SDP asks IBA to express firm stand on human rights abuses in Singapore

From the Social Democratic Party
28 Feb 07

28 February 2007

Mr Fernando Pombo
International Bar Association

Mr Fernando Peláez-Pier

Mr Akira Kawamura

Mr David W Rivkin
Chair, Legal Practice Division

Mr Martin Solc
Chair, Public and Professional Interest Division

Mr Mark Ellis
Executive Director

Dear Sirs,

I thank you for your expeditious and most informative reply.

I am heartened to read that IBA continues to be a steadfast advocate for human rights and the rule of law throughout the world.

It is also noteworthy that the IBA has plans for a Rule of Law Day during your annual conference this year. Unfortunately, this still does not address the appeal that we are making to you. Having a general discussion on the Rule of Law Day does not speak to the issue of the egregious abuse of human rights by the Singapore Government.

In fact, as you will see below in the words of the Philip Jeyaretnam, immediate past president of the Law Society of Singapore (LSS), the Singapore establishment embraces the rhetoric of the rule of law but, in reality, practices exactly the opposite.

Laws are continually introduced, amended, and interpreted to ensure that the rights of Singaporeans remain suppressed. Examples that I cited in my opening letter to you amply illustrate this point.

I would venture to say that the planned Rule of Law Day, with discussion topics like ‘how the rule of law affects economic development’ and ‘the Asian perspective of the rule of law’ (a favourite topic of the Singapore Government), is exactly what the Singapore Government would like to see take place.

Here’s why: These sessions will be opened only to conference attendees which means that Singaporean legal professionals participating in the event who know the reality beyond the rhetoric and who have the temerity to speak up will be few and far in between, whereas those with pro-establishment views will be there in force.

Singaporean lawyers who have been vocal and active in their pursuit of justice and human rights have either been imprisoned without trial, sued by ruling party leaders into bankruptcy, and/or have fled to other countries. Examples are J B Jeyaretnam, Francis Seow, Tang Liang Hong, Teo Soh Lung, Tang Fong Har, Kevin De Souza, Tan Wah Piow, and Gopalan Nair, just to name a few.

There will be few non-Singaporean conference attendees who have an intimate knowledge of human rights Singapore – intimate enough to conduct an intelligent discussion as it specifically relates to the city-state. This inadequacy can and will be easily countered by lawyers from Singapore’s establishment.

In the end, human rights situation in Singapore will be obscured, at best, and ignored, at worst. In the meantime, the Singapore Government will trumpet that if its human rights record was really that bad, the IBA would not have held its annual conference here.

To underscore our concerns, we note in your letter that the host for the conference is the LSS. I don’t know if Philip Jeyaretnam, whom you cite in your letter, has revealed to you the Society’s recent past. In any event allow me to brief you. In 1987, former solicitor-general and then-president of the LSS, Francis Seow, served notice that the Society intended to be a more assertive and caring bar. He also wanted to promote public awareness about impending changes to existing laws.

As a result, the Government roundly attacked the LSS and prohibited it from commenting on existing or proposed legislation, unless its views were expressedly solicited. The Government proceeded to amend the Legal Profession Act with the aim of cracking down on dissent within the profession. Before it could do so, however, the LSS’ leadership unanimously voted to deplore the Government’s intention. The result was that Seow and a couple of other Society officials were imprisoned without trial.

The LSS assumes a very different role today. Nothing is more demonstrative of this than Philip Jeyaretnam’s introductory message in the August 2006 issue of the Law Gazette: “The foundational value of the rule of law is beyond debate, and [Singapore] lawyers must nurture, protect and uphold the rule of law.” There was nary a word, perhaps not surprisingly, about the problem of human rights in Singapore.

More pointedly, Attorney General Chao Hick Tin (and, more significantly, former appellate court judge) said in obvious reference to my fellow activists and I, and our campaign for freedoms of speech and assembly through Nonviolent Action: “Of course, some indefatigable critics have their own agenda to bring into disrepute key public institutions…They are often encouraged by foreigners in the name of human rights. We should be wary of this.” [emphasis mine]

Given all this, it is extremely difficult to see how dissenting views on the topic of the rule of law in Singapore can surface during your conference. The truth of the matter is that the severity of the situation in Singapore warrants more than a general discussion of the rule of law.

It is most discouraging that there have not been any comment by the IBA on the human rights situation in Singapore even though there has been a litany of reports and complaints through the years by international organizations such as the United Nations, Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, New York City Bar Association, National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, Liberal International, World Movement for Democracy, Reporters Without Borders, Asian Human Rights Commission, World Forum for Democratization in Asia, Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia, the list goes on.

I took pains to enumerate for you in my opening letter the many cases of human rights violations in my country in the hope that you can verify the seriousness and incontrovertibility of the matter for yourselves.

This is why we are appealing to the IBA to take a firm stand on the long list of human rights abuses by the Singapore Government as you have on several countries such as Zimbabwe, Ecuador, Turkey, Malaysia and even Japan. There is no better opportunity than now when the annual conference is slated for Singapore this year. It is imperative that the IBA takes this opportunity to make clearly and directly its concerns about the continued suppression of justice, the rule of law and human rights in Singapore.

