13 Aug 2005

Amnesty International Report 2005

A round up of the current situation in Singapore from Amnesty International. I have removed material that refers to Malaysia, but if anyone would like to receive a copy of the entire correspondence please feel free to ask me via email. Or you can click here to get the entire document.

The document has been compiled by Margaret John Coordinator for Singapore and Malaysia, for Amnesty International.

To: Singapore/Malaysia Network


The following notes include unconfirmed (though usually reliable) information from various sources. I have given media sources where possible and in most cases further information is available. AI documents are accessible at www.amnesty.org or www.asiapacific.amnesty.org I would appreciate updates on developments.


Calling for more openness, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his inaugural 2004 National Day speech that his vision for Singapore was of a "community where every citizen counts, where everyone can develop his human potential to the full." At the same time, Singapore has defended its media laws and balked at the suggestion that citizens live in a climate of fear.

Yet AI's Annual Report 2005 again underlines continuing tight political control of expression. Nevertheless, critics are once more challenging the government on issues of fundamental human rights. These include: the death penalty (Singapore still has the highest per capita rate worldwide, with six recorded executions from January to September) and curbs on freedom of expression. The death sentence and execution of Shanmugam Murugesu sparked unprecedented anti-death penalty activity, including demonstrations and a public death penalty forum, to which AI's Singapore researcher was invited. And there is now an opposition Internet radio programme, set up by the opposition Singapore Democratic Party. Prominent human rights defender and former prisoner of conscience Dr Chee Soon Juan recently published a new book: The Power of Courage -- Effecting political change in Singapore through Nonviolence. In addition, AI continues to express concern about restrictive legislation, the threat of defamation suits, the detention without trial of alleged Islamic militants held under the ISA; and the detention of Jehovah's Witnesses who are conscientious objectors. Reuters (27/5) refers to the US State Department Human Rights Report that sharply cirticises Singapore for using libel suits to intimidate opposition politicians.

Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew, in correspondence with AI Canada's Secretary General, gave assurances that Canada will continue to seek appropriate opportunities to express concern to the Government of Singapore and looks forward to continuing the excellent cooperation with Amnesty International.

Margaret John
Coordinator for Singapore and Malaysia
Amnesty International Canada ( English speaking)



The death penalty in Singapore, which AI's 2004 report highlighted as having the highest per capita rate worldwide, is now being increasingly questioned within the country -- though still by a small number of Singaporeans . The case of Shanmugam Murugesu, who was hanged for drug trafficking, sparked unprecedented campaigning in the country. GIven tight controls on the press and civil society organizations, public discussion of the death penalty is rare in Singapore. The international media, however, regularly underline its execution record -- a recent travel article in Canada's Globe and Mail began with "We arrive in Singapore on hanging day "(16/7). However, the Shanmugam case sparked public sympathy within Singapore. Sinapan Samydorai, President of the Think Centre, commented: "This is definitely the first time the local community has come forward to look at the death penalty issue.... At least we now have people saying that things should change."

One outcome was an NGO public forum on the death penalty, at which AI's lead researcher on Singapore was invited to speak. At the same time, several articles by Singaporean lawyers have posed questions about its constitutionality. A recent concert against the death penalty -- as part of a regional series -- was allowed to go ahead in Singapore It has not, however, become a debatable issue at government level. It is thought that some eight people are on death row.

AI's researcher on Singapore, Tim Parritt, was allowed to enter Singapore in April to attend the NGO-sponsored Forum on the Death Penalty, but was denied a Professional Visitor Pass. He was not, therefore, permitted to address the forum, which focussed on the death sentence of Shanmugam Murugesu. The Singapore government was reported as saying it did not need a foreigner to lecture it on its criminal justice system. (Age 18/4) Mr Parritt's statement, which was read out for him, stressed that "Human rights are for the best of us and the worst of us" and that

"Amnesty International is disappointed not to be able to address this forum today....AI welcomed this opportunity to participate in today's forum and to report on death penalty developments worldwide. And as another execution, that of Shanmugam Murugesu, becomes imminent, AI appeals once again to the Singapore authorities to exercise clemency."

The statement referred to the global trend towards abolition and called for Singapore to provide the complete statistics on executions to show key criteria, including crimes, nationality, age, as well as background in terms of education, professional status and socio-economic status of those sentenced to death. (Full statement on request)

Mr Parritt was later interviewed by international media who attended the forum and who continue to refer to AI's 2004 groundbreaking report on executions in Singapore. He later met an official of the Singapore Foreign Ministry.

Police in uniform were present at the public forum and the Chair was questioned as to citizenship. The forum drew some 120 participants, though few were willing to be quoted. The Observer (UK, 8/5) reported that a woman who printed T-shirts with the words "Highest per capita execution rate in the world" admitted that she had been terrified to do so -- and police shut down the open mike session just as the first person spoke.

- Shanmugam s/o Murugesu

Despite high-level campaigning in Singapore and internationally, the former taxi driver aged 38 was hanged on 13 May. He had been sentenced to death for possession of just over one kilogram of cannabis. His lawyer, M Ravi, unsuccessfully applied for a stay and a Constitutional Court review. Ravi argued that Shanmugam had been treated unfairly , citing other cases where people arrested for trafficking in more than 500 grams of cannabis (an offence carrying the mandatory death sentence) had received prison terms after the charges against them were reduced. Ravi was reported as planning an appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial,summary or arbitrary executions in a last-ditch attempt to save his client (AFP 10/5, 12/5)

Shanmugam was given custody of his twin sons after his divorce, reportedly lost interest in life and became a victim of drug abuse. Coming from a poor Indian family, his desperate financial circumstances led to his offence. Petitions, vigils and other campaigning events raised awareness in Singapore about the cruel and arbitrary nature of the death penalty. Shanmugam's 14-year-old twin sons handed out leaflets in the streets. Dana Lam, former president of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), called the death penalty a "harsh law....Mercy is precisely what is asked for....Just when and how will that Mercy be free to flow?" The Singapore Democratic Party called the President's rejection of Shanmugam's application for clemency "a black day for Singapore." AFP reported that when family and friends made their final visit to Shanmugam on the eve of his execution, he urged them to press on with a rejuvenated campaign to end the death penalty in Singapore. (15/5) Following his execution, Shanmugam's mother was reported by the Singapore Democratic Party (25/5) to have asked for regular government financial support for the twin sons amounting to $500. The welfare department offered her S$150. The SDP pointed out that PAP ministers make S$500 an hour.

- Lawyers speak out: - K S Rajah's article, The Mandatory Death Sentence (published in Inside the Bar), concludes: "Singapore cannot for long be a global city and player in the world's affairs in every respect, except when it comes to punishing offenders for wrongs done. It is now open to an accused to show through experts in international law that a mandatory death sentence is cruel and inhuman punishment under customary international law. " (ksrajah@harryelias.com.sg)

- Michael Hor, in his article The Death Penalty in Singapore and International Law, addresses a number of issues, including minimum standards under which capital punishment may legitimately be employed, mandatory and discretionary death, and due process, and concludes: "At the very least the fact that so many other states of all persuasions (and they are not all Western liberal democracies) are not willing to execute, or execute so often ...should cause decision makers to ... reconsider what the value of life is in Singapore." (2004 Singapore Year Book of International Law and Contributors).

As part of an ongoing series of regional concerts against the death penalty, the first Concert Against the Death Penalty was held in Singapore early August entitled Songs for Sam: Hung at Dawn in memory of the execution of Shanmugam Murugesu. A CD is being compiled. The police banned the use of Shanmugam's face on posters and publicity material, because it would "glorify" an ex-convict and "executed person." The Think Centre expressed disappointment at the ban. (www.thinkcentre.org 4/8)

- Australian Nguyen Tuong Van waits for the outcome of his appeal to the President for clemency on the grounds that he had cooperated fully with the police investigation into an international drug ring. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney called upon the Pope to intervene. (AFP 17/3)

- Julia Bohl, a 22-year-old German student , who had faced the death penalty for drug possession and trafficking but was instead given a five-year sentence, was released in July after three years, her lawyer was reported as saying, because of good behaviour. She had escaped the death penalty after tests showed the marijuana seized in her possession was less pure than previously thought and therefore below the 500 gr. level. Reportedly lengthy legal and diplomatic manoeuvring had helped her avoid the death penalty. (http://www.faz) The SDP (3/6) called the government shameless for executing Shanmugam Murugesu for smuggling marijuana, while releasing Julia Bohl after three years.

- Other reported cases:

Lim Thian Lai: sentenced to death under the Arms Offences Act for shooting with intent to cause physical injury.

20-year-old Indonesian maid, Rohana, faces the death penalty after being charged with the murder of her employer . There are now more than 140,000 foreign maids in Singapore -- many with stories of abuse. (AFP 4/7)

Factory supervisor Leong Siew Chir, 50, was charged in June with the murder of staff member Miss Liu Hong Mei. (ST 19/6)

Took Leng How was charged with the murder of 8-year-old girl Huang Na. (ST 21/7) His claims that he had seen three Chinese men commit the murder were suspected by a psychiatrist as not truthful. (ST 27/

Two Africans are to hang for heroin trafficking. Nigerian Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, 19, and garment wholesaler Obeke Nelson Malachy, 33. Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi said he had been told the pills he carried contained "African herbs." (ST 22/7) The Think Centre issued an Urgent Action, pointing out that the death penalty is considered a "form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment." (8/8)

Of the "high-profile"drug group of 23 people: fourteen were charged and the rest released. Among the fourteen:
Interpol was alerted to look out for three men who had jumped bail. Singaporean Hamdan Mohamed, Tunisian Guiga Lyes Ben Laroussi and Sri Lankan Jeremy Hahen Chanmugam had all been charged with consuming or selling drugs. (ST 3/3) Bail for Chanmugam's wife, Nadia Celina Seraphina Cornelis, was withdrawn, as authorities had received "intelligence" that she would flee. She was later jailed for three weeks and fined S$5,000 for lying, as she had said she did not know of his whereabouts -- yet she had seen him off to Sri Lanka. (ST 29/3) Marx Oh Chi Wee, one of two alleged ringleaders, was jailed for one year. He faces further trials for trafficking and possession. (ST 18/3) Dinesh Singh Bhatia was sentenced to eight months for cocaine use. (ST 7/4 )


A year ago, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong "urged politically timid Singaporeans to...speak up. " (AFP 8?/8) More of them are doing so. Yet those who speak up -- for example film-maker Martyn See -- also speak of the risk of serious consequences. Reports from the international media and NGOs repeat criticisms that the Prime Minister's call does not reflect the reality i.e. Singapore maintains its tight grip on the media and the political opposition.


- Film-maker Martyn See withdrew from a Singapore International Film Festival his short film on Dr Chee Soon Juan, Singapore Rebel , after the Board of Film Censors said he could be jailed up to two years and fined S$100,000. The "party political" film was judged to contravene the Film Act. The film is being shown outside Singapore, including in the USA and possibly Canada. See comments on Singapore's announced "opening up" as a "pretty schizophrenic situation"given the ban on a gay concert, "biased" political films and anything that is deemed by the authoritities to be "contrary to public interest". (weblog: singaporerebel.blogspot.com) Dr Chee comments: "Such is the abuse of power by the People's Action Party." Martyn See was to meet again with the authorities. (AP 22/3 http://asia.news.yahoo.com; SDP 12/5, 18/5 www.singaporedemocrat.org; weblog: singaporerebel.blogspot.com) AI views the Films Act as fitting into the broader context of excessive curbs on freedom of expression and their potential to be misused by the authorities.

- Three Polytechnic lecturers made a brief film in 2001 on J B Jeyaretnam, "Vision of Persistence": It was banned. (AFP 20/6)

- The Singapore DemocratIc Party says it is "determined to break this arm-lock on the media by the Government. A vibrant and free media will foster a dynamic and enterprising society." (http://www.singaporedemocrat.org 2/7) It has now established its Internet radio broadcasts, which can be accessed via its website. Dr Chee's first broadcast calls for democracy and the need to address the issue of poverty in Singapore.

- Charles Tan, President of Young Singapore Democrats, comments on permission given to three hundred foreign organizations that will be allowed to hold peaceful demonstrations at the 2006 IMF and World Bank meeting in Singapore. But Singaporeans who have faced problems trying to demonstrate in the past point to authorities warning them or punishing them. (Reuters 18/3)

- The Falun Gong Working Group submitted a formal appeal to the UN regarding two members who had been arrested in May 2004 and fined S $20,000 and S$24,000, after they had handed out material about China's persecution of the Falun Gong. Both refused to pay fines, were reported to be on hunger strike for several days before their release 3 May, and planned to appeal to a higher court. Falun Gong is a legally registered society in Singapore. (Epoch Times 2/5, 5/5)

- Coffee Shop Talk at http://forums.delphiforums.com has issued a series of views in the past few months. In July, it focussed on Singapore's National Day, stating that Singapore was formed with five ideals -- of democracy, peace, progress, justice, equality -- but all now restricted or destroyed by the PAP. (31/7) Another article dealt with the increased cost of living (1/8), and one asked why Chia Thye Poh was detained for 32 years. (3/8).

- Four protesters assembled in a public place to show their concern at what they see as a lack of transparency and accountability by the government in dealing with public funds. Approximately 40 police officers in riot gear told them to disperse. (SDP 11/8)

- Businessman Andrew Kuan plans to run against President S R Nathan, who has declared his intention to run for a second term. Newstoday reported that a lawyer is to study Mr Kuan's statements for possible defamation. He had claimed that a resolution to remove him as chairman at his condominium management council was "improperly tabled" and that signatures had been forged. (derrick@newstoday.com.sg www.andrewkuan.com)

Government action:

- Singapore banned a planned weekend concert by gay Christian support group. (AFP 30/3)

- The Ministry for Information, Communications and the Arts stated that local newspapers must carry a Singapore perspective -- otherwise readers might be misled into thinking foreign views reflected those of the newspapers. (ST 9/3)

- Police rejected J B Jeyaretnam's application to demonstrate against a proposed casino, saying it would disrupt civil order. Jeyaretnam commented that political freedom remains elusive, despite government claims to loosen social controls. (Reuters 31/3)

- In March, a forum on politics was held at the National University of Singapore, at which five panellists were invited to offer their views on how much or how little Singapore had achieved in embracing the Prime Minister's vision of a "dynamic city that is open and inclusive...." (ST 2/3)

- In April, Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan of Washington-based Nonviolence International was banned from entering Singapore indefinitely for interfering in the nation's domestic policies, the government said. ( Reuters 17/5) He had conducted a workshop in Singapore in January. The Singapore Democratic Party published a letter by Moser-Puangsuwan that the Straits Times had refused to publish. In the letter, he said he had read the Straits Times Editorial Opinion, which encouraged Singaporeans to act for political change, not just talk about the need for it. (www.singaporedemocrat.org 20/5)

- Police banned the annual beach festival of the gay and lesbian community, which then defied the ban by launching a month-long program of events, IndigNation, ending August 26 to assert their place in society (AFP 28/7) No laws were planned to be defied. (ST 29/7) Gay activists accused the government of promoting homophobia and irresponsibility for comments on Aids and the 2004 gay festival. They have urged the decriminalisation of homosexuality. (NZ Herald11/3)

- Member of Parliament Steve Chia, speaking on amendments to the elections bill, urged: "if the government genuinely wants to have a more genuine 'open and inclusive' society, then it should learn to play fairly with its worthy opponents....I hope the Government will make it mandatory to have at least four months' notice before a General Election is being called."

