Opposition Chief Chee Jailed

October 12, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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Opposition chief Chee jailed Chee Soon Juan invokes the spirit of Mandela as he gets five weeks for refusal to pay rally case fines

South China Morning Post

A SINGAPORE court has jailed opposition leader Chee Soon Juan for five weeks after he refused to pay a fine for breaking the country’s strict rules on public gatherings.

Invoking the spirit of resistance leaders from Aung San Suu Kyi to Nelson Mandela, the secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) remained defiant and urged fellow citizens to follow his stance.

“There are many ways of achieving democracy: one of the ways is to engage in civil resistance,” he said yesterday ahead of his sentencing. “Individuals all over the world have a duty . . . not only to speak up, but to challenge and defy these unjust laws.”

Gandhi Ambalam, an SDP executive, was also ordered by the court to serve a four-week sentence after he refused to pay fines of S$3000 (HK$13,000).

The two men were arrested by police on May 1 outside the gates of the presidential palace, where they attempted to hold a workers’ rights rally without a police permit.

Police had denied Chee permission for the event, citing potential law and order problems.

Despite the rejection, Chee tried to proceed with the rally in a calculated act of defiance to highlight what the SDP claims are unjust and oppressive laws.

After police warnings to leave, Chee was arrested almost two hours before his speech was scheduled to start, and led away to a waiting van.

Chee has a long record of challenging the Singapore authorities. In 1999 he served two brief jail sentences after refusing to pay fines for speaking in public without a licence.

District Judge Roy Neighbour said in his verdict yesterday that the two men had acted “in total disregard of the law”. The men’s trial opened on September 30 and lasted six days.

Chee was fined S$4000 for attempting to provide public entertainment without a licence and a further S$500 for wilful trespass. The presidential palace, which was open to the public on May 1, is state property.

“Both the accused clearly had no satisfactory excuse to be on the premises,” District Judge Neighbour said.

Ambalam was fined S$2,000 for failing to have a licence and S$500 for wilful trepass. He was also found guilty of disorderly conduct, for which he was fined S$500. “His voice was loud and could be clearly heard,” the judge said. “His shouts cast aspersions on the government and the manner in which the police force were treating [Chee].”

Drawing on police testimony, the judge added that Ambalam had also been seen “gesticulating with a yellow file”.

In a statement issued by their followers, the two SDP leaders said they were not surprised to lose their case and said Singapore’s laws were designed to benefit the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). Although there was no comment yesterday from the PAP, its leaders have in the past rejected the SDP’s charge.

Chee and Ambalam urged Singaporeans to join them in a campaign of “disciplined and mature civil disobedience”.

“We have chosen to go to prison because our consciences dictate that we cannot look the other way when unjust and oppressive laws continue to be wielded against the defenceless and poor in our country,” they said.

“Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi and Kim Dae-jung… were considered criminals and imprisoned for breaking unjust laws during their time. Today they have become international leaders and beacons of hope,” they added.

PAP stalwart Lee Kuan Yew, the Senior Minister, loathes Chee and during last November’s election called him a cheat and a political gangster.

According to an AFP report, Oct 9, when the court adjourned for five minutes for the prosecution to check a fact, Chee’s wife was seen passing him a travel bag.

Chee later told reporters it was full of books for him to read in jail because there is “nothing else to do there in there.”

While Neighbour was reading his judgement, Chee’s four-month-old baby girl was heard wailing outside the court.

Chee told reporters during the break that his elder daughter, now three and a half years old, had been born while he was imprisoned for contravening the Public Entertainments Act which governs public gatherings, in 1999.