Sirs, we hope you do not misunderstand our intentions. We do not for one moment presume to tell the IBA how to conduct its matters. If it has come across that way, please accept our sincere apologies. But when an esteemed organization such as the IBA comes to Singapore and makes no pointed reference to the human rights abuses of the country’s government, it is as good as the IBA honouring the regime with its presence.

I note your point that the IBA has held conferences in countries whose governments have little respect for human rights. But I also note that your annual conferences have been, or will be, staged in countries such as Spain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, The Netherlands, etc. – countries that, although by no means free of human rights problems, do not have governments that systematically and comprehensively crush their peoples’ human rights.

While Singapore may be “brimming with energy and finesse” and offering “the perfect opportunity for both business and pleasure” as you highlight on your website, I hardly think that those are the only, or even major, considerations that the IBA takes into account when it chooses venues for its annual conferences. While Singapore is designed to seduce the five senses of the unsuspecting conference participants, I would like to think that an organization like the IBA would rise above these and exercise its sixth sense – the sense of justice.

My colleagues and I continue to be imprisoned, fined, sued and made bankrupt but we soldier on because we want justice and freedom for our fellow citizens. To this end, we ask that you lend us a hand. To quote Aung San Suu Kyi: “Please use your liberty to help us gain ours.”

I await, most anxiously, your response.


Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party

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The Politics of Dr Chee’s City Arrest

Why is the Singapore government intent on preventing Dr Chee from leaving the country even though the Opposition Politician has time and again shown clear indication that he will return to the country?

According to the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) website, his 12 applications to travel overseas, including, a trip to visit his ailing father-in-law have all been rejected. The remaining 11 overseas trips include events of international scale such as the World Movement for Democracy 4th Assembly in Istanbul; Meeting of the International Steering Committee of the NGO Process of the Community of Democracies in New York City, US; Liberal International Congress, in Marrakesh, Morocco; and Working Group Meeting of the Community of Democracies in Rome, Italy.

One of the reasons could be punitive. This is in addition to the various prison sentences that Dr Chee has to serve for challenging the powers to be. This is clearly an example of the authoritarian regime flexing its powers and using Dr Chee as an example to other Singaporeans of what they are capable of if they dare to challenge its authority.

The other possibility is the PAP’s government aversion to negative publicity; and an effort to contain such attempts. When Dr Chee goes abroad to spread the word that the PAP government is anti-democratic in forums such as the 4th Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy, it has to take action to reduce the adverse impact. By restricting his physical presence within Singapore, the regime prevents him from establishing useful overseas contacts. Within Singapore, it has the local media in its bidding to contain such acts by denouncing SDP and Dr Chee as publicity stunt seeking; or that he is not interested in the welfares of Singaporeans but only keen to seek foreign support. Through such measures, PAP hopes to reduce the negative impact to its image.

The Singapore government also recognises that limiting bad publicity is only part of the equation to the public relations war. It is insufficient to salvage its reputation as a model of “Asian democracy”. As such, it seeks, like what Dr Chee has done, by wooing foreign actors to bolster its reputation as a “modern, open and yet distinctly Asian democratic society”. These ventures include setting up the Singapore International Foundation, hosting the IMF World Bank Meeting and the upcoming International Bar Association Annual Conference.

The problem with such containment and counter- efforts are that they do not work well over a long period of time. Overseas actors including businesses, and political organisations will become more sceptical of the Singapore government and look through the hollowness of its ruse.

Every effort at imprisoning or preventing Dr Chee from leaving the country only serves to make the government appear more heavy-handed. Every attempt to host an international event which tries to sell Singapore as a “contemporary Asian democracy” will only serve to make them look otherwise.

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Tribute to Canada, Ireland, and Singapore

Catch a tribute to Canada, Ireland, and Singapore on TALKSHOW with Spike Feresten. Saturday Night 12/11c, only on FOX!

I was keen to see how they referred to Ireland and Singapore in the same clip. Ireland of course is the little man in green and well Singapore is represented by the …

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Democracy (1945)

Youtube Link

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Dr Chee Under City Arrest!

Chee found guilty for ‘attempting to leave Singapore’
26 Feb 07

Dr Chee Soon Juan was found guilty of attempting to leave Singapore without permission today. He was fined $4,000 or 3 weeks imprisonment in default.

Dr Chee will appeal the decision and the judge has given a stay of execution pending the outcome of the appeal.

The matter involved the SDP secretary-general applying for permission to attend the World Movement for Democracy conference held in Turkey in April 2006.

As a bankrupt, Dr Chee had to apply for permission from the Official Assignee (OA) every time he wanted to leave the country. He was made a bankrupt when he failed to pay Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong $500,000 in a lawsuit the two former prime ministers took against him in 2001.

When he went to the airport on 1 April 2006, Dr Chee was stopped by Immigration officials and had his passport seized. He was subsequently charged.

During the trial before District Judge Aedit Abdullah, the following were established:

Fact 1: The OA’s office admitted that even on the day that Dr Chee was due to leave for Turkey, it was still considering his travel application.

