20 May 2005
Letter by Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan
On Friday evening the 13th of May, I flew into Singapore Changi airport, as I have many times in the past. Upon presenting my passport to an Immigration official, I was asked to accompany another officer who handed me a piece of paper which informed me that I was not to be allowed to enter Singapore. On the form there was a check in box no. 4 that I was being refused entry for: 'ineligible to receive a pass under current immigration rules'.This letter was sent to Mr Cheong Yip Seng, Editor-in-Chief, Straits Times but was not published.
I must admit I was a bit confused by that, and asked the officer what this meant. In reply, he simply indicated the form. His hands were shaking, and at this point a more senior official, Mr. Loh who was the Deputy Commander of Immigration, got up from a chair and asked me to follow him to an office, where he said he would explain to me the reason that I was not to be allowed to enter Singapore. He read from the sheet 'ineligible to receive a pass under current immigration rules.' This was clearly a statement of action, not a reason.
I told him I understood that I was not being allowed in, but was confused as to why, since I had visited Singapore many times before, had never had any trouble there, and had friends waiting to receive me. He repeated that I was ineligible to enter to every request I made for a reason. He seemed upset by my inability to understand an action as a reason.
In the end I learned nothing and was ordered to be taken away by two police officers, who eventually put me on a flight out of Singapore. Despite continued requests by myself, and friends who spoke with Immigration at the airport, I never discovered any reason for my deportation while at the airport.
The following Monday morning I read confirmation of my deportation, within the Singapore Straits Times under the title `Foreign activist barred from S'pore'. Many things are said about me in the article, some true, some construed. Although I have read the article thoroughly, I still have no idea if I have broken any law which would require my deportation. Many statements, cited by the spokesman for the Home Affairs Ministry, give opinions about my activities, but give no legal reason for my deportation.
All stories have different sides to them depending on the standpoint of the person, and I would like to tell this story from my side.
While the article gives my name and nationality, it does not state some things it may be interesting for the ordinary person to know about the deportee: I am an ASEAN resident (lived in Thailand for 15 years); I teach Peace & Conflict at the Masters level at Mahidol University in Bangkok; I am the author of an annual report on Singapore for the Nobel Prize winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines. In the later activity, I have visited Singapore many times, including to interview the Director of Policy at the Ministry of Defence, and other governmental representatives at international governmental meetings. Nonviolence International, an organization with which I am associated, is a non-governmental organization with United Nations consultative status.
The spokesman states that I conducted a workshop in January, which implies that I was active in bringing this about. In January some Singapore citizens decided to organize a private event. I was asked by the organizers if I would attend as a resource person. I accepted the invitation.
Nonviolence International is a network, made up of offices in Moscow, Jerusalem, Bangkok and also in Washington DC with several projects. One is a cooperative program with the Ministry of Education in Indonesia, funded by UNICEF, to conduct a Peace Education Program in more than 200 schools in the Aceh province of the country. This program was launched a few years ago, and is continuing despite setbacks from Tsunami devastation, as part of a long term solution to resolve the difficulties which have beset the province.
The spokesman goes on to make comments about my character, stating that I have deluded myself. I am unsure why this person, whom I have never met, makes such comments about my personal character. His read of a telephone interview with me which was then published on the internet is certainly quoted selectively. I did speak about the general steps groups take to pursue social change by a rational campaign. No rational person would suggest using violence to achieve social change in Singapore. It is completely unnecessary, not to mention unethical.
I would assume all right thinking people would wish to see problems addressed through nonviolent means and dialogue. In structuring a campaign, I have stressed that the first step is education, in order to have a clear understanding of any problem, and the a proposal of a solution. Further steps would only be contemplated if the other side does not show any responses to different attempts at suggestions of a solution, and after serious reflection by people seeking a solution. That such a campaign might lead to civil disobedience is dependent on circumstances.
Since the meeting of Singapore citizens I attended in January was made up almost exclusively of middle aged men, I encouraged them strongly to have youth and women in their group to expand their thinking about problems.
The spokesman voiced his opinion that this was interference in Singapore. I am sure there are private meetings in the back rooms of foreign businesses with operations in Singapore b which discuss how to maximize their own profits at the detriment to Singapore, who are not subject to the same type of scrutiny I am now receiving. While the spokesman is entitled to his opinion about me and our activities, he has given no legal reason for my expulsion.
I was invited by Singaporean citizens for educational purposes. I did not, independently, decide to come to Singapore to 'instegate and agitate' as the spokesman put it, nor to convert them to any cause.
Ironically, during my unscheduled return flight to Bangkok, I read Friday's Editorial Opinion in the Straits Times, which encouraged Singaporean's to Act for political change, not just talk about the need for it. Yet by my experience, when a group of Singaporean's responsibly undertook to educate themselves how to do this, the State has sent them chilling counter-message.
Related article: Forbes