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Not one looking for prestige and position Sylvester Lim keeps a low profile, preferring to go about helping the Tak Boleh Tahan! campaign in his winsome and unassuming ways. Together with 17 other activists, Sylvester is charged with taking part in a protest against the rising cost of living in Singapore.
So what made him take the plunge?
“Anger,” he says. “Anger at myself for the fear, the fear of speaking out. I have had enough of being afraid of the government. Almost everyone that we speak with are complaining about the high cost of living.
“But they feel helpless. They know that the government is very stingy and that it is not doing much to help the masses while it enriches itself.
“But at the same time, people feel powerless to do anything about the situation. They are almost like giving up hope and just resigning to whatever comes their way.”
Seeing this and after overcoming his own fear, encouraged by the SDP’s leadership by example, Sylvester decided to take up a more prominent role.
“Of course, my wife and I are still afraid of the consequences. We are human beings with feelings. But we care enough for our family and our country. If we don’t make a stand, then who will?” he says. “If everyone waits for the next guy to do something first, nothing will happen.”
So how did he feel when he was first arrested and brought to the police station on 15 Mar 08?
“I was very tense and afraid,” admitted the activist. “But having made up my mind and resolved to stand up against injustice, I got to experience the unfairness of our system first hand.
“The police officers were doing their jobs with efficiency, but I suspect that they were surprised that we were not scared of them. The positive attitude of my fellow protesters helped to lighten the mood when we were in the lock-up. We even sang songs like We Shall Overcome.”
Will he be afraid when he goes to court on 11 July to answer charges of conducting a procession and assembly without a permit?
“No. What we are doing is not wrong and should be encouraged. The government should be afraid, as more and more people are standing up against it. We can see the rise in the support for our actions and it is this spark that will become a raging fire.”
A doting husband and father, Sylvester acknowledges that he is fortunate to have his wife who is supportive of what he does. Initially, because of the fear, she did not want him to be too exposed and to be in the frontline.
“But having met Dr Chee and the rest over a period of time, we are convinced that this was the right thing to do,” he says.
“When the police delivered the charge letter to my residence, my wife calmly signed for it on my behalf,” he recounts. “When my son asked about it, she just told him in front of the officers that the government wanted to charge his father for protesting. The police seemed surprised that they were not intimidated and accepted the letter so readily.”
In this regard, Sylvester who runs his own business, is unlike his fellow Singaporeans.
“No,” he disagrees, “we are just normal Singaporeans wanting a better life for ourselves, our children, family and our country. We love our country and want our country to be a better place to live, work and retire. The only difference is that we have overcome the fear of the government.”
Sylvester harbours the hope of seeing a freer society in Singapore, one whose citizens are able to speak out freely, one that is compassionate and dynamic. This comes with more opposition in parliament where policies are debated robustly.
“I especially want to see our children placed under less stress and more welfare assistance for our elderly,” he adds. “When I heard my son and his friends wanting to leave Singapore for good, I feel very sad for our country. In fact, many of them have already left Singapore.”
The mild-mannered defender of democracy has a simple yet profound message for his fellow Singaporeans: “Individually, we cannot do much. But as a large group supporting each other, we can change Singapore.
“How long more are we Singaporeans going to continue to live in fear and allow the government to do anything they want without consequences?
“If we don’t step forward, who is going to? If we don’t take action, who is going to make the change for our families?”
Sylvester ended the interview with these telling words: “There is something wrong with our society and we need to have the moral courage to stand up and take action. We are just normal Singaporeans who love our country and do what we should be doing as citizens.”
We urge all of you reading Sylvester’s words to take action. You don’t have to do anything earth-shattering to contribute to the cause. Just come to Sub-Court No. 23 at 9 am this Friday and say hello to those who have been charged.