Singapore opposition camps out in park

September 17, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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Deutsche Presse Agentur
17 Sep 06

Undaunted by sleeping in a park, a pro-democracy political party head and his five supporters resumed on Sunday a second day of trying to hold a march and rally while “the world is watching.”

Opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, his sister Chee Siok Chin and five others were thwarted by police every time they tried to leave the park containing the city-state’s version of London’s famed Speaker’s Corner.

Their efforts started at mid-morning on Saturday. They remained throughout the night.

Police locked arms and surrounded them each time they tried to depart.

A spokeswoman said police were “engaging” Chee and his associates.

Chee said he was trying to exercise “our right to speak freely” through the march and rally.

The spectacle evoked expressions of shock from foreign passers-by who are attending the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

The city-state was already the focus of criticism for its earlier banning of 27 civil society organization (CSO) members from the event. Authorities lifted the prohibition against 22 of them on Friday.

Chee, the 44-year-old head of the Singapore Democratic Party, and the others were receiving food and water from sympathizers.

The park contains the city-state’s version of London’s famed Speaker’s Corner.

It was started in 2000 to give the public an opportunity to speak.

Registering with police is required. Speakers are prohibited from discussing subjects that could ignore religious or racial violence or threaten national security.

Chee intended to march past Parliament House, the Suntec City convention centre where the meetings are going on and then hold a rally calling for the rights to assembly and free speech.

Outdoor rallies and other gatherings of more than four people require a permit in Singapore, which Chee did not have. He said he applied for one, but never received a reply.

Chee is no stranger to controversy. Police a week ago stopped him from handing out pamphlets urging the public to participate in the march and rally.

He was found guilty on Tuesday in a defamation case brought against him by the government for articles he wrote in the party’s newsletter.