SINGAPORE: News Update -- Dr Chee Soon Juan faces contempt of court charges, says jail "inevitable"
11 March 2006
Former prisoner of conscience Dr Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of the small opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and now bankrupt, is to face contempt of court charges that may result in a prison term. Dr Chee, a neuropsychologist by training, was said by the Attorney-General to have acted in contempt of court when he asserted that the judiciary is not independent in its judgments on opposition politicians. Dr Chee made the critical comments after a bankruptcy petition hearing in February related to his failure to make libel payments to former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. He said that his imprisonment is "inevitable". The contempt of court charge will be heard March 16. Amnesty International (AI) is closely monitoring this development.
A letter of complaint has been sent to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of judges and lawyers. It is signed by prominent human rights campaigners, including Francis Seow, Wang Dan (Chinese protester at Tiananmen Square), Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan (Nonviolence International) and several Swedish parliamentarians.
After joining the SDP in 1992, Dr Chee has been fired from his university position, convicted of defaming prominent ruling party members, imprisoned and bankrupted. As a bankrupt, he is now barred from contesting elections and therefore from debating his views in Parliament. Instead, he has continued to speak out publicly, including to the foreign media, calling for fundamental human rights and democracy. In the past year, he has been involved in organizing public meetings and demonstrations for freedom of expression and an end to executions. His call for Singaporeans to take action is expressed in his recent book The Power of Courage -- Effecting Political Change in Singapore Through Nonviolence. In a written statement (2 March) , he called on Singaporeans and the international community to join him "in the struggle to make Singapore's judiciary independent, and from there turn Singapore into another bastion of democracy and freedom in Asia." Dr Chee has been 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.
AI and numerous human rights organizations, including Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, Human Rights Watch, the Sotheast Asia Press Alliance and Parliamentarians for Global Action, along with and the Liberal International, have expressed concern about the treatment of Dr Chee. AI regards the use of defamation suits against government critics such as Dr Chee as a restriction on peaceful political activity and an erosion of the right to free speech. AI has sent trial observers (including two from Canada) to Singapore on several occasions. AI considers 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. Dissenting political activity continues to be deterred -- despite calls for a more open society by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong -- by the knowledge that no PAP leader has ever lost a defamation suit against an opposition figure in a Singapore court.
Coordinator for Singapore and Malaysia
Amnesty International Canada