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Singapore police are investigating an opposition politician who distributed leaflets urging people to attend a rally during this week’s IMF and World Bank meetings, police said.
The move comes after criticism of the city-state’s uncompromising clampdown on free speech, which has tarnished efforts to showcase itself as a modern Asian financial centre during the IMF and World Bank annual gathering.
Police said they found a group of people at Raffles City, a downtown shopping complex near the site of the IMF meetings, with stacks of pamphlets on Sunday urging participation in an outdoor rally and march next Saturday.
Among the group was Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party, the statement said. Chee is one of a rare few in Singapore who has spoken out against the People’s Action Party which has ruled since 1959.
“The police seized these pamphlets and investigations have been initiated,” the statement said.
Citing security reasons including fears of attacks by extremists, Singapore has refused to waive a longstanding ban on outdoor protests despite an appeal from the World Bank.
Police said they have already rejected two applications by Chee to hold an outdoor rally but he continues to post a notice about his plan on the party website. He has also “added new postings, including one giving details of the 16 September rally and march and urging the public to participate in this activity,” the statement added.
In Chee’s latest posting headlined “Government harassment begins,” he alleged police could not tell him and two other activists what offence they had committed by distributing leaflets.
They were told only that it was a “seizable offence,” he said.
In an earlier statement, the party website said the peaceful rally aims to “support the struggle for democracy in Singapore” while also highlighting the “economic hardship” of many Singaporeans.
It said marchers would walk to parliament, the presidential palace and also to Suntec City, site of the IMF/World Bank meetings which are attracting about 16,000 delegates.
Police said the three locations “are sensitive buildings and could disrupt and compromise our security arrangements, particularly during the IMF/WB annual meetings period when we are on high alert.”
The investigation comes after World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz told the BBC that Singapore made a “bad” decision when it blocked activists invited to the event as part of an established dialogue process.
“I hope Singapore’s authorities will change their minds and allow the people in that we have accredited, as originally agreed,” he said.
“We may not always agree with what they (the activists) have to say, but it is very important to have that discussion,” Wolfowitz was quoted as saying at the weekend.
Lidy Nacpil, international director of Jubilee South, a non-government group campaigning for greater debt relief for poor countries, also criticised the clampdown.
“What this shows is that the Singapore government is afraid of democracy,” she told AFP by telephone from Manila.
“Our activities are not even directed at the Singapore government but at the IMF and World Bank.”
Chee has served three jail terms — a total of about two months — for speaking publicly without a permit.
He was declared bankrupt in February for failing to pay 500,000 Singapore dollars (318,000 US) in defamation damages to former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.
In March Chee spent eight days in jail for questioning the integrity of the city state’s judicial system. He was the first person ever jailed for an offence known as “scandalizing the court”.
Ahead of general elections in May, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father Lee Kuan Yew filed another defamation suit against Chee for allegedly implying they are corrupt.
A hearing on that case was scheduled for Monday.