11 Dec 2006

Freedom Walk: Free to walk?


From the Singapore Democratic Party.
11 Dec 06

On Sunday 10 December 2006, a group of human rights advocates in Singapore walked down the heart of of the city to mark the International Human Rights Day.

The group consisting of about 20 men, women and children were dressed in bright yellow T-shirts that read "Free to Speak", "Free to Walk" and "Free to Gather".

Starting from Hong Lim Park, the participants ended the 8km walk outside the Queenstown Prison where one of our own human rights and democracy advocates is still serving his jail sentence for having claimed his rights as a citizen of the country. Dr Chee Soon Juan has been imprisoned no less than five times, all for exercising his right to speak.

The group gave out flyers to passers-by during the walk. Several of the advocates stopped at the Istana to hand a flyer to the President of the Republic.

Along a quiet stretch at Tanglin Road the police attempted to violate our right to walk peacefully and in small groups. Mr Gandhi Ambalam, one of the two men who had been imprisoned with Dr Chee, was accosted by the police. He was asked to disperse. The reason given to him was that an illegal assembly was taking place. Mr Gandhi explained that he was walking with only one other and the rest of the participants were walking in small and scattered groups. After assessing the situation, the police allowed Mr Gandhi to walk on.

The entire group arrived at the Queenstown Prison at about 7.15 pm.

This was the first time many in the group were taking part in an event to raise awareness for human rights in Singapore. One participant said that he had not "felt so alive in a long time." Another was so inspired that he remarked that he wished he had brought the Singapore flag to wave it as the group walked along.

The activists were happy that we were able to complete what we had set out to achieve, which was to mark Human Rights Day and to stand in solidarity with our friends whose rights to free speech were denied.

We would like to thank those who joined us along the way and finished the walk with us. Their presence and company was encouraging, if not inspiring.

The group will continue to raise human rights awareness among Singaporeans so that we can claim and exercise our rights.



20 comments:

Ghormax said...

Should this be sign of change in Singapore? Freedom to speech is the most important element of the information age. May it succeed in the end!

Anonymous said...

Bravo. Your courage inspires all of us.

vaoliveiro said...

Stirring stuff, except that Singaporeans don't have freedom of speech or assembly, and so Chee Soon Juan was jailed for exercising a non-existent right according to the laws of Singapore. There is a difference between showmanship for the sake of attracting attention, and actively working at the grassroots level or through more elite positions, to change things.

Has this walk actually raised awareness? Has it actually challenged Singapore's OB markers? By saying to the policeman that he was only walking with one other person, and not at all part of a larger group that would count as illegal assembly, the participant in fact didn't transgress the restrictive laws of assembly. He found protection in the very law he was trying to subvert. A cheeky reply, but it didn't do anything to challenge the notion that we should be able to gather in larger groups without being considered an illegal assembly.

I am generally for the liberalisation of various laws in Singapore, but publicity-garnering actions that don't effectively educate the public or intelligently challenge officialdom by showing them the possibility of a better alternative (and instead invite repression) is, at the end of the day, useless.

Chee Soon Juan has been to jail - but how has he actually improved human rights for Singaporeans? The aim should be change, not simply gathering foreign press reports and making empty noise to which the leadership doesn't listen.

Anonymous said...

vaoliveiro: how do you think this should be done? I personally believe liberalization will have to come from within the political regime. The opposition can try to pressure the elite and raising awareness is probably all they can do.

The people at the freedom march have tried to demonstrate - but to no avail.

The people at the freedom march have tried to educate the people - with books, website articles etc. - but not no avail

There's a choice for those supporting a liberal society: either emigrate or do something. It's fairly unlikely that you will be able to become part of the government, so you're only option is in the opposition.

Chee is a patriot, the easier way is to give up and move to Taiwan (with his wife!)

Anonymous said...

to celebrate chees fight for freedom, I have decided to launch singapore's great shit.

You will remember three million smiles. well I plan for three million singaporeans lining the length of orchard road with three million aresoles pointed skywards issuing one long fart of contentment. Anybody who shits themselves will be sent to Princetown prison to have their anuses checked by the gay guards.

Anonymous said...

"The people at the freedom march have tried to educate the people - with books, website articles etc. - but not no avail"

i take offence at this. i am one of the "people" that you have tried to educate to no avail, but i do not see myself a vacuous ignoramous.

chee might be a patriot, but has his actions worked? why have other members of opposition parties garnered more respect than him? singapore is not the united states or europe or australia. go on the streets and you get arrested and only a handful of people will pay you any attention. the theatrics of CSJ in jail is even more laughable. do you honestly think the police would risk their credibility here? the government is smart. whatever they do, they do it legitimately. the more you fight with them the more they will tear you down.

i will have to agree with valiverio here.

