Excerpts from New book on Asia’s Dissidents – Part II

May 13, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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The leaflet in question was not a revolutionary tract. Called “The New Democrat,” it had on its cover a picture of Chee (Soon Juan), grinning in a blue suit and tie, shaking hands with Jimmy Carter. Readers were invited to join the SDP to “ensure transparency and accountability in the PAP government.”

…most of the paper was taken up with a defense of freedom of speech, as though its value were not self-evident. The authors argued that speaking out freely did not mean riots in the streets. “Freedom of speech,” they said, in perfect Singaporean technocratese, “generates an open and thinking society which is the cornerstone of a knowledge-based society.” That this passes for subversive literature is a sophisticated city-state is both bizzare and sad …

…like Chia Thye Poh a generation before, Chee felt it was his civic duty to enter Singaporean politics. To shut up and play the game, as most people did, would be too humiliating. And that is when his troubles began…

…Soon after Chee put up his name as an SDP candidate, he was sued by the head of his department for misusing university funds to mail a personal document. It was an extraordinary petty charge. But Chee lost the case and his job. His allegation that the charge was politically motivated was dismissed, and he was forced to pay $235,000 (U.S.) in damages. A hat was passed around for donations from wealthy Singaporeans who had often grumbled about the government in private. But they turned away now, as though Chee had a contagious disease. Chee had to sell everything he had. More lawsuits followed, as well problems with tax authorities. Though he is the only qualified neuropsychologist in Singapore, no one will employ him. The promising young man had lost his caste, and would now live in the margins. Officially, he had become a bad character, a threat to the common good. Former colleagues refused to return his calls. Chee had become literally untouchable. He told me that people who bought his book in the streets would throw money at him as to avoid direct contact – and these were, presumably, sympathizers…

…In our conversation, Chee kept returning to a single question: If the government is so sure that everyone is happy, why then should it want to do everything in its power to stop a lone critic from being heard?

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– an excerpt from Bad Elements : Chinese Rebels From Los Angeles to Beijing by Ian Buruma. The book is available at Kinokuniya, Ngee Ann City and Select Books, Tanglin Shopping Centre.