Young Democrats: Give Singaporeans back their political rights

March 17, 2005
Singapore Democrats

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Press release: Grant Freedom of Assembly, Speech and Association to all NGOs and Singaporeans

Young Democrats strongly condemn and protests against the decision by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to allow foreign accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) hold peaceful protests and demonstrations.

In the upcoming 2006 International Monetary Fund and World Bank board of governors annual meeting, 300 foreign accredited NGOs that apply with the local authorities, will be allowed to hold peaceful protests and demonstrations. This right to protest will, however, be denied to Singaporeans and Singaporean NGOs.

History has shown that Singaporeans who have gathered peacefully to protest has been severely warned or punished by the government. For example, in 2001 15 members of the Falun Gong spiritual group were arrested for holding a vigil in memory of group members who had died in custody in China. Seven of them were sentenced to four weeks in prison and eight were fined for holding a rally without a police permit.

Dr Chee Soon Juan, Secretary General of the Singapore Democratic Party and his party colleague Gandhi Ambalam were arrested for trying to hold a May Day Rally in 2002 after their application was rejected by the police. Dr Chee was jailed for five weeks. The SDP leader has also been fined and jailed for various attempts for speaking in public without permit.

On another occasion, six protestors were prevented by the police from a peaceful protest when they demonstrated outside the American embassy against the Iraq War.

Applications for freedom of assemblies have also been rejected, without any justification.

An application for women’s groups to hold a walk in support of the White Ribbon Campaign on violence against women was denied last year.

Veteran Singapore opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam was refused by the police to hold a peaceful protest against the goods and services tax (GST) hike on January 5 2003.

All these are recent examples of how the government has refused to grant this very fundamental civil liberty, which is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, for Singaporeans.

Though the Singapore Constitution part IV, Section 14 on freedom of speech, assembly and association states that (a) every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression; (b) all citizens of Singapore have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and (c) all citizens of Singapore have the right to form associations these guarantees are subjected to vaguely defined clauses by the government. The process of evaluating applications for peaceful protests is not transparent nor is it standardised.

The inconsistent actions and statements of the government in allowing certain protests have made a mockery out of existing laws. For example, in 1998 Mr Ong Teng Cheong and National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) members led an anti-USA march, reported to be attended by 4,000 Singaporeans without any incident. The march was conducted peacefully showing that Singaporeans are able to protest peacefully.

Hence, to prohibit Opposition Parties, activists and NGOs to do the same is sheer double standard.

On 11 March 2003, two women, Lettuce Ladies Holly Fraser, from Canada, and Lisa Franzetta, from America, demonstrated on busy Orchard Road clad only in green bikini tops and mini-skirts for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). They were not stopped or arrested by the police, despite not having applied for a permit for their demonstration.

This contrasts sharply with the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Wong Kan Seng, who said on 17 February 2003 that “The government does not authorise protests and demonstrations of any nature.”

In its latest reply to a Straits Times reader Liew Kai Khiun wrote to express the double standards of the Organizing Committee. The Director of Communications replied that all applications will be evaluated by the police based on the potential impact on law and order as well as the suitability of the proposed location. If this is indeed the case, the Organizing Committee should not restrict the applications to only the 300 foreign accredited organizations. Other organizations, local NGOs and Singaporeans should also be allowed to protest.

The procedures, time taken to process, potential impact on law and order as well as the suitability of the proposed location should also be clearly stated and not subjected to vague definitions by the authorities. In the case of a rejection of an application, a proper written explanation should be given to the applicant. These procedures should be standardized in future applications for rallies, speeches and peaceful gatherings and demonstrations.

Young Democrats will actively campaign for Singaporeans to have equal rights with foreigners. Singapore laws on civil liberties needs to be modified to reflect our Constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, speech and association. We will also contact international NGOs
to alert them to the denial of freedom of speech and assembly to
Singaporeans and to call on them to urge the Singapore Government to respect the civil rights of citizens of Singapore.

Charles Tan
President
Young Democrats
[email protected]

Young Democrats is the youth wing of the Singapore Democratic Party.

Appendix:

March 11, 2005
Foreign NGOs can hold protests but not locals

I AM surprised that the Government has allowed 300 accredited foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to hold peaceful protests and demonstrations during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Summit to be held in the Republic next year.

This contrasts sharply with the ban that the police imposed on attempts by ordinary Singaporeans to stage peaceful demonstrations, particularly in the recent protests against the US war on Iraq.

More recently, the application for women’s groups to hold a walk in support of the White Ribbon Campaign on violence against women was also denied. In reply to a query by a foreign journalist recently, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong stated that Singapore is too small to allow public protests and demonstrations which would have clogged the streets.

While I am not against these NGOs, I am disappointed that the Government is practising double standards by allowing foreigners to stage demonstrations, a right rarely granted to Singaporeans.

Liew Kai Khiun
London, United Kingdom

March 12, 2005
Holding protests: No double standard

I REFER to the letter, ‘Foreign NGOs can hold protests but not locals’ (ST, March 11). The Singapore 2006 Organising Committee expects about 300 to 500 non-governmental organisations accredited by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank Group (WB) to attend the IMF-WB boards of governors annual meetings in Singapore in September next year. If any of these organisations wishes to hold a demonstration, it will have to observe the requirements and procedures under Singapore law.

There is no double standard. The existing law on assemblies and processions requires all organisers, foreign or local, to apply to the police for a permit. In evaluating all such applications, the police consider the potential impact on law and order as well as the suitability of the proposed location. While the police have in the past approved applications for indoor assemblies and rallies, the two cases cited by the writer were outdoor assemblies or processions.

The police have yet to grant approvals for any demonstrations at next year’s IMF-WB annual meetings.

Angelina Fernandez (Ms)
Director (Communications),
Monetary Authority of Singapore
for the Singapore 2006 Organising Committee