31 Jan 2006

Google Sells Out Freedom of Speech

Another project by the Students for a Free Tibet.

Tibetans, their supporters, and Google users worldwide are outraged by Google's recent decision to join hands with the Chinese government in its propaganda efforts. Google has custom built a web search platform that blocks access to unbiased information about Tibet, human rights and other topics sensitive to Beijing. In doing so, Google isn't just helping the Chinese authorities by censoring "sensitive topics," it is enabling the Chinese government's propaganda by returning search results tailored to Beijing's repressive policies. For example, searching on "Dalai Lama" will only bring results portraying him as a "splittist."

Under China's totalitarian regime, the internet is a critical tool for Chinese citizens and Tibetans to improve their political situation. Google has become an active partner in the Chinese government's efforts to repress their own citizens along with Tibetans, Uighurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and anyone else standing up to Chinese authorities and demanding human rights and self-determination.

Please speak out against Google's actions by sending the letter below and forwarding the new Google logo (brought to you by SFT) to your friends and family.

Letter of Appeal to Google:

"I am outraged at Google's hypocritical decision to join hands with the Chinese government in its propaganda efforts. Google's decision to custom-build its search platform to Chinese authorities' specifications is more than just censorship. It's active participation in the Chinese government's efforts to repress and undermine Tibetans, democracy advocates, people of faith, and anyone working for freedom and human rights.

By censoring search results on critical topics such as "Tibet," you are promoting Beijing's wildly distorted version of history and truth. This is indefensible.
Under China's totalitarian regime, the internet is a critical tool for people seeking justice. Your decision to help the Chinese government thwart this effort renders your motto "Don't be evil" an ironic joke.

Please re-read your "Ten Things" company principles and do the right thing by ending your partnership with the Chinese government."

- ActionNetwork.org (send this message to Google here)

Chinese Google Filter Only Works If You Can Spell

As this blogger points out, the new Chinese search engine, Google.cn, doesn't quite live up to Google's reputation either for technical wizardry. If you search for "Tiananmen," you get peaceful photos of the Beijing square -- but if you search for common misspellings like "Tienanmen," "Tianenmen," or "Tiananman," you get photos of tanks.

29 Jan 2006

Students cry foul over Singapore sexuality workshop

29 January 2006

SINGAPORE - A workshop at a Singapore junior college sparked uproar among students for rejecting contraception, abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, The Sunday Times reported.

Anderson Junior College engaged the church-based Family Life Society to hold the four-hour workshop for all second-year students.

Complaints have been posted on Internet diaries, or blogs, and an online forum started by a disgruntled student attracted at least 120 comments. School officials also received negative feedback.

Those conducting the workshop “did not clearly state the source of their opinions and instead attempted to spread their beliefs to everyone attending by asking everyone, regardless of their individual’s beliefs or religion, to write down things like, ’I must condemn masturbation and in-vitro fertilization,’” Tay Wei Kiat said in his posting.

“It seemed like I was being brainwashed,” said another student going by his online moniker Cygig.

The workbook the students were given appeared to promote the organization’s beliefs rather than present fact, he wrote.

Regarding contraception, the programme workshop was cited as saying, “The sterilized sexual act is not much different in its meaning from an act of mutual masturbation whereby the couple seeks to use each other to derive sexual pleasure.”

Under Ministry of Education guidelines, schools are expected to provide eight hours of sexuality education to upper secondary students and four hours to tertiary students. Many schools hire external vendors to conduct the sessions.

Woo Soo Min, vice-principal of Anderson Junior College, told the newspaper that the Family Life Society was chosen because it focused on abstinence and approached the topic “using one’s values and beliefs as the basis,” but conceded that the tone might not have been suitable.

The society defended its programme, maintaining that it never imposed any ideas on the students and kept its content entirely secular.

While some content may have been “moralistic,” the presentation was never “religious,” Andrew Kong, senior executive of the group, was quoted as saying.

PAP Hits Back At Chiam

TO those who like their political debates sharp and hard, the upcoming election promises some fireworks if early exchanges are any indication.

A day after his attack on the People's Action Party (PAP), Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) chairman Chiam See Tong got a taste of his own medicine. Mr Chiam had said that though the PAP was criticising the Workers' Party's (WP) manifesto, it was no different from promises made in the ruling party's own founding manifesto.

On Friday, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Charles Chong hit back. "I would suggest Mr Chiam be more up-to-date and not look back at 1954. Since then, things have moved and times have changed," he said.

Mr Seng Han Thong, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, took issue with Mr Chiam's claims that by cutting employers' CPF contributions during the 1990s recession, the PAP had "reneged on promises" to the workers.

Said Mr Seng: "Wage restructuring was a worldwide phenomenon, not unique to Singapore. We were one of the economies which recovered sooner than the others because of right policies … which were supported by workers."

Veteran MP Tan Cheng Bock, who has served in Parliament for the last 26 years, added: "If we had not delivered what we promised, we would be in trouble at every general elections ... I don't see why we should apologise for what we have been doing consistently."

The PAP MPs also called on Mr Chiam to take a stand on the issues under debate.

Mr Chong wanted to know what Mr Chiam's position on the specific issues on which the PAP had rebuked the WP was. In his parting shot, Dr Tan said: "If they (the Opposition) can't form the Government, what's the use of talking about all this?"

As with all elections, the drama continues as each party attempts to be more vitrolic than the other. For a veteran, the parting shot was much to be desired.


I never heard of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk incarcerated by the Chinese, until I noticed his stencil face appearing on the streets of Manchester, with a 'savetenzin.org' slogan beneath. The website reveals that the man was actually arrested in April 2002 and faced grievous charges that warranted his death penalty. Fortunately however, due to international pressure, his sentence was reduced to life inprisonment in January 2005. Today, there is still mass support and belief in his innocence evident in ongoing petitions and the Amnesty International report. The challenge now is to support the release of an innocent man. So spare a thought and some time if you may, to send a message to the government of China for his release.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a highly respected Buddhist monk from eastern Tibet, was sentenced to death on December 2nd, 2002 on charges of involvement in a series of unsolved explosions. His co-defendent, Lobsang Dhondup, was executed shortly after. The two-year suspension of Tenzin Delek's sentence expired on January 26th, 2005, and Chinese authorities, under intense international pressure, commuted his sentence to life in prison. Human rights organizations around the world believe Tenzin Delek was framed because he is viewed by the Chinese government as a threat to their control of Tibet. Tibet has been occupied by China for more than fifty years.Tenzin Delek is known for his dedication to preserving Tibetan religion and culture and protecting the environment. He built many schools, monasteries, and orphanages in his area, and is an advocate of the Dalai Lama's philosophy of nonviolence. Because of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's influence in his community and his efforts to preserve Tibetan identity, he was an obstacle to the Chinese authorities' control in the region. Over the course of a decade, he was the target of harassment, intimidation, and control by Chinese officials.

The Chinese government did not present credible evidence against Tenzin Delek Rinpoche or any of the Tibetans detained in connection with this case. They were denied access to independent lawyers and did not have a fair trial. A life sentence in a Chinese prison, where torture and mistreatment are commonplace, is a death sentence of a different kind. Students for a Free Tibet and other organizations around the world are calling on China to release Tenzin Delek Rinpoche immediately.

Please help free Tenzin by sending a message to the Chinese government today. You can also click here to find other ways to help save this innocent man's life.

Savetenzin.org is a project of Students for a Free Tibet.


27 Jan 2006

Blogging During Elections

The poll to the left [correction: the other left] has been set up by an unknown person, I merely copied and pasted the code for it in the side bar. It will remain in the side bar until after the elections. Please leave comments regarding the list of options etc.. in the comment section for this post. As far as I can make out you can only vote once in the poll. The result is displayed in a pop up window once you have voted.

From Yawning Bread...

My guess is that most bloggers do not know that certain laws restricting what can be said over the internet kick in once a parliamentary election is called. Some bloggers will be surprised that some of the things they say about Singapore politics may expose them to prosecution.

The last time there was a parliamentary election (also called a general election) in Singapore, which was on 3 Nov 2001, blogging was not yet a household word. Some of today's most prolific bloggers were probably not yet out of school.

In 2001, websites offering political content were relatively few, and news about the amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act, amendments which specifically dealt with internet communications, were still fresh in webmasters' minds, having been passed only in August of the same year.

Today, blogging has exploded, and unlike webmasters in the early days of the internet, most bloggers are writing without looking over their shoulders at Big Brother. While the Sedition Act is no doubt well known among bloggers due to the publicity about the 3 guys recently charged and sentenced, their offences related to foul language stirring up race and religious hate, not political news or commentary.

The coming general election will thus be the first time that bloggers will have to watch what they publish with regard to electoral politics. It may also offer a test as to the boundaries of the law, for, in my opinion, the law is poorly drafted. In a number of ways, it is not appropriate to the nature of the internet.

Needless to say, it is much too sweeping, and thus injurious to Singapore's political maturity. If some bloggers respond with civil disobedience, we're in for some interesting times.

* * * * *

The Parliamentary Elections Act

The law in question is the Parliamentary Elections Act, particularly Sections 78A, B, C and D.

Section 78A devolves to the 'minister' -- I think the specific minister is the Prime Minister -- the power to make detailed regulations. Since these regulations would be made pursuant to the law, they would have the same force as the law. Yet the Regulations are nowhere to be found on the freely accessible part of the government website.

