31 Oct 2006

SINGAPORE: Freedom of expression again assailed

Amnesty International is monitoring developments relating to Singapore Democratic Party(SDP) leader Dr Chee Soon Juan and his colleagues, who have been charged with a number of offences, including speaking in public without a permit. In September Dr Chee was prominent in organising public protests without a permit relating to the meetings in Singapore of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Dr Chee appeared in court in early October, charged with trying to leave Singapore in April without permission. As a bankrupt, he needs the permission of the official assignee to go abroad. His bankruptcy stems from non-payment of S$500,000 to Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, whom he was convicted of defaming during the 2001 election campaign He wished to attend a meeting in Turkey of the World Movement for Democracy, in which he is an active member. If found guilty, he faces a possible sentence of up to S$10,000 in fines and two years in prison. The World Movement for Democracy issued a statement October 17 in support of Dr Chee, charging that the government's actions "give the appearance of orchestrated efforts to restrain Dr Chee in his efforts to advance democracy in Singapore....[T]he Steering Committee calls upon the Singapore Government to drop all charges against him, to return his confiscated passport, to restore his right to travel freely abroad, and to permit him to exercise his democratic rights both within and outside the country of Singapore". Dr Chee and SDP members Yap Keng Ho and Gandhi Ambalam are facing charges of speaking in public without a permit. The Judge has ruled as irrelevant a video recording of the three during the event.

Chee Siok Chin, an SDP candidate in the 2006 election (and sister of Dr Chee Soon Juan) is now facing bankruptcy after failing to pay S$23,550 as a result of challenging a move by the Singapore police to disperse a small peaceful prtest in August involving herself and three others. She plans to challenge the bankruptcy order.

Lawyer M Ravi, who has acted for Dr Chee, Siok Chin and others on a number of occasions, has been suspended from practice by the Law Society for a year for showing reported "disrespect" to the Singapore judiciary. Dr Chee and his colleagues are now without a defence lawyer and are acting on their own behalf. Lawyers in Singapore appear unwilling to act in politically-sensitive cases.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Singapore government to respect the right to freedom of expression.

Margaret John
Coordinator for Singapore and Malaysia
Amnesty International Canada

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