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It was a major police operation involving no less than one superintendent, two deputy superintendents, one inspector, one station inspector, at least five sergeants from the Criminal Investigations Department and a string of rank-and-file officers staking the place out with videocameras. There was even a mysterious informant whose identity could not be revealed.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers spared no effort and public funds to prosecute the case. At least 10 witnesses were called to testify against the accused persons in a trial that lasted almost a year.
You would think this is the trial of the decade that involved busting a major drug syndicate or crippling a notorious triad. You would be wrong.
The matter involved six persons gathered in downtown Singapore distributing flyers. This is where an autocratic regime can, and often will, outdo itself in the Silly Department.
All this because our law enforcement agencies felt it necessary to stop members of the opposition, namely Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ms Chee Siok Chin and three others from passing out material that intended to, according to the charge, “demonstrate opposition to the actions of the Government.”
Indeed Deputy Public Prosecutor Anandan Bala told the court that it wasn’t just the act of distributing flyers that was the offence, it was the content of the flyers that was also unlawful.
So let’s take a look at the content and see what is so unlawful about it:
The first sentence in the flyer reads: “Tired of being a voiceless, 2nd-class citizen in your own country without any rights?” The second one says “Sick of the Ministers paying themselves millions of dollars while they tell you to keep making sacrifices for Singapore?”
The Prosecution is relying on these statements to show that the distribution of the flyer amounted to opposing the actions of the Government, and therefore illegal.
All this was apparently lost on Law Minister K Shanmugam who had expressed ire at a talk he gave at the New York State Bar Association a couple of days ago. He waxed indignant that the American media gave its readers the impression that Singapore is a repressive state that controlled people’s very thoughts.
Maybe that’s because the Singapore state prosecutes the opposition for demonstrating opposition to the Government’s actions.
Or could it be the fact that it is an offence to distribute flyers accusing the ministers of overpaying themselves?
Or perhaps, it is that Singaporeans cannot be reminded that they are voiceless in their own country.
To paraphrase the Bard, the Minister doth protest too much.* His audience was propbably more amused than surprised by the denial. After all, Kim Jong-Il tells the world that the North Korean people love him and he loves them right back.
And so while Mr Shanmugam tells America that there is no repression in Singapore, his audience politely nod and smirk that ‘yeah-right’ smirk.
Think about it. Which governments need to repeatedly declare that they don’t repress their citizens? The ones that repress their citizens, of course.
*To “protest too much” is to insist so strongly about something not being true that people begin to suspect maybe it is true.