong, for defamation.
Many participants commended Ms Chee for her presentation and expressed their support for the local activists. One described her speech as “awesome.” They said that they would follow developments in Singapore.
Ms Ayo Obe, the Chair of the WMD, pointed out in her opening speech that Singapore is a country that has a facade of a modern and free society but was a repressive one in reality.
Mr Larry Diamond, a professor at Stanford University and author of several acclaimed books on democracy, presented his latest one entitled The Spirit of Democracy to the SDP leader. Professor Diamond was in Singapore last year to give a lecture at the Institute of Policy Studies. He also met with Mr Lee Kuan Yew during his visit.
Ms Chee also spoke to the Malaysian participants at the Assembly and discussed how Singapore the civil societies could cooperate to make progress in the development of democracy in the two countries.
The Assembly also saw the award of of the Democracy Courage Tributes to the Monks of Burma, the Legal Community of Pakistan and the Journalists of Somalia.