Anonymous said...

who is willing to back singapore's big shit. anon 35 42, you are also backing a sticky wicket. The best academic brains in the world would never be able to educate singaporeas brain washed population. come on just look at yourselves. hosever, i am glad to note that your sports people have pulled their finger out of their bottoms and won a handful of go9ld medals. good on them. now I am waiting to read about the complaingts the singaporeans not happy with the poultry dollars those medal winner will be receive when they get back to the island, the thick heads who believe sports should be a hobby, and competitors should pay their own expenses, and receive a government medal at the end of the day.

Anonymous said...

None of the participants were questioned or arrested. As far as I know, only Mr Gandhi was approached by the police. All we had to do was break up into smaller groups.

The objective of the walk was not to break laws, but to:
1. Exercise what little freedom of expression we have
2. Celebrate Human Rights Day by raising awareness
3. Show that protests can be friendly and peaceful i.e. do not necessarily threaten public safety
4. Have fun among ourselves and with the public when doing so (some kids even approached us for balloons!)

At the same time, we also demonstrate to other grassroot organisations how they too can do the same without fear of persecution. I'm thinking of say, gay rights movements. I had the courage to walk because the others have already tested the waters (see below).

In case no one has noticed, none of the protesters in the last 4 protests I know of have been persecuted:
1. 4-man protest outside the CPF building
2. Protest against Mr Brown's suspension
3. IMF meeting protest/standoff at Hong Lim Park*
4. Freedom Walk

* Dr Chee, Mr Gandhi and Uncle Yap were jailed only because they spoke in public without a permit.

You know what isn't effective? Sitting on the fence, babbling among ourselves (on the Internet no less!) ridiculing and demonizing one another how their strategy won't work or work against them.

I say, let everyone try their own ways. A winning approach may emerge from one or a combination of methods.

Anonymous said...

I ought to correct myself, the trio wasn't jailed for that protest at all. It was an incident before the elections, wasn't even a protest, doh!

Anonymous said...

How else can you raise awareness with the general population about the issues of freedom of speech and assembly other than the way the
Chee gang did? Or by depending on the propaganda mouthpiece of the SPH media to spread your message?

vaoliveiro said...

ghormax:
I have no doub that Chee is a patriot, but I think it's eminently clear that he holds no special place in the hearts of Singaporeans. If he did he might be a more effective catalyst for change, but as it stands, people think the government overreacts in dealing with him not because they're "denying his rights", but because he's an inconsequential figure. It's like using a jackhammer to get rid of ants.

As for more effective avenues for change, I would point to Singapore's literary and performance artists, its public intellectuals, and to its organised NGOs. Eleanor Wong's and Cherian George's words do more to get Singaporeans thinking than a walk in the street which, effectively, says "you can gather in public - just don't break the law" (where's the challenge in that?). TWC2 and Aware's actions in recent years to focus attention on the plight of foreign domestic workers in Singapore - that's another case of responsible, intelligent, and organised civil society action.

It's a question of translating thought into policy - effective policy that works within particular economic and cultural contexts. Do you think the average Singaporean is concerned about the depressed prices faced by coffee farmers because of protectionist trade regimes in the west due to the recent IMF protests?

Matilah_Singapura said...

A bunch of people (aka "citizens with rights") go on a walkabout, peacefully. Where's the illegality in that?

Then, a group of coppers, organised and armed accost and then harass the peaceful citizens walking around in their own country

In my view the Illegal Assembly here are the POLICE. The police have a duty and are bound by CONTRACT to PROTECT peaceful citizens going about their business. We all know the cops are there to PREVENT criminals from accosting and threatening ordinary folk strolling the streets.

...but now it is the cops who are behaving like criminals.

To add insult to injury, the citizens are TAXED, which funds the mechanism which oppresses them.

Will the conflict between people and state ever cease? Who's country is it anyway — the state's or the people?

Time to seriously reconsider the necessity for a state.

I say, get rid of it. Then the citizens can go for a walk, gather and speak freely.

MATILAH SINGAPURA!

Anonymous said...

vaoliveiro

The commentary you put out here seems like what the PAP would like all opposition to do, in a passive way and most important of all don't put the PAP in a bad light, internationally and domestically. Putting out writings like Eleanor Wong and Cherian George and hope, always hope, that the authorites would listen or pay attention?. But have the PAP done so - listen. Good examples are
the "discussions" whether to have GST or casino in Singapore. What good had all the "writings" to ST forums done in the end concerning these issues. Nothing. Zero.

Borrowing your earlier commentary about Dr Chee, have these distinguished writers actually challenge Singapore's OB markers? After all thses years have they actually raised awareness significantly? Through all their writings have they actually improved human rights for Singaporeans? Or are they just making "scribbling noises" that the authorities don't care to listen as well? If writers have made a difference throughout 40 years of PAP rule then I think it is safe to assume that Dr Chee would not be doing what he is doing now. Over the years PAP need not draw up new election rules, redraw constituency boundaries, implement GRCs to stack up trememdous odds against the opposition.

