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Dr. Chee Soon Juan was declared a bankrupt after failing to pay $500,000 in libel damages awarded to Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.
In February 2006, Dr. Chee was charged with contempt of court for a statement he made at the above bankruptcy hearing in which he stated that the judiciary is not independent and fair, especially in cases involving opposition politicians.
On 17 March 2006, he was sentenced to jail for 8 days after refusing to pay his fines of $6,000.
Dr Chee Soon Juan’s court submission made on 16 Mar 06:
Transcript of Dr Chee’s podcast before prison (17 Mar 06):
Dear fellow Singaporeans,
By the time you hear this message I am already in prison. I am serving a sentence for criticizing the Singapore courts for its lack of independence.
You must be wondering why I made the statement knowing that such remarks will surely land one in trouble.
Let me start by quoting Winston Churchill who said: “The independence of the judiciary from the executive is the prime defence against tyranny.”
Without an independent judiciary, the rights of the opposition cannot be protected and when the rights of the opposition are not protected, citizens are at the mercy of the ruling party. Without rights how can we have free and fair elections and without free and fair elections how can we address the bread and butter issues that affect our everyday lives?
Without rights how can we prevent the Government from withholding our CPF savings? How can we stop the ministers from lavishing themselves with million-dollar salaries while the people continue to see their incomes shrink? How can we demand that the Government reduce the price of HDB flats or make health care more affordable?
An independent judiciary is one of the pillars upon which a modern and civilized society develops. In Singapore, the judicial system has been subverted to such an extent that international organizations such as the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada, New York City Bar Association, the Privy Council of London, former judges, eminent lawyers and QCs, and legal scholars have all voiced their concerns about the judicial system in Singapore.
As you can see, these assessments are made by reputable organizations recognized by the international community for their integrity and independence. I have merely reiterated a viewpoint that the world has formed about the judicial system of our country.
Our situation reminds me of the story about the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. Building a society without an independent judiciary is like the little pigs building a house with straw and sticks. Things can look good and even work efficiently for a time, But when the wolf of despotism starts to huff and puff, a house built on haste and expediency will be blown away and disappear. But the house built with the careful laying of a strong foundation will remain steadfast and safe. An independent judiciary is the foundation that will anchor our society when ill-winds blow, as they have already started to. Let us be that little pig that took time and wisdom and sacrifice, even in the face of taunts and torment, to build a house on firm foundation, not feeble facades.
This is why I chose to talk about the dismal state of our judicial system. The first step towards curing a disorder is to first recognize that it exists. I want Singapore to not only be rich but also be honest and courageous. This is a country in which we bring up our children and I don’t want mine to grow up living a national lie where they are made to recite the pledge “to build a democratic society based on justice and equality” when the exact opposite takes place.
Speaking the truth to power is never safe but keeping quiet in the face of tyranny is exponentially more dangerous.
If it takes my imprisonment to encourage the people to stand up for their rights and reclaim back our country, then my time behind bars will be worth every minute.
To my colleagues, friends, and supporters, take courage and let us continue our struggle to make Singapore free and strong. It is a struggle worth fighting for and a struggle in which we will ultimately prevail.
As I sit in prison, I ask for your prayers. But more importantly, I ask for your courage – courage to stand up for ourselves, our loved ones, and our nation. Remember courage grounded in truth is courage undefeatable.
Thank you and God bless.
Statement from the Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada:
Video of Dr Chee’s release from Queenstown prison (24 Mar 06):