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Singapore acted like an “authoritarian state” by gagging members of the European parliament in a move that could hinder efforts to reach a partnership and co-operation agreement, the MEPs said Friday.
The seven MEPs along with a Cambodian and a Congresswoman from the Philippines said Singapore denied them permission to speak Friday night at a forum to discuss the development of democracy in Asia and Europe.
“I fear that, in this sense at least, it puts Singapore in a league with North Korea, Myanmar and the People’s Republic of China,” Graham Watson, a United Kingdom Member of the European Parliament, told a press conference.
“Now that is not where I believe Singapore is, or where I believe Singapore should be.”
Watson, who leads the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), said they were conducting a parliamentary mission to Singapore and had come from Indonesia where they spoke at a forum without any interference.
“What has happened today proves that Singapore is an authoritarian state,” said Ignasi Guardans, a Spanish MEP.
The Cambodian and Philippines delegates represented the Council of Asian Liberal and Democrats (CALD).
The ALDE-CALD delegates were invited to address the forum organised by their sister party, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) led by Chee Soon Juan, one of a few in Singapore to have spoken out against the People’s Action Party (PAP) which has ruled since 1959.
Chee has had numerous battles with local authorities.
Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said the SDP applied to police for a licence to hold the public forum, and asked the ICA for professional visit passes “for several foreigners” invited to speak at the event.
“The police and ICA respectively have rejected the SDP’s applications for a permit to conduct this public forum and for professional visit passes for the foreign speakers on the ground of public interest,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Singapore’s politics are reserved for Singaporeans. As visitors to our country, foreigners should not abuse their privilege by interfering in our domestic politics.”
On its website, SDP said the forum was to “register your disgust” at pay hikes for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, cabinet ministers and civil servants.
The pay rises have sparked rare public fury in the conservative city-state.
But the MEPs said they did not come to discuss Singapore’s internal affairs.
Watson said Singapore’s decision “will not help with the difficult task” of finalising a partnership and cooperation agreement which both sides began discussing about two years ago.
Such agreements provide rules that govern trade, exchange of criminal suspects, return of refugees and other issues while including clauses about respect for human rights, he said.
“The refusal to allow a basic political dialogue on issues of common concern clearly makes it more difficult to negotiate any such agreement,” he said.
Ambassador Holger Standertskjold, head of the European Commission’s delegation to Singapore, said the EU “regretted” that the MEPs could not speak at a public meeting organised by another legally recognised political party.
The forum was to proceed with speakers from the SDP, while the foreign delegation vowed to remain silent, and would return to Europe Friday night.
“We are not terrorists. We are not dangerous radicals,” Watson said.
The Ministry of Home Affairs said Chee’s party is free to organise public meetings “provided they do so lawfully.”
Since independence in 1965, Singapore has grown from a third-world country to an Asian economic powerhouse.
But critics say this has come at a price, in the form of restrictions on freedom of speech and political activity.
Singapore restricts debate on ministers’ pay
13 Apr 07
Singapore has banned seven foreigners, including three members of the European Parliament, from speaking at an opposition party debate on Friday on a big pay hike for ministers and civil servants.
The government said this week that ministers and senior civil servants would enjoy a 60 percent pay increase, giving them an average salary of S$1.9 million ($1.25 million).
The prime minister’s pay is set to jump to S$3.1 million – five times what the president of the United States earns.
The announcement has drawn widespread criticism from ordinary Singaporeans given the country’s widening income gap and the fact the city-state’s ministers were already among the highest-paid in the world.
The police told the Singapore Democratic Party it could not hold a public forum on Friday to discuss the increases, and the immigration authority rejected applications for professional visit passes for the seven foreigners the SDP invited to speak.
“Singapore’s politics are reserved for Singaporeans. As visitors to our country, foreigners should not abuse their privilege by interfering in our domestic politics,” the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement issued on its Web site late on Thursday.
“Foreigners who abuse the privileges that Singapore accords to guests and visitors, and meddle in Singapore’s domestic politics, are not welcome here,” the Ministry said.
The barred speakers include European parliament members Graham Watson of the United Kingdom, Anders Samuelsen of Denmark, and Lydie Polfer of Luxembourg, a former deputy prime minister of that country.
Under Singapore’s Public Entertainments and Meetings Act, public speaking is generally prohibited unless it has been licensed by the government.
Singaporeans who wish to speak indoors do not need to be licensed, but forums featuring foreign speakers require a permit, the ministry said.
Chee Siok Chin, sister of party leader Chee Soon Juan and a senior party member herself, said the SDP would go ahead with the forum with local speakers.
“You have this autocratic government coming down and showing utter disrespect for our international peers. I’m ashamed,” she said on Friday.
She said the seven foreigners barred from speaking at the forum are currently in Singapore.
According to the SDP Web site, Chee Soon Juan plans to speak at the forum and rebut remarks made by Lee Kuan Yew, modern Singapore’s first prime minister, about the ministers’ pay hike.
Lee said earlier this week that Singapore should pay ministers competitive wages because the city-state needs an “extraordinary government with extraordinary government officers”.