You applauded TWC2 and Aware's actions for domestic workers. Rightly so. But what about SINGAPOREANS. So what is wrong for someone to stand up to challenge for more rights, freedom and democracy. In fact, why should there be a challenge in the first place.

I am not saying that these distinguished writers have wasted their efforts. They play their part. Likewise regarding Dr Chee and his members are playing their part too.

Freedom Walker said...

Why would the government waste time on a smear campaign against Dr Chee if he is inconsequential? If you could pin Dr Chee down with a finger, why bother using a jackhammer?

If Dr Chee could reach the average Singaporean via intelligent writings in mainstream papers, why wouldn't he? The fact remains that he *can't*. What he challenges is considered OB, 'sensitive' and 'confrontational' by the government. Instead of having public and rational discussions to fend off criticisms and dispel possible myths, they choose to silence and harrass him. Should Cherian George, Eleanor Wong and performance artists do the same, I have no doubt they will meet the same fate. See Mr Brown, Martyn See and Elangovan. That's why he has to reach people by alternative means - through the web, podcasts, books, party newsletters, public speeches, foreign media and so on. If anything, I take my hat off to him for trying everything under the sky.

Why does a walk or a public gathering matter?

How would you convince someone that we can gather and have meaningful discussions without degenerating into shouting matches and riots? By holding one that doesn't.

How could you convince someone that protests may be peaceful and even friendly? By holding one that is.

Nothing makes the point clearer. Live, working demonstrations speak louder. Show people it can be done, then show that they can do it themselves and they will naturally see why they should be free to gather, speak and walk.

Why are we even talking about Dr Chee anyway.

The walk was an event to commemorate Human Rights Day by demystifying human rights. It is not an exercise in civil disobedience. Not even a party activity. Take a look at the leaflet to convince yourself:

http://i140.photobucket.com/albums/r19/theonlinecitizen/Freedom%20Walk/DSC03857.jpg

It is certainly limited in scope but it's a start.

Anonymous said...

Vaoliveiro

You say CSJ's actions are useless and ineffective.
May I question then, what would be effective?

Under the rule of our most loved totalitarian govenrment, I do believe that even if he does speak (and i do believe he is) to move the audience, those a-political spectators would just cast it aside after what he says. The country is brainwashed by the poison from the PAP that makes us all belive that "CSJ speaks crap", "CSJ is just some incompetent loser, but have you listened intently to his speeches with and objective point of view?

He might not be doing much about improving the human rights in Singapore and that is because he does not have the support of the people. Surely the poor little people of Singapore wouldn't want their lives hanging by a thread when the police finds out that they are in support of CSJ would they?

It all boils down to our oppressed nation. I do believe there's a need for a V (V for Vendetta) in Singapore. Violence seems to be the only way eh? And violence can be used to do good.

People should not be afraid of their governments. But governments should be afraid of their people.

Matilah_Singapura said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matilah_Singapura said...

>People should not be afraid of their governments. But governments should be afraid of their people. <

In S'pore the govt is so afraid that the people will riot in the streets and slaughter one another.

So the PAP has reasoned: you have wild animals, it is best to keep them "locked up" so they can't do any harm.

IMO, if you have wild animals, just leave them alone :)

> Violence seems to be the only way eh? And violence can be used to do good. <

Whilst I'll admit that violence, like sex is definitly "entertaining", social change is best achieved slowly, and with everyones consent, and NEVER directed by the state itself, but left entirely up to the country's people.

Violence tends to be very "expensive", and the results achieved may not be sustainable. For e.g. look at Iraq: Bush and Blair's dream to bring "democracy" to Iraq. The place in in civil war now. Note the cost of violent political intervention there in Iraq.

I will agree, V is a great movie.

Anonymous said...

wah, this is deep reason. First V and then peace. Comic shoot through the head these days.
Why is govt afraid that people will riot in the streets and kill each other? For what reason? No first cause how to come up to this conclusion? How can wild animals write and speak do job and pay tax? Funny, mind too violent but somehow tell people not to be violent.
wah, without direction by state people can govern themselves. Wonder by what? Maybe another government by people who let them rule? Quite stupid right, to turn from one government to the next like that.
wah, violence got cost? You mean violence can measure by money?
At least V is more enlightened. How can equate human lives and suffering to cost? Maybe use too much swear words and read too much bad chomsky. Phlegm shoot to the brain.

Matilah_Singapura said...

Must be that MOE syllabus again. with citizens like you...

MATILAH SINGAPURA!

Nice try. Not good enough, unfortunately ;)

Anonymous said...

Why study must be moe? Cannot talk to people meh? Or go to bookshop meh? Aiya, cannot retort then stop loh. No need to keep saying your own name. Sorry sounding one also.