I sent an email enquiry to the Elections Department on a Monday, asking them to point me to the Regulations. Four working days later, when I commenced writing this article, I still had not received a reply.

It was only through the assistance of a lawyer friend of mine that I obtained a copy of the Regulations. He found it on Lawnet, a database generally accessible only to lawyers.

No election advertising

Section 78A of the Parliamentary Elections Act says,

78A.—(1) The Minister may make regulations —

(b) regulating election advertising and the publication thereof during an election period on what is commonly known as the Internet by political parties, candidates or their election agents and relevant persons, including prescribing the features that must or must not appear or be used in any such election advertising.

(2) Any person who contravenes any regulations made under subsection (1) (b) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.

The bold italics have been put in by me, since these terms will be explained below. These explanations are based on the definitions contained within the same Act.

Election advertising:

This is a very broad term to mean any material that can reasonably be regarded as intended "to promote or procure the electoral success ... for one or more identifiable political parties, candidates or groups of candidates", or may "enhance the standing of any such political parties, candidates or groups of candidates with the electorate in connection with any election."

This seems to suggest that even praise for a candidate's wit, eloquence or sartorial flair would fall within the meaning of this term, let alone more substantial discussion that makes a party or candidate look appealing and vote-worthy.

Election period:
This is the period beginning with the day the writ of election is issued by the President for an election and ending with the close of all polling stations on polling day.

Relevant persons:
In the Act, the definition is very wordy, but basically it means every person or group of persons (other than political parties, candidates and election agents) who publishes anything on the internet.

As I've mentioned above, Section 78A devolves the details to the Regulations. So now, let's take a look at what the Regulations say.

6. For the purposes of section 78A (1)(b) of the Act, no election advertising may be published or caused to be published on what is commonly known as the Internet during the election period by or on behalf of any relevant person.

-- Parliamentary Elections Act (Chapter 218, Sections 78, 78A and 102) Parliamentary Elections (Election Advertising) Regulations

That's it! And since the definition of "election advertising" is very broad, and "relevant person" means you and me, there's not a lot that we are allowed to say!

No election advertising on polling day

Next, let's look act Section 78B of the Parliamentary Elections Act. This section is titled "Election advertising ban on polling day".

You may wonder why there needs to be a special section that bans election advertising on polling day when it is already banned since the notification of elections.

This is because the ban effective since the notification of elections is only on "relevant persons", i.e. you and me. Political parties and candidates can still transmit election advertising during the election period except on polling day.

In that sense, Section 78B does not really affect those who aren't standing for election, but there is still something there that may interest us, for it limits the meaning of "election advertising".

Section 78B (2) provides a few permissible communications on polling day. These include:

(d) the transmission by an individual to another individual, on a non-commercial basis on what is commonly known as the Internet, of his own political views;

(e) the publication of any news relating to an election in a newspaper in any medium or in a radio or television broadcast;

If these are permitted on polling day, it stands to reason that they should be permitted on all other days through the election period, despite the broad definition of "election advertising". This suggests that you should be able to express your own political views or report on rallies and what candidates have said in their speeches (being "news")

But don't write in a such a way that looks as if you're helping to promote them. This is easier said than done though; see the section 'Ridiculous' below.

Sections 78C, D and E

Section 78C of the Parliamentary Elections Act says "No person shall publish or permit or cause to be published the results of any election survey."

This can reasonably be assumed to forbid any online poll on your website or blog.

Section 78D extends the ban to exit polls from polling booths on polling day.

Section 78E softens the law somewhat by saying that if you have exercised due care and taken reasonable steps to comply with the law, or if the breach happened due to circumstances beyond your control, you can use those as your defence.

* * * * *


The extremely broad meaning of "election advertising" will no doubt have a chilling effect, once again, on speech. Its catch-all meaning is ridiculous. What if you really, really agree with a particular party's position? Can't you express those personal views?

What if you think another party is talking rubbish? If you point out that the party is spouting rubbish, won't you in effect be promoting their opponents?

What if you report on what you saw first-hand at a political rally, and described how the audience was huge, cheering every word of a certain political candidate? This may be factual, but the transmission of these facts will naturally tend to "enhance the standing" of the candidate or party, which is covered within the meaning of the disallowed "election advertising".

What if you had a hyperlink to someone else's blog, which contains an online poll?

There are so many areas where the law flies in the face of reasonableness, let alone free expression.

The way the law is worded, it seems to be based on a model of politics where political parties and their candidates may speak, but ordinary folks can only listen. The spoken-to should more or less gag themselves. It's kind of the like the model Confucian classroom, where the teacher may speak but all the kids have to keep quiet or simply recite after the teacher. By banning the expression of analysis and commentary, the effect is to delegitimise analytical thought.

Is this the best way to encourage political awareness and participation? Will citizens feel engaged or disengaged as a result?

In any healthy democracy, citizens try to persuade each other of the course to take and the leaders to favour. This naturally includes persuading each other whom to vote for. It is absurd that this is against the law in Singapore.

Pushing the envelope

Some bloggers may want to push the envelope, and indeed, Singapore will be better off if brave souls expand the space for political expression.

It is possible to exploit some grey areas in the law, though at what point taking advantage of a grey area becomes civil disobedience is difficult to discern.

One grey area I can immediately think of comes out of the time-fence of "election period". If you write anything that is ardently in favour of a certain party or candidate before the election is called, it should be fine.

Yet, blogs often contain an archive of postings. What if you had written a political commentary before the election is called, but it still remains accessible during the hustings?

Others may take this grey area further. They may write their commentary after the election is called but change the time-stamp to before the election period. Of course they will need to be smart to do this. For one, they will have to ensure that the article does not reference any event or statement that only occurred after the election is called, for that will be proof that it was written within the election period. For another, they will need to reserve some item numbers before hand, because even if one changes the time stamp, the item numbers still run in chronological order. Naturally it doesn't take a genius to figure out that this can be achieved by writing a short, non-political item now (before the election is called), and then later editing the item to hold the future political commentary.

Then there may be others who think the easiest way may be to try to slip past the "relevant persons" rule. They may quickly set up an anonymous blog on a foreign server, making very sure that it is not traceable to them, but when the time comes, establish hyperlinks from their known blog to the anonymous blog. That way, they can put fearless election commentary on the anonymous blog, maybe even an online poll.

Of course you can be fearless without going through so much trouble, continuing to write for your own blog. Naturally, you should always take care not to endorse any party or candidate, nor ask readers to vote in any particular way. Write about the rallies you attended; report on the speeches and audience reactions you saw. Declare that as "news!" Stay within first-hand reporting and commentary, the latter being "transmission.... on a non-commercial basis.... of [your] own political views." If the effect is to make one side look good, so be it. Let the chips fall where they may. Argue, if necessary, that it was not "intended" to promote or enhance, but merely to express your personal views and observations.

Whichever route you wish to take, bloggers, start making preparations now!

© Yawning Bread

Opposition SDA joins in debate over WP's manifesto

SINGAPORE : The Singapore Democratic Alliance has joined in the debate over the Workers' Party recent manifesto.

It urged the public not to be swayed by criticisms levelled by the People's Action Party at the manifesto, saying this is an election tactic.

In a statement issued by SDA Chairman Chiam See Tong on Thursday evening, the SDA said it is not for the PAP to say that it is right and the WP is wrong.

Instead, he said this is a decision for the voters to make at the polls.

Speaking up for the WP, Mr Chiam said it advocates things that are good for the workers, which the PAP had similarly promised in the past but reneged on.

He says these included a cut in the employers' CPF contribution which he said went against previous PAP manifestos.

Mr Chiam said the WP's call to have more subsidies for the needy is "relatively mild" compared to what was outlined in PAP's past manifestos.

These, the SDA Chairman said, detailed the state's duty to provide for the sick, those who are unable to work for one reason or another, the young, aged or disabled through industrial injuries.

Just last month, the opposition parties had come to an agreement to avoid three-cornered fights in the constituencies they are eyeing for the next general election.

Mr Chiam said: "I think it is to show Singaporeans that the opposition is working together, they are united. The unity of the opposition is what the people want. On our part, we have already got 4 opposition parties to come together. The way the PAP minister attacked one opposition party, I think it is only right we speak up."

Mr Chiam said the SDA's own manifesto will be out in due course.

In the past week, the PAP had criticised the Workers' Party manifesto, saying it contains 'four time bombs' that are dangerous to Singapore.

These include abolishing grassroots committees, removing the ethnic quota for public housing, doing away with the Elected Presidency and having more subsidies for the needy. - CNA/de/dt

26 Jan 2006

2005 Birth rates: Slight increase or rebound?

Two ways to view at an objective fact.

On one hand, the national propaganda machine, the Straits Times:
Birth rates show only a slight increase
37,593 babies registered last year but 1.13% rise still below replacement needs
By T. Rajan

MORE babies were born in Singapore last year, but the annual increase was slight despite measures to boost Singapore's dwindling baby count.

A total of 37,593 babies were registered, an increase of 419 over 2004, according to latest official figures. This is an increase of 1.13 per cent.

At a replacement rate of 2.1, Singapore needs 50,000 babies a year to renew the population.

The 2005 figures from the Registry of Births and Deaths are, however, provisional numbers and may be revised upwards because not all actual births are immediately registered.

Analysts interviewed yesterday feel it is too early to tell if the baby-friendly incentives, introduced in August 2004, have succeeded in convincing Singaporeans to have more babies.

