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Singapore not an open society: George Soros
Singapore is not an “open” society, US billionaire financier George Soros said, urging the government to stop using financially damaging libel suits against political opponents.
“Obviously, Singapore does not qualify as an open society,” Soros said to loud applause from a packed audience of hundreds of students and academics.
He was speaking at a forum during which he expounded on his foundation’s mission to improve political freedom and freedom of speech worldwide as part of his so-called open society.
“But Singapore is a prosperous society and prosperity and open society go together. So I hope that Singapore will become an open society.
“I think there is now a desire for greater openness, and I think that there is an enlightened leadership… I am hoping that this leadership will be great enough to take that next step in development.”
Soros was responding to a student who asked him whether he thought Singapore, Southeast Asia’s most advanced economy, was open or closed.
Without mentioning names, Soros referred to a local politician who he said was “in trouble in Singapore because he has been sued for libel and he’s been bankrupt and would not be able to stand for parliament.”
It was an apparent reference to opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam, who was declared bankrupt in 2001 for failing to pay defamation damages awarded to leaders of the ruling People’s Action Party, including former prime minister Goh Chok Tong.
Bankrupts in Singapore are barred from running for public office.
Critics of the government have accused the PAP of using defamation suits to silence the political opposition, whose members already have their activities curbed by strict laws against rallies and little access to the mainstream media.
PAP leaders have said libel suits are necessary to defend their reputations.
But Soros said “the use of libel and financial penalty can be a tremendous hindrance to freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
“So if I have to select one particular spot where Singapore could take a step forward, it would be in not using that method to suppress freedom of expression.”
Soros is founder and chairman of the Open Society Institute, a network of philanthropic organizations active in more than 50 countries.
Soros: Libel suits curb free speech
U.S. billionaire philanthropist George Soros said Wednesday that Singapore could not be an open society as long as its leaders used libel suits against opposition politicians.
“The use of libel…can be a tremendous hindrance to freedom of expression,” Soros said in response to questions at a seminar. “Obviously, Singapore doesn’t qualify as an open society.”
The U.S. State Department and Amnesty International have previously accused Singapore’s top politicians of using defamation lawsuits to remove their opponents from public life.
Gillian Ong, a spokeswoman for Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry, said officials were discussing whether to respond to Soros’ comments. Singapore’s leaders have said they sue because it is the most effective way to protect their reputations.
“If I had to select one particular spot where Singapore could take a step forward, it would be in not using that method to suppress freedom of expression,” Soros said. “There is now a desire for greater openness and I think that there is enlightened leadership, and I hope that they will take that next step.”
Opposition leader Joshua B. Jeyaretnam lost his parliamentary seat in 2001 when he was bankrupted after being unable to pay damages that resulted from lawsuits filed against him by members of the ruling party in 1997.
Under Singapore law, the civil rights activist’s status as bankrupt prevents him from running for political office.
Jeyaretnam’s creditors include the founding father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, the city-state’s then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Jeyaretnam was sued for revealing at an election rally that his colleague had filed a criminal complaint accusing the ruling party leaders of defamation.
At least two other opposition leaders have been sued for libel by the ruling party, including Tang Liang Hong of the Worker’s Party and Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party.