Parliamentarians condemn lawsuits in S’pore

March 2, 2004
Singapore Democrats

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Below is a statement issued by the International Movement of Parliamentarians entitled “Systematic Bankrupting of Singaporean Opposition” (http://www.wmd.org/parliamentarian/singapore.html)

The International Movement of Parliamentarians (IMPD) has become increasingly concerned about the pattern of defamation suits in Singapore against opposition politicians to silence criticism and opposition activity.

The most recent incident occurred in the 2001 general election when Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew filed a libel suit against opposition candidate Chee Soon Juan. Chee Soon Juan, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, had publicly questioned the prime minister and other government officials about the justification and result of a US$10million loan to former Indonesian President Suharto. Although Chee Soon Juan later apologized for the manner of his questioning, the apology was rejected. Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew filed a lawsuit demanding a formal apology and the payment of damages and costs for the attack on their “character, competence and integrity.” The resulting libel suit could bankrupt Chee Soon Juan and make him ineligible to contest future elections.

Previous lawsuits were filed in 1997 against Workers’ Party parliamentary candidate Tang Liang Hong and JB Jeyaretnam. During the 1997 parliamentary elections, People’s Action Party (PAP) leaders labeled Tang Liang Hong an “Anti-Christian, Chinese chauvinist” for his call to teach Mandarin to Chinese minorities in Singapore. In response, Tang Liang Hong filed a police report discrediting the accusation and saying it was made to incite hatred against him. Those PAP leaders named in Tang Liang Hong’s police report filed a defamation suit and were awarded US$2.3million.

Responding to the labeling of Tang Liang Hong, JB Jeyaretnam, the Workers’ Party leader, was also sued by Goh Chok Tong, Lee Kuan Yew and other PAP leaders when he said “Mr. Tang Liang Hong has just placed before me two reports he made to police against, you know, Mr. Goh Chok Tong and his people” during an election rally. An additional libel suit against JB Jeyaretnam was filed in 2001 deriving from a 1995 article in the Worker’s Party newspaper.

Chee Soon Juan’s case is still under review in the Singapore courts. Following the 1997 elections, death threats forced Tang Liang Hong to flee Singapore. He has not returned and has declared bankruptcy. JB Jeyaretnam has also declared bankruptcy, was expelled from parliament, and prohibited from practicing law or participating in the 2001 general election.

The International Movement of Parliamentarians condemns the use of defamation suits to silence the political opposition in Singapore. Having stymied the open political participation of the opposition, the use of suits has violated not only the rights of freedom of speech and political activity not only of the opposition, but also of the entire electorate. We urge members of the IMPD to raise this issue with Singaporean authorities and speak out against the continuing harassment of opposition MPs in Singapore. We further urge members of the IMPD to call for a dismissal of the defamation suit filed against Chee Soon Juan.