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TV New Zealand
19 Feb 06
Singapore’s Prime Minister is in New Zealand mainly to talk about defence and trade, but the question of free speech is not on the table given Singapore’s opposition leader faces charges in that country for speaking in public without a government permit.
At a media conference at the Beehive, Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong and Prime Minister Helen Clark were asked if they had discussed free speech in relation to the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, Chee Soon Juan.
Lee then launched an attack on the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party.
“This man and his party are not credible – he’s a liar, he’s a cheat, he’s deceitful he’s confrontational and it’s a destructive form of politics designed not to win elections in Singapore but to impress foreign supporters and to make himself out to be a matyr.”
The Singapore Democratic Party won 23% of the vote in recent elections but Lee says that does not put him above the law.
“If you take that attitude the law applies to everybody and if you decide to infringe the laws you have to take the consequences,” said Lee.
However some believe Clark should speak out about how the Singaporean government operates.
“If you criticise the government they take defamation against you, they make you pay a large fine, and then because you can’t pay the fine you go bankrupt, and because you go bankrupt you get kicked out of parliament,” said Green Party co-leader Russsel Norman.
“It’s pretty obvious that Singapore runs in a way that wouldn’t be acceptable to NZ, but I haven’t raised that specific issue with him.”
Lee also called on Don Brash, but any sympathy the leader of the opposition has with his counterpart in Singapore went unspoken – free speech didn’t get a mention.
Dr Chee Soon Juan’s letter to NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark
19 Jun 2006
The Hon. Helen Clark
New Zealand High Commission
Dear Prime Minister Clark,
If you recall, we had met at your request at the New Zealand High Commission several years ago when you visited Singapore as Opposition Leader. I had raised then the issue of the lack of political freedoms in Singapore and expressed the need for democratic-minded politicians in the region to show solidarity.
It is with sadness, therefore, that I read news reports that you had neglected to bring up the issue of the suppression of democracy and the violation of human rights in Singapore with your counterpart, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Opposition politicians continue to be prosecuted for conducting legitimate democratic activities and sued for defamation; several now live in exile. Elections in Singapore remain a farce but are held in order to showcase to the world that Singapore is a democracy. Freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly continue to be denied on the island. The Singapore media languish in 140th position out of 167 countries surveyed by Reporters Without Borders, a shade better than Laos’.
As man cannot live by bread alone, so too nations cannot deal with one another exclusively on trade. If it is stability and prosperity that New Zealand seeks in Asia, then ignoring the matter of human rights and democracy in the region is most unwise. In there is still any doubt on this matter, the lesson in Indonesia under Suharto offers a ready lesson.
As Chairman of the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (a regional alliance of Asian democrats) and a presenter at the III Ministerial Meeting of the Community of Democracies (an international body of democratic governments to promote human rights throughout the world) in Santiago, Chile where your compatriot, The Hon Jenny Shipley, was present, may I also take this opportunity to encourage New Zealand, to take a more proactive interest in the democratic development of countries in Asia – including Singapore’s.
If you would like more information on the violation of human rights and the denial of democratic freedoms in Singapore and Asia, I am happy to provide it.
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party