7:16 a.m. October 25, 2006
SINGAPORE – The Singapore attorney-general has filed a bankruptcy order against an opposition politician for not paying about S$24,000 ($15,300) in legal costs in a move that could potentially cripple the tiny Singapore Democratic Party.
Chee Siok Chin – the sister of SDP leader Chee Soon Juan, and herself a senior member of the party – is facing a bankruptcy order after she failed to pay S$23,550 in costs, according to court documents seen by Reuters.
'They do want to incapacitate me,' she told Reuters on Wednesday.
Chee Siok Chin led the handful of SDP candidates in Singapore's May 6 general election. The party did not win any seats in parliament but did get 23 percent of the vote in the wards it contested.
If declared bankrupt herself, Chee Siok Chin would be unable to run for parliament again under Singapore law, putting the SDP's future at risk.
Her brother Chee Soon Juan – Singapore's most vocal opposition politician – was declared bankrupt in February after failing to make libel payments of S$500,000 to former Prime Ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.
Chee Siok Chin said she incurred the legal costs after she challenged a move by the Singapore police to disperse a peaceful protest in August 2005. The protest, by Chee Siok Chin and three others, took place outside a public building in Singapore and called for greater transparency in state institutions.
Public protests are rare in the city-state. Any public gathering of more than four people requires a police permit and a person convicted of unlawful assembly can be fined up to S$1,000.
Activists and critics such as human rights group Amnesty International say that Singapore's leaders used defamation lawsuits to cripple opposition politicians.
But Singapore's leaders say such legal action is necessary to safeguard their reputations.
Government leaders have also filed defamation law suits against foreign media, most recently against the Far Eastern Economic Review.
In the 2006 Worldwide Press Freedom Index released by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders on Tuesday, Singapore was among the worst-ranked countries. The city-state has slipped six places to rank 146th out of 168 countries following the government's latest legal action against the foreign media.
Chee Siok Chin, who spoke on the sidelines of a trial where her brother and two other SDP party supporters were being charged for speaking in public without permits in the run-up to the election, said she plans to challenge the bankruptcy order, which is due to be heard in court on Nov. 3.