Singapore opposition politician jailed over rally

October 9, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, was sentenced to five weeks jail on Wednesday for trying to stage a May Day rally without a permit at the entrance to the grounds of the President’s official residence.

Chee, the Singapore Democratic Party chief, chose jail over a S$4,500 ($2,540) fine, which the court had imposed for trespassing on government property and attempting to speak without permit.

“I won’t co-operate with unjust laws,” Chee said during a break from the court session.

Another opposition politician, Ghandhi Ambalam, also appearing in court under similar charges, was convicted and fined S$3,000 but chose to serve a default four-weeks jail sentence.

Under the city state’s Public Entertainments and Meetings Act, anyone who wants to make a speech has to obtain a police permit, which is also required to hold public events such as concerts and political rallies.

“In any other democratic country these laws will not be applied selectively on the opposition and not on the ruling party,” Chee said.

Chee, who wanted to speak on “People Against Poverty” (PAP) — a pun on the acronym of the ruling People’s Action Party — had his permit application rejected by the police, who cited potential law and order problems.

The former academic has repeatedly tested the free speech laws in Singapore and was awarded fines for two separate convictions in 1999 and another one earlier this year — all for speaking without permit.

Chee has been in jail twice before for refusing to pay a fine, once for seven days and another for 12 days, making his latest stay of five weeks the longest yet.

The opposition leader also faces financial ruin and permanent exclusion from parliament after the High Court found him liable for damages in defamation lawsuits brought by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew.