Singapore opposition politician released from prison

November 9, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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Associated Press –

A Singapore opposition leader was released from prison Saturday after serving five weeks for trespassing and holding an illegal rally, and he immediately vowed to continue his battle for more free speech in the city-state.

“I will make sure the fight goes on,” Chee Soon Juan, head of the Singapore Democratic Party, said outside Queenstown Remand Prison shortly after his release.

He predicted his actions would land him behind bars again.

“What I have gone through is nothing, but in the longer term I have a sneaking suspicion I will be back again,” he said.

Chee had been jailed twice before for speaking in public without a permit.

He also lost a defamation suit brought against him by the country’s senior leaders over remarks he made during an election campaign last year.

His latest convictions were over a rally his party staged on the grounds of the country’s presidential palace on May 1, Singapore’s Labor Day.

Singapore forbids holding public rallies without government approval, and authorities had denied the party’s application for the rally.

Chee was offered the choice of paying a fine of 4,500 Singapore dollars (US$2,500) or serving a five-week jail term. He choose the latter.

He argued that he was not trespassing because the palace grounds were open to the public for the holiday.

Chee said Singapore’s stifling heat made sleep difficult during his imprisonment, but that the experience had strengthened his faith in the value of democracy.

“It is inevitable that one day we will succeed in our fight for free speech,” he said.

Critics accuse Singapore’s long-ruling People’s Action Party of using defamation suits and curbs on public speech to stifle political opponents.

Opposition parties hold just two of the 84 elected seats in Parliament.

Government leaders argue that their tight management has helped make Singapore an oasis of stability and prosperity in often turbulent Southeast Asia. – AP