Singapore jails opposition leader over public speaking

November 24, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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Koh Gui Qing
Reuters
23 Nov 06

A Singapore court jailed an opposition leader for five weeks on Thursday over his failure to pay a fine for speaking in public without a permit.

Chee Soon Juan, one of Singapore’s most vocal opposition politicians and leader of the tiny Singapore Democratic Party, committed the speaking offence on April 22, two weeks before the country’s general election.

The court initially fined him S$5,000 and because he refused to pay, he and two of his supporters were jailed.

“Every hour, every day, every month that I spend in jail only strengthens my resolve to fight,” the 44-year-old Chee told the court before the verdict was read.

Chee hugged his wife and three young children before police led him away.

A vocal campaigner for human rights and free speech, Chee was jailed for eight days in March for questioning the independence of Singapore’s judiciary. He was jailed for five weeks in 2002, and 12 days and one week in 1999 for speaking in public without permit.

Chee grabbed world headlines in September, when he and a small group of supporters spent four days in a public park as Singapore police blocked them from holding a protest march during the IMF-World Bank annual meeting in Singapore.

SDP supporters Yap Keng Ho and Gandhi Ambalam were fined S$2,000 and S$3,000 respectively. As they also refused to pay, they will be jailed for 10 days and three weeks respectively.

Singapore has been criticised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International for its tight controls on political expression, and the use of defamation lawsuits by Singapore’s leaders to silence and bankrupt opposition politicians.

The city-state has been ruled by the People’s Action Party (PAP) since independence in 1965. Its Public Entertainments and Meetings Act (PEMA) prohibits public speaking unless speakers have been licenced by the government.

“The PEMA has been used by the PAP to prosecute and deter legitimate political activity,” Chee told the court.

Chee — declared bankrupt in February after failing to make libel payments of S$500,000 ($322,000) to former Prime Ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong — said he had “absolutely no remorse” for his actions, and vowed to continue fighting for democracy in the city-state.

The SDP did not win any parliament seats in the May election, but won 23 percent of the votes in the wards that it contested.

Chee and his sister, Chee Siok Chin — also a senior member of the SDP — are also facing a defamation lawsuit launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father Lee Kuan Yew over an article in the SDP’s newsletter.

Chee Siok Chin told Reuters that a group of SDP supporters will hold vigils outside the Queenstown Remand Prison to protest against the imprisonment.

An acerbic critic of the Singapore government, Chee has had several run-ins with the PAP. In 1993, months after he ran in a by-election for the SDP, Chee was sacked from his job as a lecturer at the National University of Singapore, which accused him of improperly using S$226 (US$137) for postage.

When Chee said the evidence was fabricated, he was sued for defamation by his former department head — a PAP member of parliament — and ordered to pay $200,000 plus court costs.

Dr Chee Soon Juan’s statement:Trial a mockery of justice