From EUbusiness online site.
13 April 2007, 14:00 CET
(SINGAPORE) - Singapore acted like an "authoritarian state" by gagging members of the European parliament in a move that could hinder efforts to reach a partnership and co-operation agreement, the MEPs said Friday.
The seven MEPs along with a Cambodian and a Congresswoman from the Philippines said Singapore denied them permission to speak Friday night at a forum to discuss the development of democracy in Asia and Europe.
"I fear that, in this sense at least, it puts Singapore in a league with North Korea, Myanmar and the People's Republic of China," Graham Watson, a United Kingdom Member of the European Parliament, told a press conference.
"Now that is not where I believe Singapore is, or where I believe Singapore should be."
Watson, who leads the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), said they were conducting a parliamentary mission to Singapore and had come from Indonesia where they spoke at a forum without any interference.
"What has happened today proves that Singapore is an authoritarian state," said Ignasi Guardans, a Spanish MEP.
The Cambodian and Philippines delegates represented the Council of Asian Liberal and Democrats (CALD).
The ALDE-CALD delegates were invited to address the forum organised by their sister party, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) led by Chee Soon Juan, one of a few in Singapore to have spoken out against the People's Action Party (PAP) which has ruled since 1959.
Chee has had numerous battles with local authorities.
Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs said the SDP applied to police for a licence to hold the public forum, and asked the ICA for professional visit passes "for several foreigners" invited to speak at the event.
"The police and ICA respectively have rejected the SDP's applications for a permit to conduct this public forum and for professional visit passes for the foreign speakers on the ground of public interest," the ministry said in a statement.
"Singapore's politics are reserved for Singaporeans. As visitors to our country, foreigners should not abuse their privilege by interfering in our domestic politics."
On its website, SDP said the forum was to "register your disgust" at pay hikes for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, cabinet ministers and civil servants.
The pay rises have sparked rare public fury in the conservative city-state.
But the MEPs said they did not come to discuss Singapore's internal affairs.
Watson said Singapore's decision "will not help with the difficult task" of finalising a partnership and cooperation agreement which both sides began discussing about two years ago.
Such agreements provide rules that govern trade, exchange of criminal suspects, return of refugees and other issues while including clauses about respect for human rights, he said.
"The refusal to allow a basic political dialogue on issues of common concern clearly makes it more difficult to negotiate any such agreement," he said.
Ambassador Holger Standertskjold, head of the European Commission's delegation to Singapore, said the EU "regretted" that the MEPs could not speak at a public meeting organised by another legally recognised political party.
The forum was to proceed with speakers from the SDP, while the foreign delegation vowed to remain silent, and would return to Europe Friday night.
"We are not terrorists. We are not dangerous radicals," Watson said.
The Ministry of Home Affairs said Chee's party is free to organise public meetings "provided they do so lawfully."
Since independence in 1965, Singapore has grown from a third-world country to an Asian economic powerhouse.
But critics say this has come at a price, in the form of restrictions on freedom of speech and political activity.