Fact 2: The Immigrations and Checkpoints Authority acknowledged that there was no way Dr Chee could have found out about the status of his application other than to present himself at the airport departure gate.

Fact 3: Dr Chee received the OA’s rejection letter only on 13 April 06, two weeks after he was due to travel.

Verdict: Guilty.

Note: Since April 2006, Dr Chee has made 12 applications to travel. All of them have been rejected. This effectively places him under city arrest.

Dr Chee’s travel applications

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The ISA as a Political Tool

From Martyn See’s Singapore Rebel

The second instalment of a five part excerpt from an Amnesty International report, first published in 1980.

(ll) A political background to the use of the ISA

Since 1959 Singapore has been governed by the People’s Action Party (PAP) led by the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The People’s Action Party, founded in 1954, was a broad-based political party espousing a socialist program with backing from the mass of largely Chinese-speaking unionized labour in Singapore, but also from the English-educated Singapore Chinese intelligentsia. This coalition was however always fragile and tensions occurred between the two wings of the party, particularly as the British, who were responsible for internal security until 1963, did not hesitate to detain without trial the more militant and left-wing nationalists within the PAP. In 1959 the PAP won the general elections and Lee Kuan Yew became Prime Minister.

Two years later, in 1961, the left-wing of the People’s Action Party, led by Lim Chin Siong, broke away, and established its own party, the Barisan Sosialis (Socialist Front). The Singapore government has repeatedly alleged that those who broke away were pro-communist but it is of interest to note that 80% of the PAP membership are estimated to have left the party at this time.* Soon after the split an agreement was announced, in August 1961, for the future merger of Singapore and Malaya. The Barisan Sosialis opposed merger and sought to test its strength in elections to be held in 1963.

( * ref. Pang Cheng Lian, Singapore’s People’s Action Party, Oxford University Press, Singapore 1971, pp 14-15; T J S George, Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore, Andre Deutsch, 1973, London, pp 62-63)

On the morning of 2 February 1963, however, the Singapore security authorities arrested 113 persons who were active in the anti-government opposition and who opposed merger with Malaya. Among those arrested were leaders of the Barisan Sosialis including Lim Chin Siong and Dr Lim Hock Siew as well as newspaper editors, trade unionists and university students. Despite this the Barisan was still able to obtain 33.5% of the votes in the 1963 elections, against the PAP’s 46.9%.

Singapore’s participation in the Federation of Malaysia was shortlived, as indeed the Barisan Sosialis leaders predicted, and in August 1965 Singapore left the Federation to become an independent republic. The Barisan leaders and other opposition figures arrested in ‘Operation Coldstore’ were however to remain in detention without trial under the Internal Security Act for many years to come. The Barisan leader, Lim Chin Siong, was released in 1969, after spending many years in solitary confinement. Reportedly administered drugs which intensified depression, Lim Chin Siong left prison and went into exile in England.

Whilst the bulk of the ‘Coldstore’ detainees were released in the late 60s and early 1970s, five men remained in prison in 1978 who had been arrested in 1963. The five were Dr Lim Hock Siew, Dr Poh Soo Kai, Lee Tse Tong, Ho Piao and Said Zahari. All five have consistently refused to make the ritual ‘confession’ that the Singapore government insists upon as a precondition of their release. One of the five, Dr Poh Soo Kai, was released in November 1973 only to be rearrested in June 1976. Two others however, Dr Lim Hock Siew and Said Zahari, former editor of the Malay-language newspaper, Utusan Melayu, were unexpectedly conditionally released on 18 November 1978 and exiled respectively to the offshore islands of Pulau Tekong Besar and Pulau Ubin. In August 1979 Said Zahari was released unconditionally and allowed to return to his home in Singapore. Meanwhile, Dr Poh Soo Kai, Ho Piao and Lee Tse Tong remain incarcerated in Moon Crescent Detention Centre.

to continue reading and comment…– Amnesty International (1980)

Related Article

Political Detention in Singapore


Dear Friends & Supporters of Truth

SMEGMA, written and directed by Elangovan and presented by Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire)was the most controversial play of 2006.

On 1 Aug 06, MDA gave the play a public entertainment license with RA-18 rating, and suddenly cancelled the license on 4 Aug 06, the eve of the production.

MDA replied that SMEGMA portrayed Muslims in a negative light.

But MDA had the full particulars of the 5 Muslims who were acting in the play.

Subsequently, MDA’s bureaucratic acrobatics raised questions on ‘transparency in censorship’ (if there is one in Singapore) in the international print-media and alternative websites.

Since then, many have asked for the text of SMEGMA.

SMEGMA, the book, ISBN: 981-05-6441-4, S$15 (without GST). is now available at
Select Books Pte Ltd
19 Tanglin Rd #03-15
Tanglin Shopping Centre
Singapore 247909
Republic of Singapore
Tel: 65-67321515

The communication between Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire) and MDA, as well as the press-release to the international media are documented in SMEGMA, a social register of the hilarious state of censorship in Singapore.

Kindly globalise this information for those who would like to enjoy reading SMEGMA to inhale some alternative truth from the plastic nation.

Thank you.

S Thenmoli
Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire)

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