23 Nov 06
The World Forum for Democratization in Asia (WFDA) strongly condemns the jail sentence passed on one of our Steering Committee members, Dr. Chee Soon Juan, Chairman of the Alliance of Reform and Democracy in Asia (ARDA). The Subordinate Court of Singapore today sentenced him to five weeks in prison for the "crime"of speaking in public without a valid permit; his term began today. Two of his colleagues from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Mr. Gandhi Ambalam and Mr. Yap Keng Ho, were also sentenced to shorter terms. The "offense"for which they were convicted was an instance of speaking to passing citizens as they were selling the party newspaper on the street on 22 April of this year.
This is yet another step in the ongoing judicial persecution of Dr. Chee and the members of the SDP. Dr. Chee has already been bankrupted and deprived of his civil rights, including the right to travel, as a result of a libel suit by Singapore's strongman Lee Kuan Yew and then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. Similarly, a critical article in the party's newspaper in the run-up to the general elections in May 2006 has resulted in a further libel suit against the whole party leadership, including ARDA's Secretary General and one of its staff members, who are likely to be rendered bankrupt at a separate hearing tomorrow (24 November). Dr. Chee also faces a further trial in December on charges of attempting to leave the country to attend the World Movement for Democracy Fourth Assembly earlier this year.
These actions have not taken place in a vacuum. In recent weeks, amendments to the Penal Code have been drafted to further restrict and criminalize many forms of speech, including internet content, drawing complaints from several international media organizations. In September, the Far Eastern Economic Review was banned, and accredited civil society representatives from many countries were refused entry for the IMF/World Bank meetings.
We call on the judiciary of Singapore to live up to its proper mission to uphold the rule of law by protecting the basic human rights of all Singaporean citizens, including the right to free speech and participation in public affairs. In particular, it should immediately cease this politically motivated persecution of Dr. Chee, overturn his prison sentence, and restore all his civil rights, including the right to stand for office and the unfettered right to international travel.
We further call on the international community, especially democracies in Asia and beyond, to place issues of human rights firmly on the agenda in their relations with Singapore. The government of Singapore must be made to understand that such repressive tactics are not compatible with Singapore's image as an advanced society. This process should begin at the upcoming 12th ASEAN Summit -- with its theme "One Caring and Sharing Community"– and the 2nd East Asian Summit, as well as in all relevant meetings with ASEAN dialogue partners.