Judgments from abroad

- In June, AFP reported that there had been little local media coverage of Shanmugam's execution, and instead Singaporeans were taking to the Internet for free speech. "Indeed, with the traditional media shackled by press controls and a virtual blanket ban on public rallies -- Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore 147th out of 167 countries on press freedom -- the Internet has emerged over recent years as a hotbed for Singapore's dissenting voices." (4/6)

- In May, Falun Gong newspaper Epoch Times described Singapore as "in actuality...a country with complete dictatorship and autocracy....The small number of people who dare to step forward and challenge the government...will simply be brought to court in the name of 'slandering the system....The judicial system of Singapore basically obeys the government'." ( http://english.epochtimes.com)

- Three Swedish parliamentarians (all members of the Sweden-Singapore Initiative for Democracy) strongly criticised the ban on a workshop in May on non-violent political action, and urged the government "to be more tolerant of dissenters, as any modern society fully embraces an active civil society and its international participants." (SDP 27/5)

The South China Morning Post wrote (30/5) "Singapore does not fool its critics...the island nation remains the same as it - has always been -- a virtual police state where the media is tightly controlled, political opposition is barely tolerated and free speech is allowed only with permission."

- In June, Freedom House ranked Singapore 139th out of 194 countries in its Global Survey 2005. "Media freedom is constrained to such a degree that the vast majority of journalists practise self-censorship rather than risk being charged with defamation....The vast majority of print and broadcast media outlets, as well as Internet service providers and cable television services, are either owned or controlled by the state or by companies with close ties to the ruling party."

- Reporteurs Sans Frontières: Its Annual Report, issued in May, records Singapore as having for several decades "a very sophisticated strategy for silencing Singaporean and foreign journalists who wrote stories that are embarrassing for the political elite....the two large national press groups, Singapore Press Holdings and Mediacorps, are run by ruling party allies...the government also continues to censor dozens of films and TV programmes." (www.rsf.org)

- Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (ARDA), issued its full report in May on Singapore's elections system. (www.asiandemocracy.org)


- Dr Chee Soon Juan, Secretary General of the Singapore Democratic Party, said in March that he could not afford to pay S $500,000 damages, as ordered by the court, to former prime ministers Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew. He said he expected bankruptcy proceedings to start, but that bankruptcy would not stop him from fighting for democracy in Singapore. (AFP 15/3)

Dr Chee's new book, The Power of Courage: Effecting Political Change in Singapore Through Non-Violence, is an explanation of "the concept and philosophy of non-violent action and why it is important for Singapore....The book also examines the laws that the PAP introduced to strengthen its grip on power and how these laws are applied selectively against the opposition." The Forewords are by prominent critic and writer Francis Seow (a former prisoner of conscience) and Robert Helvey (President -- Albert Einstein Institute and an expert on non-violence). J B Jeyaretnam provides the Introduction. (www.singaporedemocrat.org) At the July 9 book launch, police filmed the proceedings, seized a CD and demanded particulars of two young activists, Charles Tan and Jonathan Siow, who had spoken. Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada issued a press release July 18, stating that "the attendance of police at the event was a disappointing indication that the Singapore government, while professing to 'open up Singapore' and adhere to democratic values, continues to use heavy-handed methods to rein in peaceful political dissent." (www.lrwc.org) In May, the UN Non-Government Committee recommended that LRWC be given Special Consultative Status.

In April, the SDP called on Asian governments to support democracy, and at a panel for Asian countries, Dr Chee stated that they must "provide the vision to entrench democracy in the region." As SDP Secretary General and Chairman of the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia, he spoke at a conference in Chile, that was attended by government officials and civil society leaders from some 100 countries. (www.singaporedemocrat.org)

Interviewed for Malaysiakini article, Singapore -- republic of fear, by James Wong Wing On (16/5), Dr Chee compared Singapore with Hong Kong: "One society has thrived on the go-getter attitude, and the other on government direction... .[T]he PAP for all intents and purposes is a dictatorship....With the elections system, media, laws, and the ISA the way they are, there is no way that the opposition can be any stronger. But...dictatorships always look good until the very last minute....Singapore is run on fear." (www.malaysiasiakini.com)

Dr Chee and the SDP have launched an Internet Radio programme in order to "breach the control of the media by the PAP government." Dr Chee's first broadcast message called for democracy and rapped the government over issues such as high salaries of ministers and the lack of transparency and accountability. (Reuters 5/8) The radio broadcasts are accessible at www.singaporedemocrat.org.