Said Professor Gavin Jones, a researcher at the National University of Singapore's Asia Research Institute:

'The key point is, it takes nine months for a baby to be produced. Some people take some time to get ready before they decide to have a child.'

However, in August last year, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr Vivian Balakrishnan applauded the 3 per cent rise in birth rates between May and July.

He had called the increase, over the same period in 2004, an 'encouraging sign'.

Singapore's birth rate has been falling for the past few years and last year, the total fertility rate dropped to an all-time low of 1.24 children for each woman residing here.

To reverse the trend, Singapore revised its pro-baby policy in August 2004 and gave more incentives.

Cash gifts were extended and given to the first and fourth child as well. Other measures include longer maternity leave of 12 weeks, instead of eight, and a lower maid levy.

Thomson Medical Centre says the pro-baby incentives were a factor but not the main reason couples gave for having a baby.

Said its spokesman: 'The decision on having a baby goes beyond the initial financial outlay of having a baby. The baby bonus is more of a bonus than the main reason to start a family or to have more children.'

The hospital has seen deliveries shoot up by 23 per cent, from 5,393 in 2004 to 6,628 last year.

On the other, Today:
WHEN the last series of statistics on Singapore's birth rate came out in September, there seemed to be little to smile about.

Announcing a rate of 1.24 children for each Singaporean woman in 2004, it marked a record low for Singapore's already-troubled birth rate.

Worse still, there seemed to be little indication of any effects from the $300-million Baby Bonus package put into effect in August 2004, following a lengthy study by population committee appointed by then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2003.

But a cacophony of tiny cries from hospitals around the country suggests that the alarming slide may have come to a halt.

According to checks done by Today, most hospitals in Singapore have seen an increase in the number of babies born since 2004 — a rise of between 10 and 20 per cent.

Thomson Medical Centre, for example, delivered 6,628 babies in 2005. This is an increase of 1,235 babies, or 23 per cent, compared to 2004.

Also, from August 2004 to July 2005, the private hospital delivered 6,112 babies — 49.7 per cent of which came from first-time mothers. This was up from 5,313 babies for the period August 2003 to July 2004, of which 48.7 per cent were first-time mothers.

Part of this increase could be due to the Baby Bonus measures.

"We feel that the increase in the number of deliveries at Thomson Medical Centre is attributable in part to the Baby Bonus package. We are very pleased with the Government's $300-million package and believe that it has and will continue to have a positive effect on the national birth rate," its spokesman told Today.

There were 1,670 deliveries at the Singapore General Hospital from August 2004 to July 2005. This is a rise from the 1,523 deliveries recorded for the period August 2003 to July 2004.

At the KK Women's and Children's Hospital, the number of first-time visits for outpatient pregnancy consultation has gone up by 5 per cent in the first half of 2005, as compared to the same period in 2004.

Even fertility experts like Associate Professor PC Wong, who is the chief of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology department at the National University Hospital, reported seeing a 30-per-cent increase in couples seeking treatment — from 45 couples before the Government's pro-baby measures, to 60 couples from Oct 2004 onwards.

Under the package, first-time parents get a cash incentive of $3,000.

There is an additional $6,000 grant for the second child, if the parents co-save the same amount. The Government will provide up to $18,000 cash and matching contributions if the baby is the third or fourth child. Maternity leave was also increased from two to three months.

Understandably, many first time mothers "pooh-poohed" the suggestion that the Baby Bonus made a difference.

One first-time mother said that while the bonus has helped defray the costs of buying basic necessities such as diapers and milk powder, it was not the main motivator.

"I'm enjoying it and I like it, but it was not a deciding factor for me to have a baby. I don't really think anybody will plan to have a baby because of the Baby Bonus," she said.

If the numbers do bear out, it will come as a welcome relief to Singapore, which has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, way below the required replacement rate of 2.1.

But National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan is adopting a wait-and-see attitude before breaking out the cigars.

"Well, so far so good, but let's see if it keeps up and translates into a net gain in fertility," she said.

But the academic was quick to add that the policy remained an important one as it "positions the family as a key aspect of our society".

"It sends the message that the state and society are behind parents and hence will be a much-appreciated gesture," she added.

What I want to know is if hospitals report 20% increases in deliveries, how come a measely 1.13% increase in official birth rate

What I want to know is how an increase of 419 babies born (from 37174 last year) can square with a 20% increase in deliveries

What I want to know is how a 3% increase in March to July 2005... is massively underwhelmed such that the actual rate for the entire year was only 1.13%

25 Jan 2006

Singapore elections: tiny party criticizes government

News From Russia...

13:58 2006-01-25
A tiny Singapore opposition party has drawn sharp criticism from the prime minister and other government leaders for challenging long-running policies in the run-up to expected parliamentary elections. One minister described the proposals of the Workers' Party as "time bombs," and local media on Wednesday quoted another as saying they were "poison in a concoction of medicine."

The group holds just one of the 84 elected seats in Singapore's Parliament. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong must hold parliamentary elections by mid-2007. Some political analysts expect the elections to be announced sooner, possibly in the weeks after Lee presents a new budget in Parliament on Feb. 17, so that the government can benefit at the polls from Singapore's current economic health.

The ruling People's Action Party, which holds all but two of Parliament's 84 contested seats, has won every election since splitting from Malaysia in 1965. It is expected to retain its overwhelming dominance.

Opposition leaders say tight political controls make it difficult to get their word out, but the government says Singaporeans are free to voice their ideas. The government acknowledges that it does not seek a Western-style democracy or unfettered political debate, which it says could disrupt public order or undermine economic growth in the affluent city-state.

The government has been particularly critical of the Workers' Party's call for an end to ethnic quotas in public housing complexes, saying it could undermine racial integration in Singapore, which is made up of about 80 percent ethnic Chinese, along with large Malay and Indian communities.

"You leave it laissez faire and choose their freedom, then you go to the expression, 'birds of the same feather flock together,' and you have Indian town, Chinese town, Malay town," television news station Channel NewsAsia quoted Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan as saying Wednesday.

"I'll put it as poison in a concoction of medicine," Khaw said of the opposition proposal. Singapore experienced deadly race riots in the mid-1960s, but has remained calm since then amid vigorous economic growth.

The government has also criticized a Workers' Party proposal to dismantle government-backed grass-roots committees and allow citizens to organize themselves in times of crisis, such as the spread of SARSб or severe acute respiratory syndromeб in 2003.

"It seems that the government perceives Singaporeans to be a docile lot with no initiative who need to depend on" the committees, Sylvia Lim, chairman of the opposition party, said in a statement. The Workers' Party, whose symbol is a yellow hammer, also wants to raise subsidies for the poor. The government, which has its own proposals for helping low-income workers, says the idea is vague, reports the AP.

Google launches censored version of its search-engine

Time to leave blogger? What do you think?

Reporters Without Borders today accused the Internet’s biggest search-engine, Google, of “hypocrisy” for its plan to launch a censured version of its product in China, meaning that the country’s Internet users would only be able to look up material approved of by the government and nothing about Tibet or democracy and human rights in China.

“The launch of Google.cn is a black day for freedom of expression in China,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “The firm defends the rights of US Internet users before the US government but fails to defend its Chinese users against theirs.

“Google’s statements about respecting online privacy are the height of hypocrisy in view of its strategy in China. Like its competitors, the company says it has no choice and must obey Chinese laws, but this is a tired argument. Freedom of expression isn’t a minor principle that can be pushed aside when dealing with a dictatorship. It’s a principle recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and features in the Chinese national constitution itself.

“US firms are now bending to the same censorship rules as their Chinese competitors but they continue to justify themselves by saying their presence has a long-term benefit. Yet the Internet in China is becoming more and more isolated from the outside world and freedom of expression there is shrinking. These firms’ lofty predictions about the future of a free and limitless Internet conveniently hide their unacceptable moral errors,”

The California-based Google announced on the 25th of January it would soon launch a China-based Google.cn to improve and speed up its service for Chinese customers. It admitted it would be censored in line with Chinese law but said that while such filtering was against its principles, it was much better that not providing any service at all.

Up to now, Google has only censored its news site, Google News, by removing material from sources banned by the Chinese authorities. It has not censored its standard US-based search-engine, accessible at www.google.com/intl/zh-CN, and is the last of the world’s major search-engines not to have done so inside China. Yahoo ! has been working with Chinese censors for more than three years.

By offering a version without “subversive” content, Google is making it easier for Chinese officials to filter the Internet themselves. A website not listed by search-engines has little chance of being found by users. The new Google version means that even if a human rights publication is not blocked by local firewalls, it has no chance of being read in China.

Reporters Without Borders wrote to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in May last year asking if they were going to censor their tool for the Chinese market and expressing concern at some recent Google decisions.

In July 2004, the firm took a share in the Chinese firm Baidu, which operates a highly-censored search-engine. Soon afterwards, Google was allowed to open an office in China under a conditional agreement with the authorities.

Reporters Without Borders published six recommendations on 6 January for ensuring that Internet firms respect freedom of expression when working in repressive countries.

Liberty League: The Almost Scandal??

Channel News Asia (CNA) on 13 Jan reported that Liberty League (LL), a non-profit organisation (NPO) had received a $100, 000 grant from the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). 3 days later, on 16 Jan, pleinelune, a contributor to this blog alerted readers about Leslie Lung. On 17 Jan, Fridae, Asia’s Gay and Lesbian Network published an article on its portal, citing religious links between LL and Exodus International, a coalition of Christian Ministries. Fellow contributor, akikonomu had on Monday, presented his take on the issue. Today has, in today’s edition, printed NVPC’s reasons for funding LL. Likewise, I would like to share my perspective on the matter.

