ST interviews but does not publish information

October 23, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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Recently, the Straits Times sent out a list of questions to various political figures, both within and outside of Singapore, to solicit information in order to write a report. Below is the response Mr Francis Seow gave. Compare this to the report that was eventually printed (article following) and one can see how information is hoarded and censored by the local media. Dr Chee Soon Juan was also asked a series of questions by the Straits Times but did not reply.

This is not the first time such an exercise has taken place. Local journalists routinely ask oppositionists and democracy activists all sorts of questions, often unrelated to the subject matter at hand. Invariably little, if any, of the information is published. One wonders what the information gathered is used for.

This is just another instance of the wretched state of affairs Singapore journalism is in, especially when it comes to reporting about political matters that challenge the status quo.

A Straits Times journalist, Tan Tarn How recently interviewed by e-mail, former Solicitor General Francis Seow.

From Singapore Window
The Sunday Times, Oct 19, carried a report , Fugitive dissidents form group to fight for free speech, and made references to Mr Seow.
The former Solicior General, after reading the ST report said, “It was a travesty of the answers to the questionnaire.” The following is Mr Seow’s replies to the Straits Times.

Q. What have you been busy with lately?
A. I have myriad things and interests to keep me busy. I have just completed a book, entitled Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary — an analysis of the multiple defamation proceedings by Lee Kuan Yew and his PAP myrmidons against political opponents — Tang Liang Hong and JB Jeyaretnam — viewed through the prism of the Hotel Properties Limited, whose luxury condominium units in the chic purlieus of Singapore were purchased at controversial discounts by the entire Lee family, and more especially Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong, not to mention Justice Lai Kew Chai. The manuscript will be published by Yale Universitys Center for International and Area Studies.

I am now working on another book, Murder by Scuba: The Sunny Ang Trial. It is a case of legal and historical interest. Ang was charged with and convicted of the murder at sea of the bar maid Jenny Cheok, whose misfortune was to have loved him blindly. Her body was never found.
When I am otherwise not writing, I give presentations on aspects of Singapore, the last one of which was at the University of Chicago.

Q. Are you attached to any organisation?
A. I am not quite sure to what you are referring. If you mean whether I am still with Harvard Law School, the answer is no.

Q. Which part of the US are you living in now?
A. Boston, Massachusetts.

Q. Do you still keep in touch with what’s happening in Singapore? How do you get news about Singapore?
A. Of course. It is my constant study. In this day and age, it is not too difficult to get as you put it — news about Singapore. There are the Internet avenues, such as Singapore-window.org, Singaporeans for democracy.org, to mention but two, and your Straits Times Interactive.

Q. Do you hope to return to Singapore one day? Why?
A. But of course. It is the country of my birth and my ancestral home, thats why.

Q. How do you feel about being away for so long? Do you miss Singapore, and what do you miss?
A. My absence from Singapore was not of own choosing.
But truth to tell, I do not really miss Singapore. There are many pursuits over here, as I have said, that keep me well occupied. Boston is not only the historical but also the intellectual and the medical capital of the States, amongst other things.
If I do miss anything, it is my dear mother, a scion of one of Singapores Brahmanic families but we keep in touch through letters and the Internet. She has just celebrated her 97th birthday. I do not miss anything else not even its food!

Q. Do you feel you are a Singapore at heart? Why?
A. This is an inane question. I am not an arriviste or a temporary Singaporean. As stated, my family traces its origin to the early founding of Singapore — and beyond to omphalic Malacca.

Q. What are theirs thoughts now on the events leading up to you having to leave?
A. I take it you mean my thoughts. They have not changed one iota. Read my book To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yews Prison.

Q. Do you still keep in touch with other ‘exiles’ such as Mr Tang Liang Hong, Mr Tan Wah Piow and Mr Zulfikar? What is your view of the exile association that Mr Zulfikar has set up?
A. The contextual phrase still keep in touch is not only vague but suggestive of many construction. I occasionally hear from Tang, and more rarely, from Tan Wah Piow, who incidentally is doing extremely well in his law practice in London. Mr Zulfikar is not known to me. What HAS the Singapore government done to him to make him leave paradise? I do not know of any exile association that has set been up by Mr. Zulfikar or whoever or its objects.

Q. Do you still have your Singapore citizenship? How are your feelings on losing it? What nationality are you now?
A. Now, this is another inane question. I do not know that I had lost my citizenship. This question is best addressed to the Singapore government. I have not been informed that I have lost my natural born right of citizenship. Even so, no ill-conceived or arbitrary executive diktat can obliterate the historical bonds between the country of my forbears and me.

Q. I realise these are a lot of questions! Is it possible to get a recent picture of you for publication?
A. The Straits Times archives have already albums galore of my photographs. For your information, I have not changed all that much.

Q. I understand that you have been unwell, and hope to confirm that.
A. Nothing of any moment for concern. I have been assured I will live for a long time more.

Fugitive dissidents form group to fight for free speech
Sunday Times
19 October 2003

Led by ex-Fateha website chief, the Melbourne-based group aims to educate S’poreans on activism
Tan Tarn How and Neo Hui Min

A GROUP of Singapore dissidents, led by a controversial activist on the run, has set up an association in Australia to fight for free speech here and educate foreigners on Singapore politics.

Called the Association For Democracy In Singapore, it is headed by Mr
Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, the former head of Muslim website Fateha who fled Singapore last year amid a police probe into a criminal defamation case.

Now a research fellow with Monash University, he told the Sunday Times that the group was registered as a society in Melbourne a few months ago.

It is being advised by opposition stalwart J.B. Jeyaretnam, Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan and former Workers’ Party election candidate Tang Liang Hong.

The group’s work will extend the efforts already made by the advisers and others in the international arena for democracy and human rights.

They include Singapore’s most well-known exile, fugitive activist and lawyer Tan Wah Piow, and the former solicitor-general and opposition candidate Francis Seow.

They plug into a network of institutions sympathetic to their cause, receiving moral encouragement such as awards and other support such as funds or appointments.

Prior to the setting up of the association, these people had worked loosely together or as individuals campaigning against the Singapore Government.

The Melbourne-based group aims to educate Singaporeans on free speech and activism, including the use of defamation suits against political opponents, which Mr Zulfikar said had made Singaporeans apathetic and fearful of politics. It aims to hold a conference here next year about workers rights with a few other groups, he said, but declined to identify them.

Unionists from overseas who can help train Singapore workers about rights and activism will be invited to the event, he said. ‘Like the Government, we believe Singapore needs foreign talent,’ he added.

The group also wants to let foreigners, such as academics, activists and policy makers, know about the ‘extent of control over dissent’ here, he said.

It also hopes to air a radio news programme for Singapore listeners via an Indonesian station, an idea hatched by Mr Zulfikar three years ago that failed to take off then. Apart from him, the association is run by another staffer and funded by contributions.

Mr Jeyaretnam said though he believed the fight of dissidents should be carried out here, there was no harm if others preferred to work from abroad.

But Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang, MP for Hougang, was sceptical: ‘I don’t believe in those who say they aiguo, but they go to another country to say they aiguo.’

Aiguo is Chinese for ‘love the country’.

But he added that some Singaporeans ‘have no choice’.

As for the others, he had this to say: ‘If it’s just a matter of going to jail, how long can you jail me for? ‘