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December 14, 2006
Her Excellency Ambassador Chan Heng Chee
Embassy of Singapore
3501 International Place, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Dear Ambassador Chan:
We are writing to express our concern about the imprisonment of Dr. Chee Soon Juan as well as his treatment while in custody. On November 23, 2006, Dr. Chee was sentenced to five-weeks of detention in Queenstown Remand Prison under Singapore’s Public Entertainment and Meeting Act, which requires a police permit for public events of more than five people. We urge you to immediately release Dr. Chee and his colleagues, and to ensure proper medical care for as long as he remains in custody.
Two other members of the Singapore Democratic Party, Gandhi Ambalam and Yap Keng Ho, were also charged under the law for speaking to passersby while distributing party newspapers. The three were imprisoned after refusing to pay fines on principle.
We are concerned also about reports that Dr Chee’s health is suffering, including symptoms of low blood pressure, blood in his urine, and abdominal pain. He was temporarily transferred to a prison ward of Changi General Hospital on December 3 but may not have adequate access to appropriate food and medical treatment, or sufficient contact with his family members.
This conviction is just one of many legal processes Dr. Chee is facing. Taken together they appear to be part of a concerted campaign to punish non-violent political activity.
Since 1992, when he joined the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, Dr. Chee has faced official pressure, including defamation and other charges resulting in his imprisonment on at least four occasions. In 2002, Dr. Chee was sued for defamation by former Prime Ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, following statements at an election rally in 2001. As a result of damages awarded to the plaintiffs, Dr. Chee was declared bankrupt. Earlier this year Dr. Chee was imprisoned for seven days for criticizing the judiciary at his bankruptcy hearing. As we noted with concern in our letter to the Government of Singapore on April 4, Dr. Chee was also prevented from traveling to the Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy. He now faces prosecution for these plans to leave the country.
A representative of our organization attended Dr. Chee’s appeal to the High Court in February and April 2003 and found the trial to be flawed and inconsistent with international fair trial standards. We continue to follow his situation and are disturbed by these latest developments.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right recognized by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and guaranteed by the Singaporean Constitution under Article 14(1)(a). Dr. Chee should not be punished or prevented from using this right to express a point of view in a non-violent manner. Dr. Chee should be released immediately and all pending legal actions against him should be reviewed to ensure that they do not violate universally recognized human rights standards.
We also urge the Government of Singapore to review the legal framework on public speaking to ensure that it is consistent with Singapore’s constitution and international obligations to uphold fundamental freedoms of expression and association.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this serious matter.
Director, Human Rights Defenders Program