Initially, the mainstream public received news that the government has taken a new initiative towards people with gender issues. It appears that the government is taking a more relaxed stance. The report also suggests that people who are facing such issues have the choice of consulting LL. It provides these people with a solution of sorts. LL's founder Leslie Lung indicated that the group’s approach would be similar to that of “Alcoholic Anonymous self-help principles” somehow implies that homosexuality is a disorder. This comparison drew flak from the gay community.

With reference to pleinelune’s entry, it was pointed out that Leslie Lung was an ex-transsexual. With this information, the credibility of the LL and even NVPC is questioned. It was also duly pointed out that homosexuality is not a disorder, unlike alcoholism. Though I do not speak for the gay community, it can be noted that the community would not be too happy about the government’s supposed objective.

Fridae then confirmed that Leslie Lung was indeed an ex-transsexual who had change his mind about a sex-change operation in 1984, 3 days prior the scheduled surgery. Fridae also uncovered the religious link to the coalition of Christian Ministries, Exodus International.

Subsequently, PLU insinuates that by funding LL, the government is promoting “a religious cause founded on unscientific and psychologically damaging methods”. PLU reprinted Leslie Lung’s past along with the anti-gay sentiment of a Christian group. I would like to be unbias here, however, it seems that PLU from then on, went to great lengths to discredit the NVPC and Leslie Lung. PLU's almost immediate retaliation to the grant by NVPC questioned the former’s status as a non government body. PLU also introduced issues such as LL being a private limited, and its $10 startup capital which were really, irrelevant.

If PLU’s intentions were to inform the public about LL’s links with a religious link headed by an ex-transsexual, it appears that the approach has been over zealous. Prior to PLU’s involvement, all other reports received were somewhat informative. With PLU’s involvement it seems that unhappiness aimed at organizations were revealed. PLU’s good intentions were lost along the way with almost convenient government bashing.

Could it be that PLU is displeased that LL had been funded by NVPC? After all, PLU has never managed to get itself registered as a society. An ex-gay group headed by an ex-transsexual have instead been funded by the government. Bear in mind the recent PLU/NLB fiasco.

Furthermore, the objective of LL appears to be one that is in conflict with PLU’s. While LL seeks to adapt individuals toward being heterosexual, PLU’s mission is one of public education and advocacy. PLU's strategy seemed to take the form of onslaught slamming. This method of handling, in my opinion, puts PLU in a bad light.

Now that the NVPC, has spoken and declared that its funding for LL was on the basis that “supports secular causes that benefit society”, all who are likely to approach LL have been warned. Its statement today gives the impression that the LL is targeting a fraction of people grappling with gender issues. “Anti-gay” is not the objective. People can choose to approach LL or not. People have a choice.

To be fair, NVPC has not acknowledged that LL’s founder was an ex-transsexual. Perhaps with the NKF issue still fresh in everyone’s mind, NVPC chose to declare the funding and its amount. NVPC also revealed that the efficacy of LL programmes would be assessed before funds are disbursed.

Whether the government funded LL knowingly or unknowingly, the issue is for each one of you to decide.

I do not think the gay movement in Singapore is infantile. Rather it is PLU's approach that somehow deem the gay movement infantile.

23 Jan 2006

Reason #1,846,778,387 why the gay movement in Singapore is infantile

Blogger requested in email to cease criticisms of PLU

Yesterday evening, pleinelune, who speaks for gay lobby group PLU on Singabloodypore, emailed me, requesting that "for the sake of community image" and the image of PLU, I should not expose the public to further criticisms of PLU's modus operandi and public statements. Somehow, the image of PLU and the community is threatened every time I comment that I do not agree with their policies or actions. Newsflash: PLU does not have a mandate for sole representation of the community. Newsflash: Even in a one-party state, people are allowed to openly raise disagreements with party policy. Newsflash: Wong Kan Seng, Minilee, and Papalee have NOT said that criticisms by Singaporeans will lead to a diminishing of the public image of Singapore.

Most recently, Alex Au issued a statement that the NVPC is not a real NGO, because it gets funding from the government. His usual spokespersons on Singabloodypore also maintained that as the offices of NVPC are located in a ministry building, NVPC is not an independent organisation.

I have taken pains to point out this line of argument is untenable. Alex Au, with more than 10 years in activism and what his defenders call "constructive engagement" with the government, wouldn't know an NGO if it came up and slapped him with a trout. I pointed out several NGOs which receive substantial proportions of their budgets from governments:

1. A quarter of the US$162 million income in 1998 of the famine-relief organization Oxfam was donated by the British government and the EU. Applying Alex Au's logic, Oxfam is not independent!
2. The Christian relief and development organization World Vision US collected US$55 million worth of goods in 1998 from the American government. Therefore they are run by the government!
3. Médecins Sans Frontières gets 46% of its income from government sources. It's a stooge of the French government! It's NOT an NGO!

Gentle bloggers, these are facts that one can easily look up on the internets. Did Alex Au conduct due diligence before he accused NVPC of being non-independent due to government funding?

I have also commented that PLU's second press release "Behind the Liberty League Scandal", was a strategic failure. When the Ministry pulled a reporter's news story off the papers at the last minute, PLU went ballistic and accused the government of censorship, of poor governance of NVPC, and said "the hole is being dug deeper and deeper".

PLU's defenders then went on to say that MCYS and NVFP ganged up on the lobby group. Presumably, that's why the news article was pulled off. And presumably that's why PLU has issued a statement that preemptively cuts any lines of communication and goodwill it has with the bureaucracy.

1. NVPC is an NGO. It is not a "government body", as PLU's statement erroneously claims. Did PLU do any research before typing out its statement? The ministry provides the funds, but it is up to NVPC to spend it, as it wishes. There is no issue of governance here, merely an issue of poor judgement: NVPC foolishly funded a sex ed quack.

That Liberty League is a Pte Ltd is irrelevant. As long as it declares itself a non-profit to NVPC, it is obliged to provide full and regular accounts. That it has only $10 in startup capital is irrelevant. It will find the rest of the money elsewhere, in order to match NVPC's funding, dollar for dollar.

2. I don't know if there was a secret agreement by MCYS and NVFP to oppress gay people. Certainly it's nice to think so, and even to speculate on the basis of insufficient information. I don't know if MCYS called off the news story because it supports NVFP, or whether it needed time to conduct investigations with NVFP on the Liberty League, or whether it needed time to spin an appropriate response. Certainly it's nice to think of the possibilities, and even to speculate on the basis of insufficient information. Or even to blog about it.

It would be prudent, if one wanted to do more than blog about it (like say, issue a press statement), to make inquiries about the status of the investigation by MCYS and NVFP. PLU did not do so, and instead chose to issue its statement. For all we know, MCYS and NVFP could be doing background checks on Liberty League; making Leslie Lung conform to the rules; finding a way to drop the Liberty League quietly; anything. In fact, there is insufficient evidence for myself or PLU to guess what is going on.

Yet PLU has chosen to interpret the removal of the press story as outright censorship, whereas it could be a media blackout. One would assume that as PLU had cooperated with the reporter to write her story, it would've contained all the errors I have pointed out, like the insistence that NVFP is a government body, or that in effect the Ministry has sanctioned Liberty League for schools as a semi-official sex ed course, for example.

3. It's very nice to preemptively tag the issue as a "scandal" and frame it as a scandal, even before the public gets to know about it and get all worked up over it. Along with the insinuations of a ministry pulling the strings of an NGO, and the claims of press censorship, this is a particularly nice and constructive way to engage the issue with the government, and to persuade the bureaucrats to listen to your lobby group in the future.

By pointing out these flaws in PLU's statements and operations, I have once again undermined the image of PLU, an image so precious to them, they're asking me - through their proxies - very nicely to keep quiet. I'm sure the very possibility that mistakes should be pointed out when they're made doesn't matter. Or perhaps we're witnessing the doctrine of PLU exceptionalism - it is free to criticise the government, but for the sake of 'unity', no one is allowed to criticise them in public.

PLU is too weak to stand up to public scrutiny! The Government has always been hostile to PLU! Don't give PLU any more trouble by criticising it! I fail to understand how by pointing out the flaws in PLU's very open actions, that I'm washing its dirty linen in public. Or that it's a very bad thing.

As a blogger and contributor to Singabloodypore I take this request to stop talking about PLU as an insult to myself and to the ideals of SBP. They suggest I voice out my dissention privately to their organisation in the future, instead of subjecting it to public scrutiny. Actually, I find their suggestion very humorous.
I concede your point about PLU having to be open to criticism. Every organisation, every society has to be. However, the issue of washing our dirty linen in public comes into question. Yes, PLU has made mistakes, but it is ineffective to publicly denounce PLU in front of anti-gay people. We are only penalising ourselves.

No. I hold that the more mollycoddled PLU is, the less its mistakes are pointed out as such, the more its defenders penalise it. I don't wish to see PLU as a monolithic party that is more interested in party unity than an open marketplace of ideas. I would hate to think of PLU as having a monoculture, and dominated by groupthink, where no one dares to tell its leaders that what they're doing might be not quite right.

See also:
More reasons why the gay rights movement in Singapore is infantile.

Lawyer to campaign to save two convicted

From Singapore Windows

Associated Press
January 13, 2006

A LAWYER and human rights activist said Friday, Jan 13, he planned to campaign against the execution of two convicted heroin traffickers.
M. Ravi said he would seek the help of international human rights groups on behalf of Nelson Malachy, 33, who is stateless, and Nigerian Amara Tochi Iwuchukwu, 19, both on death row for smuggling 727 grams (26 ounces) of heroin into the city-state.

Singapore has a mandatory death penalty for anyone found guilty of trafficking more than 15 grams (0.5 ounces) of heroin.

Iwuchukwu was caught at Singapore's Changi Airport in November 2004 with heroin estimated by authorities to be worth S$1.5 million (US$970,000; €795,930) after arriving from Dubai. Malachy was subsequently arrested after Iwuchukwu identified him to authorities as the person he was supposed to deliver the drugs to.

The pair, who are not represented legally by Ravi, were convicted in July and sentenced to death. Their appeals will be heard in court on Feb. 20.

"The mandatory death penalty should be opposed especially because it does not allow for the exercise of judicial discretion in sentencing," Ravi said at a lunch hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Association, adding he hoped the case would create debate about capital punishment in the city-state's media.

He said he intended to work with London-based human rights group Amnesty International and the European Commission-funded Center for Capital Punishment Studies in appealing for clemency.

The lawyer has failed in three previous cases to save drug smugglers from the gallows - including convicted heroin trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van of Australia, who was executed on Dec 2.

PM Lee urges opposition Workers' Party to revise their manifesto

If anybody has access to the original ST article, please post it here.

SINGAPORE : Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged the opposition Workers' Party to revise their manifesto as it contains dangerous and critical ideas.

He said these destroyed the fundamental principles Singapore had built and thrived on.

The PAP government described the Workers' Party manifesto as containing four "time-bombs", including removing the ethnic quota for HDB housing and the elected presidency.

Mr Lee said the suggestions in the Workers' Party manifesto had undermined the basic principles on which Singapore depends.

He said this was a very serious matter.

Mr Lee said he expected the Workers' Party and its chief Low Thia Khiang to respond properly.

Mr Lee said: "Where do they stand? Either you rethink your position and publish a revised manifesto, version 1.2, there is still time or if they want to stand by that, explain what they mean, justify, defend and we will join issue and we will fight the elections on these issues.

"They should fight the elections on these issues because this is not just a matter of you talking casually at the coffeeshop after drinks. It is a manifesto for the General Election and he is offering himself as an alternative, it has to be scrutinised." - CNA/de

This article amuses me greatly because it is essentially, one party telling the other how to organise their elections. And if you read the original ST article, it was laced with propaganda and explosive[literally] images. Made for a good laugh over breakfast.

Also, there is this idea that if we change anything about Singapore, it will immediately collapse and everyone will starve and die.


22 Jan 2006

Addicted to Regulation

Singapore government is addicted to using regulation to solve or forestall problems. In recent months we saw the passage and reminder of a series of laws. Some of these are:

1) some schoolgirls were warned by police that they might break law if white elephant T-shirts were worn en masse. (To me, this really sound like bullying by the police.)

2) potential violent protestors, locals or foreigners, were reminded that they could be caned or jailed.

3) new law to punish Singaporeans who had sex with underaged girls abroad

4) tougher penalties for draft dodgers

5) possible jail term for bus and taxi fare cheats.

Regulation is addictive because:

a) it is a quick fix to solve or preempt problems

b) with all the fines and penalties it fattens the state coffers

c) it is probably gratifying for some to see the populace being prgrammed to become obedient and submissive subjects of the state .

However, like most addictions, it has its adverse effects:

1) the government would appear to be run by 3rd world leaders who typically are unwilling or unable to run the system by any other ways except through threats and the rule by fear.

2) those who find it too restrictive will leave the country, causing brain drain.

3) it leaves no room for flexibility and creativity, which means Singapore will be ill-prepared for the challenge of the 21st century: a race on ideas and innovations.

If the Singapore government is serious about building Singapore into a world-class city, then it should cure itself of its addiction.

The three layers of the Liberty League issue

There has been a flood of information about the LL issue in the past few weeks, so hopefully, this will clarify things a little bit.

I'm also adding all related links to this issue, hopefully in chronological order:

The CNA article that started it all
Pleinelune's response
The Sayoni article(duplicate of one in SBP) that got tomorrowed
News Article from Fridae.com
Media Release from PLU
PLU's email to redqueen and signel
Yawning Bread's article - "Government gives $100K to a religious and anti-gay group"
Liberty League's funding raises questions - Fridae.com

Liberty League Website
The 3 layers of the Liberty League issue

Because the Liberty League issue evolved over a period of a week, the discussion about it in various web forums got rather confused. Different commentators focussed on different aspects of the case at different times. The result is that the nub of the matter is no longer clear.

Here, I am going to try to correct the situation by giving some structure, chronologically and logically, to the case.

You will also notice, however great my disagreement with the ideology of Liberty League and the ex-gay movement in general, it's actually tangential to the matter. They can believe what they want to believe, but what concerns us as Singaporeans are the decisions and actions of the government.

You will see below that the debate comes in three different layers.

1. That the decision to give government funding to Liberty League was unwise;
2. That a government ministry and its quasi-independent body that dishes out funds on its behalf, failed to perform due diligence before giving out public money, and the grant was in technical breach of its own eligibility criteria;
3. That it was unacceptable for the government to censor an emerging newspaper story.

It is possible for reasonable people to disagree on one level and agree on another, which is why the debate gets confused so easily. Thus it is advisable when evaluating the issue, to say exactly which level you agree with and which you disagree with.

* * * * *

On 13 January 2006, TV network ChannelNewsAsia reported that the government had given a grant of S$100,000 to Liberty League. See report.

Since People Like Us (PLU) was familiar with the name Leslie Lung, the person behind Liberty League, the group began making some enquiries.

Separately, unknown to PLU, a reporter also thought the story quite strange and started doing her own checks. She would later contact PLU.

Key background:

The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) gave a grant of $100,000 to Liberty League, a group that appears to espouse an fundamentalist Christian ex-gay objective.

The grant was funnelled through the National Volunteer and Philanthropic Centre (NVPC).

1. Unwise decision

What was uncovered about Liberty League can be seen in the earlier article Government gives $100K to a religious and anti-gay group See also PLU's press release. At first, the chief concern was that Liberty League would not be a suitable organisation giving talks to school children about sexuality issues, since they appear to espouse a distinctly Christian point of view (when the majority of Singaporean children are non-Christian) and adopt a stridently anti-gay position. Such an approach hurts rather than helps the psycho-social development of gay and lesbian teenagers, at the same time as it fosters homophobia among their peers [1].

So the first level of disagreement would be that it was very unwise of the government to give endorsement and financial support to this group.

2. Technically faulty decision

Further investigation revealed that Liberty League should not even have qualified for the grant, based on the criteria listed on the website of the National Volunteer and Philanthropic Centre (NVPC), a sub-unit of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS).

It appeared that 3 of NVPC's own criteria were breached, for the website said applicants must show that

* it is a new initiative, significantly different from anything offered by other parties;
* it is non-profit;
* it is secular.

More details of each of these 3 breaches:

In a letter published in the online edition of the Straits Times, on 17 Jan 2006, Sarah Wong posed about 10 questions regarding the Liberty League matter.

Her top-most question, in a nutshell, was why are we paying an outside organisation to give talks when we've already paid teachers to teach the subject?

Another question was, what kind of teaching can we do when the law is so out of date?

(a) It's neither new nor different

It is common knowledge in Singapore that another group 'Choices' have been giving these talks for years in schools. Moreover, Leslie Lung himself had been giving such talks personally, as the article Government gives $100K to a religious and anti-gay group described in depth. So, how can this be a "new" initiative?

(b) Is it really non-profit?

Liberty League Pte Ltd does not indicate anywhere that it is a
non-profit company. Normally, non-profit companies are not "Pte Ltd", but just "Ltd", (or "companies limited by guarantees" in technical jargon).

(c) It is not secular

As can be seen from the details in the Media Release, Liberty League is Christian-linked and religiously motivated. Furthermore, PLU had in hand a written first-hand account from a school student who was in the audience listening to Leslie Lung speak in one of his earlier lectures. There was repeated mention of God, Christianity and the Bible.

The above suggests at least 3 possibilities:

1. the NVPC had been misled;
2. the NVPC had failed to do proper background checks;
3. the NVPC made special exceptions for Liberty League
(in which case, why?).

This is the second level of our concern: a possible failure of good govenance procedures, and possible absence of due diligence.

Not that Choices is any better. It too spreads the message that homosexuality, masturbation, etc are all deviance. It's strategy is to lay guilt on very thickly.

Then it is wants people to "come to Christ" so that they can be relieved of that guilt.

People Like Us decided that we ought to play the role of concerned citizens fully. The group asked for a meeting with NVPC (the email copied the Minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, as well) in order that we may exchange thoughts and present to them what we knew.

The meeting was not pleasant. NVPC (plus one MCYS representative) took the position that they would not tell us anything at all. Everything was confidential. They would not exchange thoughts nor truly engage with us on the ground that everything was "confidential".[2]

From the start, the body language was extremely frosty and suspicious. I had the feeling they came to the meeting with the view of "let's find ways to shoot the messenger before we get shot".

But it doesn't matter; our conscience is clear. We have done our part as citizens. If nothing is done despite our giving facts to NVPC and MCYS, then we know, and we will be in our right to say, where the failure lies.

3. Censorship

Meanwhile, separate from what PLU was doing, the reporter tried to get MCYS [3] to give her a comment in response to her questions. For 3 days, they did not respond. Nonetheless, MCYS was aware that a news story was brewing.

The newspaper story was supposed to be in Friday's edition (Jan 20), but minutes before it was to be filed, a call came from a ministry to stop the story.

What exactly was the motive behind this Stop order, we don't know.

This is the third and most serious level of concern. It is now an issue of transparency and accountability with public money and public trust.

© Yawning Bread

The body language of the NVPC officer suggested to me that it was a surprise for him to learn that Liberty League was a Private Limited Company. More - with just $10 in paid-up capital.

Why is this important?

Because NVPC's grant conditions say that the recipient has to match NVPC's funding with 30 to 50% of their own money.

This means Liberty league has to come up with $43,000 to $100,000 from their side.

It can either come from capital, donations, loans or earnings.

There's clearly insufficient capital. They'll find it hard to ask for donations, because they're not registered as a charity. They can ask for loans but how will they pay them back?

As for earnings, e.g. charging the schools for giving talks, this would raise an even bigger question. Sarah Wong, in her letter to the Straits Times had already asked why we're paying a group to teach what teachers are themselves paid to do? Now we want the schools to pay for talks that the NVPC is funding?

I posed the question to NVPC - have you thought about how they're going to deliver their side of the bargain? If after you've given out $100,000 and it's been spent, there's not a lot of recourse, is there?



One person I know wrote a letter to the Minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, pointing out to him that by spreading a message that is professionally discredited and known to cause long-term mental distress, Liberty League and its funder, MCYS, could be accused of tort. Tort means causing damage or injury by a willful or negligent act, and is a basis for a civil suit.


This explanation is not as good as it sounds. For example, I asked them what were the grant conditions given to Liberty League? What were they actually supposed to do in return for the grant? They repeated that it was confidential and they had to seek Liberty League's permission to reveal their communication.

I said to them, it cannot be confidential because when they're disbursing public money, they should be accountable publicly for it. I wasn't asking them what Liberty League said in its application. I was asking them what NVPC said at the moment that it acted in its official capacity. The terms and conditions of that contractual arrangement should be a matter of public record.

They had no real reply to this and just stonewalled the rest of my requests.
Return to where you left off


My understanding from unofficial sources is that the reporter first approached NVPC for a comment, but the immediate reaction from NVPC was that "the matter has gone up to MCYS", which was why for the following 3 days, the reporter was expecting a comment from the ministry, not from the immediate grant-giver, NVPC.

This throws some interesting light on NVPC itself. On its own website, www.nvpc.org.sg, it claims to be a "non-profit, non-government organisation", yet the moment a slightly challenging question is posed to them, the matter is passed "up to" the ministry. How "non-government" is that?

You draw your own conclusions.

21 Jan 2006

On Devan Nair, American poverty, the death penalty, evolution, Deutsche Bank, gay marriage

This is a letter to the Economist on Devan Nair.

Devan Nair

SIR – In your obituary you wrote “by Mr Nair's account, Mr Lee promised to crush him [J.B. Jeyaretnam], crying ‘I will make him crawl on his bended knees and beg for mercy.’ That image had haunted Mr Nair before, as the worst expression of arrogant colonialism” (“Devan Nair”, December 24th).

This and many other statements Mr Nair made after his bout of alcoholism in 1985 were unfounded. One statement he made in 1991 forced Mr Lee Kuan Yew to sue him and the Canadian Globe & Mail in Toronto. The matter was settled when Mr Nair's two sons issued this statement, reported in the Globe & Mail on July 1st 2004:

“Mr C.V. Devan Nair, aged 80, has been diagnosed as suffering from the beginning stages of dementia, an ailment which affects his memory. He is no longer able to give evidence in court proceedings.

“On March 29th 1999, the Globe & Mail published an article by Mr Marcus Gee. The article quoted Mr Nair as saying that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had Singapore government doctors slip hallucination drugs to Mr Nair to make him appear befuddled.

“Having reviewed the records, and on the basis of the family's knowledge of the circumstances leading to Mr Nair's resignation as president of Singapore in March 1985, we can declare that there is no basis for this allegation.”

Yeong Yoon Ying
Press secretary to Minister Mentor

Apology: We recognise that the statements attributed to Mr Lee in the obituary on Devan Nair and which are referred to in Mdm Yeong Yoon Ying’s letter above, are false. We apologise to Mr Lee for having published them, and we unreservedly withdraw them. We have agreed to pay Mr Lee damages and to indemnify him for all costs incurred by him in connection with this matter.

And the government scores the defamation goal again!

20 Jan 2006

Blogging and the Law

Picked up on a rumour from newsintercom.org. At the moment it is merely a rumour... It was clearly a discussion and as far as I am aware no information, minutes or policies have been announced. So it was probably just a cosy chat. But why the silence? A lot of 'silence' around the sg blogosphere these days from the so called 'elite'.

Blogging and the Law

On 18th January 2006, the Institute of Policy Studies organised a closed-door discussion on the topic of Blogging and the Law.

This is according to local bloggers mrbrown and Mr Miyagi.

They didn't say much about what happened in this closed-door event except for some pictures. However the title of this closed-door event is interesting to say the least. Considering the venue, it's very likely that the powers-that-be are considering legislating blogging. It's pretty clear that this was mooted by the recent blogging/hate/Sedition Act cases.

In 2005 I wrote on this very specific issue. In it I proposed a self-policing or moderation policy as opposed to a throw-the-book approach that the PAP has adopted (clearly a political Send-A-Message).

However it would seem that the government is going to take this one step further by considering legislation on blogging, possibly also in view of GE2006.

To me, legislating blogging is missing the forest for the trees and reflective of the PAP's neanderthal style. It's analogous to flocking to a commotion in the street, seeing a loon hurling racial epitaphs at no one in particular, then getting offended and braying for a law to clamp down on talking in public!

While technology has changed, human nature hasn't. Social ills and bad behaviour remain constant. There are enough laws to come down hard on these things. Bad behaviour exists everywhere, virtually or otherwise. If you open the floodgates of law on blogging, where does it stop? Websites? Forums? Mailing lists? Usenet?

Jail for Singapore drugs Scot

From Scottish TV's Scotland Today.
20 January 2006 10:57

A Scots engineer arrested during a drug operation in Singapore has been jailed for eleven months. Construction supervisor Jason Taylor, from Aberdeen, originally faced being jailed for up to ten years after he was caught with a small quantity of cocaine.

Singapore is home to some of the world's toughest drug laws. Last year the authorities there executed an Australian man after he was convicted of heroin trafficking. His death provoked international outrage.

But the country's strict stance on drugs would have been well known to Aberdeen man Jason Taylor. The 33-year-old construction supervisor - originally from Dyce - had been in Singapore for three years and had told friends he loved the country.

He was arrested along with several other foreigners during a drug raid in the city-state last month. It is believed Taylor and a Malayan woman were spotted coming out of a known drug den which was being targetted by the narcotics bureau. Police stopped the taxi he was travelling in, searched and found a small quantity of cocaine and placed him under arrest.

Today Taylor appeared at a District Court in Singapore to learn his fate. He had already pleaded guilty to possessing a packet containing 0.71 grams of cocaine. He faced up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to £7,000. Instead he was jailed for 11 months.

Behind the Liberty League Scandal

This is the email received over the Signel mailing list, from Yawning Bread aka Alex Au. It illuminates certain facts about the Liberty League issue that should shed light on how our respected government works.

Personally, I am rather disappointed at how the whole thing turned out. Deja vu, for those who remember the PLU/NLB scandal.

PLU is now at liberty to tell you a bit more about what had been happening during the last few days.

Our concern was to try our best to get the grant decision reversed. Not only was the cause unworthy and potentially deleterious to the schoolchildren who would be brainfucked, it was also, as we found on closer examination of the facts, a case of a technically erroneous decision.

It was unjustifiable because in 3 different ways, Liberty League should not have qualified even based on the technical criteria, let alone the qualitative consideration of suitability.

NVPC's own website www.nvpc.org.sg states that for the New Initiative Grant, applicants must show that
- it is a new initiative, not similar to anything done by others before;
- it is non-profit;
- it is secular.

It's common knowledge that Choices have been giving these talks for years in schools. Moreover, Leslie Lung himself had been giving such talks personally, as first-hand accounts have shown. How can this be a "new" initiative? BTW, Leslie claimed on CNA it has never been done before - look up the signel posting.

Liberty League Pte Ltd does not indicate anywhere that it is a non-profit company. Normally, non-profit companies are not "Pte Ltd", but just "Ltd", (or "companies limited by guarantees" in ACRA jargon). For example, it is NKF Ltd, not NKF Pte Ltd.

And of course, I don't have to elaborate the point that it is most assuredly religiously motivated. We didn't just have circumstantial evidence; we had a first hand account from a school student who was in the audience listening to Leslie Lung speak in one of his earlier lectures. There was repeated mention of God, Christianity and the Bible.

Acting not just as gays and lesbians, but as Singaporeans, our concern was what kind of half-cocked background checks did NVPC do before they dished out $100,000, when we as outsiders and amateurs could find all this information in one afternoon? Did this government body do due diligence?

Separately, a reporter from one of the newspapers, herself intrigued by the CNA story, sat at a computer and did a simple google search of Leslie Lung and Liberty League. Within minutes, what she saw troubled her.

