Singaporeans must not be so afraid

January 3, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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Dear Dr Chee,

I support what For The Country said in his letter Why freedom is important for Singapore of Dec 22, 2005 on this Website.

However, it is a real pity for For The Country not to identify himself, as it was such a good letter. Freedom of speech is very important and writers of such good letters should also have the courage to identify themselves because freedom would be useless if people were afraid to exercise that freedom. Only with identified individuals, individuals who are prepared to stand by what they say, is freedom really useful.  

 Giving freedom to the people is of course fundamental. But there is no point in giving it to a people who are too terrified even to use it. That is the problem in Singapore. I have been observing Singaporeans and I am afraid this is the problem. Here are a few examples.

 I was in a taxi. I asked the taxi driver whether life was good driving taxis. The driver complained that he had to work very long hours for very little money. Also he said he had to pay a high fee daily to the taxi company regardless of whether he was sick in bed. I asked him why did he not complain. Why did he not protest? Why did he and his colleagues take their taxis to a street and block it in protest? I said in any other country taxi drivers would have done it. I said it is his right, as he is a taxpayer. I said that he has a right to demand the way the country is run. I said, it was his country, not Lee Kuan Yew’s. His answer was that he could not protest. He said that if he did it, he would lose his job and his family would suffer. He said that other taxi drivers were all afraid. To me, it appeared that he was overwhelmed with fear. Fear of the government. My question is what would he do even if he was now told that he had freedom. Will he dare to use it? I am not sure.

 My childhood friend was a lawyer in Singapore. He is no longer one for reasons we need not get into here. He had practiced law for about 10 years before leaving practice. I told him that I was against the Iraq war and against Singapore supporting America in the war. I asked him what he thought. His answer was that the Singapore cabinet had given this great thought and deliberation and as they decided in support of the war, he would go along with it. This man, a former lawyer, did not think it necessary to have any independent opinion about it. He was just prepared to go along with the government line. Coming from a former lawyer, I was somewhat surprised at his lack of independent thinking.

 I had spoken to many lawyers recently. They had many complaints ranging from too high law society membership and insurance fees, lack of criminal cases because of the difficulty of winning these cases as judges are seen to be to keen to find guilt, that judges are too disrespectful towards lawyers, that court fees are too high for litigation etc. The list went on. I asked them why they did not protest. Their answer was that it would do no good, and even if they did, they would be blacklisted by the establishment and their careers would thereby suffer.

I have a friend, Bala. Last time I was in Singapore, I had gone to meet Dr Chee selling his book The Power of Courage at Orchard Road accompanied by Bala. Just as I was approaching Dr. Chee, Bala disappeared. He was nowhere to be seen. After I had spoken to Dr. Chee and some distance away, Bala suddenly appeared. I asked him where he went. He said he waited for me elsewhere as he did not want to be seen near Dr Chee. He was afraid, the government might observe and he will get into trouble.

 Then, there are many that I speak to about J B Jeyaretnam, a man who we all should know. But many in Singapore do not even appear to know his name. They keep calling him “Rajaretnam”, who was the former Foreign Minister in Lee’s cabinet! Quite clearly that they are not interested.

We need people like For The Country who had written such an adroit letter. We also need to know who he is and we need people to come out and identify themselves as protesters against the injustice that happens in Singapore. If people are so afraid, I come back to the question whether there would be any point in giving them freedoms, because they may be unable to use it after all.

I fear, the Singaporean has been intimidated beyond repair and is no longer able to complain when they see injustice.

 GOPALAN NAIR