The Singapore Government has been increasingly harassing the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and its supporters in advance of the May 6 parliamentary elections. The SDP and all of the individual members of the Party’s Central Executive Committee are being sued by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister, and his son, Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, the current Prime Minister of the country. The SDP is one of several opposition parties in Singapore. The suit centers on an article published in the Party’s Newspaper, The New Democrat.
Due to government intimidation and harassment, the newspaper publisher now fears to print the next issue of the paper, as well as any election materials, posters, and flyers. In addition, Party members are being harassed when they try to distribute The New Democrat to voters or to meet with them. At least three of Party members have been charged with “providing entertainment without a valid license” (that is, speaking in public without a permit).
The ruling People's Action Party has also arbitrarily, and at the last minute, changed the rules to prevent members of the SDP from making speeches during election rallies. For instance, Dr. Chee Soon Juan, the Party's leader and a participant in the World Movement for Democracy, is not allowed to speak during rallies because of his recent bankruptcy resulting from a previous anti-defamation lawsuit that two former prime ministers, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and Mr. Goh Chok Tong, initiated against him. Dr. Chee’s passport has also been seized preventing him from traveling outside of Singapore. Dr. Chee was stopped by the Singapore authorities at the airport while waiting to board a plane to Istanbul, where he was to participate in the World Movement's Fourth Assembly earlier this month (see statement below).
The government has also banned podcasting (a method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio programs or music videos, over the Internet for playback on mobile devices and personal computers) and video blogging (web blog that uses video as the primary content), knowing well that the SDP was depending on electronic media to reach out to voters, especially those who cannot read.
The SDP sees the government’s actions as an intentional attempt to cripple the SDP’s election campaign and to ensure the destruction of the Party. The SDP thus appeals for help and solidarity from the international community.
April 2, 2006
Dear colleagues and fellow defenders of democracy,
I wish I could be there at the 4th World Movement for Democracy Assembly to join you to continue the important work of expanding democracy and human rights in the world. This exciting event has been, and will continue to be, an occasion when we all come to re-charge our batteries and take home with us new ideas and alliances with which to continue our common struggle for democracy.
Unfortunately, I was prevented from leaving Singapore when I arrived at the airport to fly to Istanbul. Immigration officials seized my passport, effectively placing me under city arrest.
The only way that I can get back my passport and be allowed to travel again is to agree to pay Singapore’s two former prime ministers, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, US$300,000 that was awarded to them by the corrupt judiciary in a defamation suit. I was just imprisoned for 8 days the week before for criticizing the judiciary for not being independent of the executive.
Because I am unable to pay Lee and Goh the money, I have been declared bankrupt. In 1993, I already paid US$300,000 in another defamation suit. At that time I was sued for saying that my sacking from the university where I was then teaching was politically motivated. I had joined the opposition just three months before my dismissal. My wife and I had to sell our house, car and other possessions to make good the payment.
In the present circumstances, I have indicated to the authorities that I have nothing left to pay to the two former prime ministers who are, by the way, multi-millionaires from the lavish salaries they pay themselves as cabinet ministers. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s son, is paid more than the US president, British prime minister, German chancellor, French president, and the Italian prime minister combined!
The little income that I make from selling my books goes towards supporting my family. It doesn’t make sense for me to deprive my children of their needs in order to pay Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong money that they obviously do not need.
The authorities are using my inability to pay Lee and Goh as an excuse to ban me from traveling and attending conferences like this one. This is a violation of my human rights. In addition, as long as I am bankrupt I am disqualified from standing for elections or helping my party colleagues in election campaigning. Under the law my bankruptcy could last indefinitely.
We are expecting a general election in Singapore sometime over the next two months. Already the vote-buying and intimidation is underway. The ruling party is giving out as much as US$1,000 of public money to voters in the guise of bonuses. It is also intimidating voters by saying that if its candidates are not elected, their housing estates will not receive public funds for the upgrading and building of public amenities.
These are the corrupt and undemocratic ways the Singapore government adopts to ensure its hold on power. It is my hope that the world community of democratic forces assembled in Istanbul will pay more attention to the dismal state of political affairs and violation of human rights in Singapore.
But despite all the difficulties that we face, I remain hopeful that freedom and democracy will come to our shores just as they have for many of yours. This is because as democrats, our spirit will never allow us to go on bended knees before despots. Our consciences ache when we see injustice meted out to our peoples and we cannot, and will not, look the other way when our human rights are torn apart.
To those of you who are also struggling to bring freedom to your countries, I stand in solidarity, comforted by the knowledge that our unity will bring us even greater strength to endure the blood, sweat and tears we shed for democracy. To this end, I remain
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party
Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia