Republic of Singapore
Head of state: S.R. Nathan
Head of government: Lee Hsien Loong (replaced Goh Chok Tong in August)
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: not signed
UN Women’s Convention: ratified with reservations
Optional Protocol to UN Women’s Convention: not signed
Covering events from January - December 2004
Six people were executed between January and September, according to government figures. Freedom of expression continued to be curbed by restrictive legislation and the threat of civil defamation suits against political opponents. Seventeen men held without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act since 2002 had their detention extended for a further two years. Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to be imprisoned for their conscientious objection to military service.
In August there were indications of a possible relaxation of tight political and social controls as new Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for an “open” and “inclusive” society. However, a broad array of restrictive laws remained in place, curtailing the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
In October, the government reported that six people had been executed since January and that 19 people had been executed in 2003. Despite an apparent decrease in the number of executions, Singapore continued to have the highest rate of execution per capita in the world. The death penalty remained mandatory for drug trafficking, murder, treason and certain firearms offences.
Curbs on freedom of expression and assembly
Although some restrictions on indoor political meetings were lifted, strict government controls on civil society organizations and the press continued to curb freedom of expression and were an obstacle to the independent monitoring of human rights.
The threat of potentially ruinous civil defamation suits against opponents of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) continued to inhibit political life and engendered a climate of self-censorship.
In September, a court awarded damages of 500,000 Singapore dollars (about US$305,000) against Chee Soon Juan, leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, in a defamation suit originally lodged in 2001 by two leaders of the PAP. If Chee Soon Juan were unable to pay the sum he would be declared bankrupt, thus depriving him of his right to stand for election.
In April, the former leader of the opposition Workers’ Party, J.B. Jeyaretnam, who was declared bankrupt and expelled from parliament in 2001 following a series of defamation suits, applied unsuccessfully for discharge from bankruptcy. In November the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal.
Detention without trial
In September, the government released two detainees held without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and placed them under orders restricting freedom of movement. It also extended for a further two years the detention orders of 17 other men. In total, 36 men accused of plotting to carry out bomb attacks continued to be held without charge or trial under the ISA. The authorities said that many of the men, who were arrested in 2001, 2002 and 2004, were members or supporters of an Islamist group, Jemaah Islamiyah. The ISA violates the right to a fair and public trial and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law.
At least four conscientious objectors to military service were imprisoned in 2004, and 20 others continued to serve prison sentences. All were members of the banned Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group. There is no alternative civilian service in practice for conscientious objectors to military service in Singapore.