- J B Jeyaretnam made a further application in June for discharge from bankruptcy by offering S$258,683.82 (40% of his debt). Goh Chok Tong and Jayakumar, two of his creditors, however, refused to accept the offer. (www.jbjeya.org)

- Singapore Democratic Party: Quoting the Prime Minister that "Ours must be an open and inclusive Singapore," the SDP pointed out many of the contradictory curbs on freedom of expression, including the detention in the Institute of Mental Health of Remisier Boon Suan Ban at the President's pleasure. The SDP's Manifesto: The Distribution of Wealth, called on the government to address the issue of poverty in Singapore. "An economy that boasts of large financial resources but has little compassion for the poor, that rationalises, indeed celebrates, grotesque wealth ....cannot be sustained -- morally or practically." (7/7 www.sinagporedemocrat.org) The SDP referred to the UN Development Index, which ranked Singapore 28th behind countries such as Barbados and Malta, pointing to the 2,000 children in 1999 who had not attended school because parents could not afford it, and to the rise in the gap between rich and poor. The party issued a statement in July expressing concern about Singapore's treatment of workers -- The Truth About Labour. (SDP 23/7)

- Remisier Boon Suan Ban was ordered detained in the Institute for Mental Health until it pleased the President to release him. Critics, including J B Jeyaretnam, believed his detention was to prevent allegedly damaging information about Chief Justice Yong Pung How from being revealed to the public. http://jbjeya.org)

- Robert Ho was remanded at the Institute of Mental Health(IMH), following his distribution of flyers about Singapore's election system. He was later released without charge. Police told his wife that he could be detained in IMH "at the President's pleasure if he continued his activities." A few years earlier, he had been investigated for criminal defamation for posting on a website an article about Lee Kuan Yew's daughter-in-law. (SDP 8/4)

- Chen Jia Hao, a Singaporean 23-year-old graduate student in the USA, shut down his blog and apologised unreservedly after Singapore officials threatened to sue him for defamation. The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporteurs Sans Frontières expressed alarm. Chen was reportedly not informed of the reasons that his blog was considered offensive. (http://escapefromparadisecom/NewFiles/Chen.html) RSF referred to the ranking of Singapore as being among the 20 lowest-scoring countries in its press freedom index. (www.cpj.org)


Dozens of migrant workers in the Working Forum on Justice for migrant workers protested outside the Singapore embassy in Indonesia, demanding the abolition of the death penalty for domestic helpers and other migrant workers in Singapore. Anis Hidayah of Migrant Care was hoping to meet Singapore's ambassador to Indonesia. (Antara News 9/7 www.antara.co.id)


Caning as a penalty for criminal offences continues to be handed down. Victims include bank robber Brian Khoo, who was sentenced to four and a half years in prison and nine strokes of the cane. His claims, which were later questioned, were that he had been unemployed, had children, was in poor health and had become depressed. (2/4 ST?)

Robber Koh Hock Seng was sentenced to 18 years preventive detention and 15 strokes of the cane. (ST 31/5)

Mohamed Shariff Samsudin, 21, was sentenced to three years and the maximum 24 strokes. He was reported as preying on nine young girls. (ST 1/7)


President S R Nathan declared his intention of running for a second six-year term. Critics have called for a loosening of candidates' eligibility criteria of business or government experience. (AFP 12/7)

There has been local anger at published information about alleged misuse of funds and the S$600,000 annual salary of National Kidney Foundation chief T T Durai and perks including first-class travel. (Today 14/7 val@newstoday.com.sg) The SDP invited people to meet representatives at Speakers' Corner to discuss the issue. (SDP 16/7 www.singaporedemocrat.org )


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