Singapore activist defiant after jail term

November 13, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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South China Morning Post
By Jake Lloyd-Smith

A SINGAPORE opposition leader was defiant yesterday (Nov 9) as he walked free from prison at the end of a five-week sentence for breaking the city-state’s strict laws on free speech and assembly.

Speaking at the gates of Queenstown Remand Prison, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) secretary-general Chee Soon Juan said: “It has strengthened my resolve and given me a deeper insight … to want to see democracy come to Singapore.”

The remarks are the latest salvo in what has become a long-running battle between the People’s Action Party government and one of its most vocal domestic critics.

Mr Chee served two shorter jail sentences in 1999 for the same offence. Surrounded by well-wishers, Mr Chee said the sentence had “done me a lot of good in the sense that it allowed me the time to read and reflect on what I have been trying to do”.

Mr Chee and party associate Gandhi Ambalam were jailed on October 9 for attempting to hold a rally at the gates of the presidential palace without a permit.

Under the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act, all public gatherings in Singapore must be sanctioned by the police.

The authorities had denied the SDP permission for the May 1 event, citing potential law and order problems. But Mr Chee proceeded regardless and was arrested with Mr Ambalam. In court last month, Mr Chee was fined S$4000 (HK$17,694) for breaching the Act and a further S$500 for wilful trespass. He was jailed after refusing to pay the fines.

Mr Ambalam was fined S$3000 for not having a permit and for disorderly behaviour.

He served one night in prison and settled his fines the next day.
While in detention, Mr Chee petitioned the president for a review of the Act, which he claimed violates the constitution and was used in a partial manner against the ruling party’s opponents.

He said he had yet to hear from President S. R. Nathan.

A spokesman for the Home Affairs Ministry said yesterday: “If Dr Chee genuinely believes the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act is unconstitutional, he should challenge it in the court.”

The authorities have argued the constitutional right to free speech outlined in the constitution’s Article 14 might be circumscribed in the interests of law and order, and national security.

Officials also say the Act was an essential plank in maintaining domestic stability.

Mr Chee said it was likely he would see the inside of another Queenstown cell. “I am prepared to do what is necessary to bring democracy, even it means I have to come back here,” he said.