She approached PLU for the story and we were pleased to cooperate.

In the meantime, PLU decided that we would play the role of concerned citizens fully. We asked for a meeting with NVPC (the email cc'd Vivian Balakrishnan as well) in order that we may exchange thoughts and present to them what we knew.

The meeting was not pleasant. NVPC (plus one MCYS rep) took the position that they will not tell us anything at all. Everything is confidential. But we were supposed to tell them what we knew. The body language was terribly defensive. But the body language was enough to tell us that they hadn't known that Liberty League was a Pte Ltd company, that its paid up capital was $10.

(This is important, because NVPC's own website says grant receivers have to co-pay 30 - 50 percent of the project cost. So if the grant is $100K, Liberty League ought to be able to come up with $43K to $100K on their own.)

But despite the frosty and suspicious reception, it doesn't matter. Our conscience is clear. We have done our part as citizens. If nothing is done despite our giving facts to NVPC and MCYS, then we know, and we will be in our right to say, where the failure lies.

Working in parallel, for 3 days, the reporter tried to get MCYS to give her a comment in response to her questions. For 3 days, they did not respond. Nonetheless, MCYS was aware that a news story was brewing.

The newspaper story was supposed to be in friday's edition (Jan 20), but minutes before it was to be activated, a call came from a ministry to stop the story. The newspaper editor complied.

What exactly was the motivation behind this Stop order, we don't know.

But anyway, what started off as an issue about the wisdom of giving $100,000 to a group that in our view wasn't suitable, became a story about possible failure of checks within the government... and has now, with censorship, become an issue of transparency and accountability.

The hole is dug deeper and deeper.

It is not a gay issue anymore. It's now an issue about govenance and accountability with public money and public trust.

19 Jan 2006

Singapore govt gives $100,000 to Christian anti-gay group

Media release received via email. It had been written and was ready to go for a local newspaper until being pulled at the last minute by an allegedly unknown ministry.

So in addition to this matter being a question of good financial governance, it could well be a question of free speech too.

People Like Us Press Release
19 Jan 2006, 20.30h

Singapore govt gives $100,000 to Christian anti-gay group
By giving $100,000 to Liberty League, as reported by ChannelNewsAsia (CNA), the Singapore government is helping to promote a religious cause founded on unscientific and psychologically damaging methods.

Liberty League intends to "promote gender and sexual health" through "conduct[ing] sexuality talks in schools" - CNA report.

However, Liberty League's website promotes a book 'Freedom of Choice'. The book's subjects were almost totally from the Christian group, Choices, which runs programmes teaching that homosexuality is a psychological dysfunction. The book thus promotes this kind of pseudo-therapy propagated by fundamentalist Christian groups.

Mr Leslie Lung, the founder of Liberty League has long been known to be associated with "ex-gay" ministries. The "ex-gay" or "reparative therapy" movement is strongly associated with the more extreme churches in the United States. Liberty League's website itself uses terms such as "sexual brokenness", "addiction and abuse".

In a seminar organised by the Graduates Christian Fellowship on 13 October 2005, which described homosexuality as a psychological problem, Liberty League was touted as resource for counseling. It was recommended by Mr Tan Thuan Seng, the President of Focus on the Family, Singapore (FOTF-Sg) who is known to regularly give anti-gay talks in Christian circles.

FOTF-Sg is an affiliate of Christian- and US-based Focus on the Family as can be seen from the latter's website. The anti-gay, proselytising stance of Focus on the Family is well known. One may therefore infer that since it was recommended by FOTF-Sg, Liberty League shares a similar position regarding faith and homosexuality.

Liberty League is also lauded on the website of Exodus Singapore, the Christian ex-gay group, . It too speaks of "sexual brokenness" and teaches "God's plan for sexuality". On its Policy page, it says, "Exodus Asia Pacific cites homosexual tendencies as one of many disorders that beset fallen humanity. Christ offers a healing alternative to those with sexual and relational problems."

An 18-year-old student who had attended one of Mr Lung's earlier talks in her school wrote in her report (deposited with People Like Us) that she had to "sit through a one-hour treatise on why homosexuality was wrong, and if we had any same-sex attractions, we should immediately seek help and 'turn straight'.

"He made several references to God and the Bible during the talk," she wrote, and that "it was pretty insensitive to everyone non-Christian."

It should be noted that in his statement to CNA, Mr Lung spoke of "coming out of [homosexuality]". At first glance, this phrase appears similar to "coming out" - the well-accepted process of healthy psychological development for gay and lesbian persons - but it is in fact a trojan horse for the opposite: destructive self-denial of a person?s own sexuality.

PLU finds it reprehensible that while the World Health Organization and reputable psychological associations no longer treat homosexuality as a disorder, the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) would still fund an organization that has been founded on this unscientific and damaging premise.

The government needs to explain why the NVPC thinks $100,000 is money well spent when given to a disguised religious cause based on unscientific psychotherapeutic approaches that seek to deform young people's sense of self-worth and psychological health.

PLU also notes that the published guidelines for eligibility for funding from the NVPC include the stipulation that all programmes must be secular, and believes the government needs to explain its grant to Liberty League when even 18 year-old students can so clearly spot its religious agenda.

The government also needs to explain how this grant is consistent with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's claim that the government is not homophobic, made in a comment to the Foreign Correspondents Association on 6 October 2005.

For more information, please contact:

People Like Us www.plu.sg

Singapore threatens to cane violent anti-IMF protesters

We have touched on this subject before but the proposals that Dr Chee has mentioned at the end of this piece are new. There is also the issue of how many people gathering is considered to require a permit. I had previously thought that it was 5 or more but it is stated here that it is 4 or more. I can merely assume that this is in light of the recent dispersed protest outside the CPF building following the NKF scandal.

By John Burton in Singapore
Published: January 18 2006 01:09 | Last updated: January 18 2006 01:09

Violent protesters at the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Singapore could face caning and imprisonment, a minister said yesterday.

The warning came as Singapore suggested it might impose restrictions on an agreement with the IMF and the World Bank to allow demonstrations during their meetings in September.

As part of a policy of constructive engagement, the World Bank and IMF have allowed non-governmental organisations to hold rallies at annual meetings as long as the groups are accredited by the two organisations.

But Wong Kan Seng, the home affairs minister and deputy prime minister, said Singapore reserved the right to vet further the accredited group to determine “the potential impact on law and order as well as the suitability of the proposed [rally] location” before a police permit would be issued. Violent protesters would face the threat of caning and imprisonment, as prescribed under Singapore law, he said.

Singapore acceded to the request by the IMF and World Bank allowing demonstrations to gain the right to host what is expected to be the biggest meeting in the city-state’s history.

Demonstrations are normally banned in Singapore, where outdoor political gatherings of four or more persons are illegal without a police permit.

The last police licence for a demonstration was issued in the late 1980s to the state-affiliated trade union movement, which rallied outside the US embassy to protest against alleged interference in Singapore’s affairs.

Chee Soon Juan, head of the opposition Singapore Democratic party, has suggested that he would use the IMF/World Bank gathering to stage non-violent civil disobedience activities in protest against what he says is government repression. Mr Wong has warned the government will crack down on such protests.

18 Jan 2006

Sayoni Speak

The birth of a new blog that has pleinelune as a contributor. Its aim is to empower Asian queer women.

Welcome to Sayoni, a Singapore-based platform for lesbian, bisexual and transsexual Asian women.

Founded by a group of women from diverse backgrounds, age, economic status and race, we aim to empower queer women with a two-prong approach to encourage dialogues within our community and to educate by informing the public.

To empower queer women towards greater involvement and presence in the community

To provide resources and communication channels that would contribute to self-confidence, participation and voice.

Inspired by Giti Thadani’s book, Sakhiyani, the author gives the ancient myth of ‘Sayoni’ an unique interpretation, regarding it as a symbol of relationship and sexual play between women, and as mythical evidence that queer-ness were very much a part of ancient civilisation.

Yoni is Sanskrit for vagina / womb / origin of life. The ‘sa’ prefix denotes the joint existence of two yonis, hence Sayoni is an ancient name for the unique concept of the ‘two revolving yonis’ of Ushasa-naktam, a pair of cosmic twin goddesses mentioned in the text of Rig Veda. They are regarded as so deeply entertwined that even their yoni’s revolve around one another. Separately, these deities are known as Ushas and Nakra.

To us, the word is a fitting representation of female rights and sexuality, often suppressed and ignored in Asian societies. Our logo is a reflection of our goal, with two soft blue revolving petals symbolising the meaning of Sayoni , and a bold colour wordmark that embodies the spirit of a confident, modern women-loving women.

Singapore’s free speech policy criticized

By John Burton in Singapore For The Financial Times.
Published: January 18 2006 01:27 | Last updated: January 18 2006 01:27

The opening of a light-rail commuter station would be a routine event in most countries, but the inauguration of a suburban stop for Singapore’s MRT system last weekend drew attention because of its role in a growing debate about free speech.

Residents near the Buangkok station had been lobbying for more than two years for its opening after SBS Transit decided to mothball the already-built station because usage was expected to be low, and this would cause operating losses for the transport operator.

The visit of a government minister to the area last year provoked a cheeky protest, with cartoon cut-outs of a white elephant posted around the closed station greeting his arrival.

Singapore’s no-nonsense government took the matter seriously. The police launched an investigation to try to identify the culprits and issued a warning to local grassroots leaders.

