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23 Nov 06
The verdict was a foregone conclusion. Milling outside the court room, some people shook their heads in disbelief at the harshness of the sentences for such a “small crime”. Others expressed relief that the maximum sentence was not invoked. The curial question, however, is why anyone should be prosecuted at all for speaking in public in a democratic society.
Dr. Chee Soon Juan is being imprisoned for five weeks for speaking publicly at Yishun during the last Singapore general election. His colleague, Mr. Gandhi Ambalam, is being jailed for three weeks and his supporter, Mr. Yap Keng Ho for 10 days.
At 7pm, outside the Queenstown Remand Prison, a dozen of supporters gathered to keep vigil for the three men. It was our expression of solidarity with those who have been persecuted for exercising their rights to free speech. As darkness fell, the entrance to the cold, foreboding fortress was illuminated with the flickers of candles. Dr. Chee’s wife and three lovely children arrived and joined the group. Carrying a candle each, signifying the light we need in these dark hours of our nation, we accompanied the three prisoners of conscience till midnight.
A new supporter, Mr. Leong, was visibly touched by the gathering. He expressed admiration for our show of solidarity with our prisoner friends and was glad he came to share the moment with us.
The vigil-keepers found solace in each other. The mood was sombre, yet hopeful. We even joked about belting out a few familiar tunes in the hopes that our three friends will hear us. After all, it is hope that sustains us and keeps us going along the road towards genuine democracy for Singapore.
We intend to keep the light burning for the next seven days as a symbol of our hope for a free and democratic society. If you have similar hope and aspiration for your nation, we invite you to join us outside the Queenstown Remand Prison daily between 7 and 12pm.