Look to Singapore? Be careful what you wish for

March 18, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

Mr William Dobson, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote a piece in the Washington Post The best guide for Gitmo? Look to Singapore in which he lauded the rehabilitation program of the Internal Security Act.

In response Dr Chee Soon Juan submitted the following letter Look to Singapore? Be careful what you wish for to the newspaper:

Mr William Dobson’s take on the rehabilitation of terrorist suspects in Singapore borders on the propagandistic. He writes that since 2001, 40 former terrorists have been rehabilitated and released.

To be clear the suspects are held under the Internal Security Act (ISA), the same Act that “rehabilitated” and “de-programed” more than one hundred opposition members, journalists, and trade union leaders who were detained in the 1960s for being communists.

The same Act that imprisoned opposition member of parliament, Chia Thye Poh, for 32 years without a trial.

The same Act that was used to rehabilitate a group of lawyers, Catholic church workers and social activists for seeking to “violently overthrow” the Singapore government through a Marxist network.

William Dobson

William Dobson

The fact that not a single shred of evidence has been presented against these detainees doesn’t seem to bother Mr Dobson who incredibly lives in a country that prides itself on the rule of law.

Such a rehabilitation program has been so successful that there is no political opposition or civil society to speak of in Singapore.

Of course like in Guantanamo, rehabilitation in Singapore comes with beatings and other forms of torture. At least one prisoner has been reported to have died in Singapore’s cells.

But unlike Guantanamo there is no debate on the detentions because there is no free press and free speech in my country.

Unlike Guantanamo, there can be no change in the government that administers the ISA because Singapore is not a democracy.

And unlike Guantanamo, there is no one and no institution here to intervene on behalf of the detainees. One stands guilty as accused until your accuser “rehabilitates” you.

The writer cites the president of the state-sanctioned Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, Mr Alami Musa, as saying that “Singapore is the one place in the world I know where relations between the government and the Muslim community are better after 9/11.” How Mr Alami arrives at his conclusion is unquestioned and Mr Dobson passes the remark off as fact.

What the writer doesn’t say (or may not realise) is that any Muslim, or any one else for that matter, who disagrees with Mr Alami’s view and tries to effect change even through peaceful means runs the danger of being accused of stirring religious sentiment and detained under the ISA, or its cousin the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.

Mr Dobson describes the regime in Singapore as a strict law-and-order government because it bans chewing gum. Banning chewing gum is the least of our problems. The government recently passed Public Order Act that effectively bans even one lone individual from carrying out a protest.This is not strictness, it is repression.

I should know. I’ve been imprisoned seven times for various crimes such as speaking in public without a permit, questioning the independence of the judiciary, and attempting to leave the country. I have been barred from traveling overseas because I have been made a bankrupt through repeated defamation suits by government leaders. My associates and I face a total of about 70 charges for taking part in public protests.

Look to Singapore? Mr Dobson should be careful what he wishes for.

Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party