15 Mar 2006

Bankrupt opposition leader now faces possible imprisonment

14 March 2006

SINGAPORE: Bankrupt opposition leader now faces possible imprisonment

Singapore’s public prosecutor (Attorney General) has filed contempt of court charges against former prisoner of conscience Dr Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) The SDP is a small political party with no representation in Parliament, where the ruling Peoples Action Party (PAP) holds 82 out of 84 seats.

Dr Chee was declared bankrupt by Singapore’s High Court on 10 February 2006 for failure to pay former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong approximately US$300,000 in libel damages awarded against him for questioning in 2001 a US$10 billion loan Singapore offered to former President Suharto of Indonesia.

The contempt of court charge followed his refusal to answer the court's questions during the bankruptcy hearing. Instead, Dr Chee read a prepared statement, in which he said, "After much observation and having personally gone through the judicial process, I cannot but come to the conclusion that my case has not received the justice that it is entitled to; it has been crippled right from the beginning… I wish I could say my country’s judicial system is independent and fair. But I can’t because that would be a lie”.

Amnesty International is concerned about the continuing misuse of civil defamation suits and other laws for political purposes in Singapore to penalise and silence critics of the government. A pattern of politically motivated defamation suits in Singapore has served to maintain a climate of political intimidation and self-censorship which stifles freedom of expression, deters the expression of views alternative to those of the ruling PAP and dissuades many Singaporeans from exercising their right to full and free participation in public life.

The organization believes the application of civil defamation suits against government critics in Singapore have been disproportionate, and have undermined the requisite balance between the right to protection of reputation and the right to free speech

The impositions of a series of large damages awards to PAP leaders have driven prominent opposition members into bankruptcy. As bankrupts, they are automatically expelled from parliament or barred from standing in parliamentary elections.

The contempt charges against Dr Chee will be heard on 16 March 2006.


The example of Dr Chee Soon Juan’s political career has deepened concerns that the Singaporean authorities use a variety of means to curb and deter the free expression of peaceful dissenting opinion – including the application of restrictive legislation and defamation suits. After Dr Chee ran unsuccessfully as an opposition party candidate in 1993, he was dismissed from his post in the Psychology Department of the National University of Singapore for alleged irregularities involving the use of his research funds. He was sued by the Department’s chair, a ruling PAP parliamentarian, for making allegedly defamatory remarks. Ultimately, the plaintiffs were awarded approximately US$300,000 in costs and damages.

In November 1995, Dr Chee was censured by Parliament for not contradicting criticisms or statements by fellow panellists at a forum in the United States, who allegedly criticized the judiciary in Singapore. In December 1996, Dr Chee and other party members were fined by Parliament for perjury, after they were accused of fabricating statistics in a parliamentary committee. In 1999 Dr Chee was imprisoned twice for making public speeches without a permit.

Lawyers in Singapore generally have been reluctant to represent opposition critics. When the defamation case brought by former Prime Ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong against him went to court in 2002, the judiciary refused to allow Chee to engage an overseas lawyer to act for him and he was therefore unrepresented.

Dr Chee is recognised internationally as a leading human rights campaigner. He is the 2003 recipient of the prestigious Defender of Democracy award by Parliamentarians for Global Action, chairs the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia and is a member of the Directors for Democratic Leaders in Asia-Pacific.

Watch the documentary by Martyn See about Dr Chee Soon Juan online at:


AI considers the use of defamation and other laws against government critics, such as Dr Chee, a restriction on peaceful political activity and an erosion of the right to free speech and expression.

1. Write a letter to the Singapore authorities (please fax if possible):

Express concern about the misuse of defamation suits and other laws against government critics, including Dr Chee Soon Juan, which contribute to a climate of self-censorship in Singapore and restrict the right of those Singaporeans with dissenting opinions to participate fully and freely in public life;

State that defamation suits against government critics have been disproportionate and have undermined the requisite balance between the right to protection of reputation and the right to free speech;

State that freedom of expression is a fundamental right guaranteed by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

Express concern that Dr Chee Soon Juan should have a legal representation; and

Call for an end to the misuse of defamation and other laws, which are being used to penalize political opponents.

To: His Excellency President S R Nathan Salutation:Your Excellency
Office of the President
Istana Annexe
Singapore 238823

Fax: +65 6738 4673
Telegrams: President S R Nathan, Singapore

copy to
Professor S Jayakumar Salutation: Dear Minister
Minister of Law
Ministry of Law
100 High Street
The Treasury #08-02
Singapore 179434

Fax: +65 6332 8842

2. Please write (fax if possible) a courteous letter to your country’s embassy in Singapore and copy to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs., enclosing a copy of your letter to the Singapore authorities and asking for a diplomatic initiative in this case.
Embassy contact information is available at: http://www.embassiesabroad.com/embassies-in/Singapore.cfm

For Canada: His Excellency Alan Virtue, High Commissioner, Canadian High Commission, 1 George Street #11 - 01, Singapore 049 145 Fax +65 6854-5930

cc The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lester B Pearson Building, 125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2 Fax 613 996 3443)

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