The police still had their eye on the troublesome area even after the government decided to open the station. A plan by a group of female high-school students to help raise money for charity by selling white elephant T-shirts at the station’s inauguration ceremony was seen as a potentially subversive act.

The police warned the students that if they wore the T-shirts “en masse, it might be misconstrued by some as an offence” since Singapore bans protest demonstrations.

The students complied by not wearing the T-shirts, although they were allowed to sell them, and issued an apologetic statement saying: “We are in no way attempting to judge or condone the Buangkok MRT incident.”

Singapore’s approach towards public protests has been influenced by the old Chinese saying that “a single spark can start a prairie fire”, or what Catherine Lim, a local novelist and social critic, describes as the government’s “nip-in-the-bud-ism”.

The episode would appear to bolster claims by critics that Singapore still has far to go to achieve an open society that tolerates differing views.

The debate on free expression comes as concerns are being raised about whether political curbs will affect Singapore’s future economic competitiveness as it seeks to rebrand itself as a global centre for creativity and innovation.

The government of Lee Hsien Loong claims it is promoting increased political openness, but critics say the pace of change remains slow.

Ms Lim says in spite of the apparent economic success of Singapore’s alternative model to liberal democracy, it threatens to create a monolithic society that lacks the flexibility to handle new challenges.

“I’ve come to believe with a heavy heart that even if the government wanted to do something about it, Singaporeans are so used to the government making decisions for [them], any major change will be viewed with alarm,” she told a recent forum at the Institute of South-east Asian Studies in Singapore.

The issue of whether Singapore is being damaged by public apathy has been raised by a recent financial scandal at the city-state’s largest charity, the National Kidney Foundation, which enjoyed strong government support.

When several people alleged that funds were being misused, they were successfully sued for damages by T.T. Durai, the NKF head. The government failed to probe deeply into the allegations until a libel case filed by Mr Durai against a local newspaper led to a trial that revealed discrepancies in the charity’s management.

Critics have focused on the incident as an example of a lack of checks and balances in Singapore and the risks faced by whistleblowers.

Singapore also suffered a setback in its quest to become a regional educational centre when Britain’s University of Warwick decided not to open a branch campus in the city-state because of worries about academic and political freedom.[update:CNA]

Government officials say political openness should be seen in the context of good governance and not as an end in itself. Singapore should be “cautiously radical rather than ideologically revolutionary” on political freedom because of its multi-ethnic society, Vivian Balakrishnan, a former dissident turned government minister, told the ISEAS forum.

But George Soros, the US financier who is supporting global democracy initiatives, recently told a Singapore audience that countries lacking transparency and free debate faced the risk of a public backlash during economic turndowns. The warning comes as Singapore is suffering from increased social inequalities between rich and poor.

Although Mr Soros said Singapore was not an open society, it “is a prosperous society, and prosperity and open society go together. So I hope that Singapore will become an open society.”

Related Article:
Warwick Uni and local institutes tie up to offer masters programme By Jason Tan, Channel NewsAsia

Human Rights Day Message (10 Dec 2005)

An article that I believe we missed in December 2005.

Absence of the Rule of Law and the Actualisation of Human Rights

A Contradiction that Must Be Resolved
International Human Rights Day on December 10 should be a moment in Asia to reflect soberly as to why on this continent, where more than half of the world's population live, basic human rights are denied to most people. Although there are complex factors that contribute to this denial of people's rights, one factor stands clearly above all others: The rule of law does not exist in most parts of this vast continent.

The nexus between the rule of law and the actual realisation of human rights is not something to which the global human rights community has paid sufficient attention. The result is that where enormous attempts have been made to propagate the basic ideas of human rights, as enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other covenants and conventions adopted by the international community under the sponsorship of the United Nations, the effort to create the conditions that are necessary for the actual realisation of human rights compares very poorly to the hard work that has been undertaken to create an awareness of human rights. The result is that people whose rights are so blatantly and continuously violated ask their governments as well as the United Nations, "Where are my rights?" To this question, neither the governments nor the United Nations and the international community are able to give a satisfactory answer as of now.

Burma, Nepal and Cambodia are among the countries in Asia that have no possibility of enforcing the rights of their people. Various political obstructions stand in the way of creating a type of state that is capable of undertaking the responsibilities necessary for the realisation of people's rights. While democratic and human rights jargon may be used by these states, they are preventing the development of the elementary forms of state development within which citizens can approach their state with even a most rudimentary level of confidence and belief that the state intends to respect their rights. From the point of view of accountability for respecting human rights, these states do not even have the basic structures to make such accountability possible. The international community, in approaching such countries, should take into consideration this key issue which, without resolving it, regardless of the efforts of the international community, is likely to bear few tangible results. The example of Cambodia, where enormous international efforts and resources have been allocated over the last 10 years, demonstrates the type of internal contradictions that prohibit even small positive developments in this country. The same problems are evident in Burma and Nepal as well. We thus urge the United Nations and the international community to pay special attention to these three countries and to develop a more comprehensive strategy to assist the development of state institutions to which people can seek redress to protect their rights.

Many other countries in the region reflect how the absence of the rule of law in varying degrees obstructs the realisation of human rights. India and China are the countries with the largest populations in the world. Although the political systems and the history of their justice systems differ, there are similar patterns of obstructing the rights of people in both countries through defects in their rule of law systems.

India, for instance, claims long years of legal and constitutional development and the development of judicial institutions from colonial times up to now. However, enormous delays that affect India's justice system and vast defects in India's policing system deprive ordinary citizens of their basic rights. India today stands as a glaring example of the adage that justice delayed is justice betrayed. Thus, those who suffer violations of their rights naturally have a deeply inherent pessimism about the possibility of actually achieving these rights. Moreover, the corruption and inefficiency embedded in India's policing system is a constant source of torture, particularly for India's poorer and marginalised sections of society, such as the country's minorities. The discriminatory psychology of caste is inbuilt into the policing system of India as well. Those who are considered to be Dalits and lower castes are among the people who are most brutalised by torture and are denied all of their rights. Other minorities, such as India's adivasis, or indigenous people, and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, are also denied the possibility of equality and fairness in their relationships with the police and justice within the basic institutions of the judicial system. It should be noted that although a request has been pending by the U.N. special rapporteur on torture to visit India since 1997 the government of India has not made this visit possible.

The denial of justice in China takes place in a different manner. China's struggle to build a system based on law instead of the arbitrary rule of individuals extends back more than two decades. Although some progress has been made in this direction, China, however, is far from establishing a system based on the rule of law. When social order is maintained without the rule of law, there are hardly any effective means of redress for people who feel that their rights have been violated. China does not recognise a separation of powers between the institutions of the state, and therefore, the independence of the judiciary from the executive does not exist. This present reality prevents the possibility of the judiciary intervening as an adjudicator on basic rights issues and obstructs the development of the rule of law in the country. This contradiction is a matter that China's people and the authorities will have to resolve in the future. The recent visit of Manfred Nowak, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, reflects the results of these contradictions. He notes that the use of torture is still widespread, though it is not always for political reasons. The general contradiction of the police and other institutions, such as prisons and rehabilitation centres and the like that are operating outside of the basic framework of the rule of law, will remain sources of torture and other violations of human rights. This contradiction cannot be cured by the imposition of the death sentence as China does now. The wide use of the death penalty is only a reflection of executive action to resolve perceived problems in an arbitrary manner rather than through institutional processes that strengthen the state and society.

Moreover, the rule of law is seriously flawed and torture is endemic and widespread in the following countries as well: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia in addition to the countries mentioned above. The key issues are the extremely arbitrary nature of policing systems; the lack of effective redress mechanisms in justice systems; enormous obstacles faced by people, particularly the poor, which constitute the majority of the population in these countries, to have access to the law; enormous delays in judicial systems; an absence of protection to the complainants and victims, particularly when they make complaints against state authorities; and the weak development of the legal profession in these countries, either due to intense pressure that intimidates lawyers or the lack of traditions of fearlessly defending people seeking justice. The net result is that, despite ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and other U.N. conventions and covenants against discrimination, people have little or no possibility of actually asserting these rights. While a facade of compliance to international treaty bodies is maintained, the observations and recommendations of these U.N. bodies are shamelessly flouted and ignored over and over again, thus, in effect, mocking the international effort to make it possible for everyone to enjoy their basic rights.

Meanwhile, the denial of human rights in Singapore belongs to a special category. Singapore makes it effectively impossible for people to live in an environment in which individual rights can exist. The ruling party is also virtually the state. Freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and the capacity to assert one's rights do not exist in this environment at all. The absolute denial of rights makes it impossible for the realisation of any of the rights enshrined in the international covenants and conventions. In fact, the official political ideology does not recognise the validity of these covenants and conventions.

Under these circumstances, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) calls upon the peoples of Asia, as well as all others concerned with the actual realisation of human rights, to pay special attention to the link between the rule of law and human rights. Finding ways to resolve this contradiction is the path that has to be tread if human rights are to be a practical reality. As a symbolic means of stressing this issue and keeping it alive for discussion in the immediate future, the AHRC has launched an Asian Charter on the Rule of Law. This effort is a follow-up to AHRC's earlier effort to work towards drafting a People's Charter on Human Rights. We urge everyone to support this effort and to make the theme of improving the rule of law for the achievement of human rights a central theme of engagement in the coming year.

This year on International Human Rights Day the AHRC is presenting a report on the state of human rights in 10 Asian countries -- Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea, Cambodia and Indonesia.


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About AHRC The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.