“No group is oppressed, suppressed or depressed. Instead we have a political culture that values integrity, meritocracy and fairness.”
- Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, speech at the 50th Anniversary of
the People’s Action Party, Nov 2004
Oct 1994 : In connection with a commentary he wrote in the International Herald Tribune stating how judiciaries in some Asian countries are compliant to ruling powers, American academic Dr.Christopher Lingle
was questioned for 90 minutes by the Singapore police for possible contempt of court and criminal defamation. Within a week, he returned to the United States. Dr.Lingle and the Singapore printer were subsequently fined for ‘contempt of court by way of scandalising the judiciary’ and ordered to pay the government’s legal costs, totalling in excess of $100,000. Dr Lingle did not return to Singapore to face the charges.
Dec 1994 : Although the International Herald Tribune published an apology for the above article, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew filed a civil libel suit. The IHT agreed to pay the Senior Minister US$213,000 in damages plus costs for the civil suit.
Feb 1995 : Singapore police mounted a major crackdown codenamed “Operation Hope,” raiding private homes where Jehovah’s Witnesses members were holding prayer meetings. Officers seized bibles, religious literature, documents and computers, and eventually brought charges against 69 members, many of whom went to jail. A month later, 73 year old grandmother Yu Nguk Ding was arrested for carrying two “undesirable publications” – one of them a bible printed by the group. She spent a week in jail rather than pay a fine.
Jul 1995 : Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his son, deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, won a libel suit against the International Herald Tribune for an article, published in August 1994, suggesting that the younger Lee was appointed to his post on account of his father. The High Court awarded a record judgment of $950,000. The Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ), Asiaweek, and the Far Eastern Economic Review remained gazetted in 1995.
Nov 1995 : Parliament censured Dr Chee Soon Juan and the Singapore Democratic Party for allegedly endorsing attacks on the judiciary made by Chee’s fellow panelists, dissident Francis Seow and academic Dr Christopher Lingle, at a forum held at Williams College, USA. Government leaders said that the failure of Chee and other SDP leaders to contradict the attacks made by Seow and Lingle constituted positive assent by “clever omission.”
Jul 1996 : The SBA (Singapore Broadcasting Authority) issued a set of broad regulations for the internet. Prohibited material was defined as “objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public morality, public order, public security and national harmony.” Authorities underlined that the Sedition Act also covers the internet. The guidelines were subsequently elaborated on in SBA’s Internet Code of Practice in 1997.
Aug 1996 : The Government denied the Singapore Democratic Party a request to produce and distribute video tapes on the grounds that visual images can be used to evoke emotional rather than rational responses. Moreover, according to the Government, the use of videos could allow political parties to sensationalize or distort information to capture the maximum attention of the viewer.
Dec 1996 : Parliament levied fines in excess of $36,000 against Dr Chee Soon Juan and three other SDP members, claiming that they had committed perjury and other offenses during the proceedings of a special parliamentary committee examining government health care subsidies.
Dec 1996/Jan 1997 (General Elections) : Despite being returned to power on polling day due to lack of opposition representation, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong threatened to turn constituencies into slums lest the rest of the electorate voted the ruling People’s Action Party.
The Elections Department, under direct command of the Prime Minister’s Office, redrew electoral boundaries. Amongst others, residents of Braddell Heights, located in central Singapore, suddenly found themselves registered as voters under Marine Parade, a constituency on the east coast helmed by PM Goh.
The Workers’ Party complained to the police that PM Goh and other PAP leaders had been speaking to voters inside a polling station on polling day, an act deemed illegal under the Parliamentary Elections Act. But the Public Prosecutor ruled that the PAP ministers had been inside the polling stations as opposed to “loitering” on the outside, so no offence had been committed.
Name-calling by the PAP dominated hustings as Workers’ Party candidate Tang Liang Hong was labelled an “anti-Christian, anti-English-educated and Chinese-language chauvinist.” But it wasn’t the PAP men who got sued. A group of senior PAP leaders – PM Goh Chok Tong, SM Lee Kuan Yew, DPM Lee Hsien Loong and eight other MPs – sued Tang for allegedly defaming them in a police report which he had filed to seek police protection. The police had handed Tang’s report to PM Goh and SM Lee. Citing death threats, Tang fled to Malaysia shortly after the election results were announced. He did not return home that night and has remained in exile ever since.
For producing the police report at the election rally, Workers’ Party leader JB Jeyaretnam was also sued. All in all, PAP leaders filed a total of 21 defamation suits against both Tang and JBJ.
Jan 1997 : While on their way to meet Tang Liang Hong in Johor Bahru, Mrs Tang Liang Hong and her daughter were stopped by immigration officers at the causeway exit. Her passport was confiscated. On her return home, they found a group of lawyers representing PM Goh Chok Tong, SM Lee Kuan Yew other PAP leaders waiting to serve 13 worldwide Mareva Injunctions to freeze their assets. Shortly after, Inland Revenue officials stormed into their house and carted away tons of documents and articles. A similar raid was carried out at Tang’s office in the city.
Apr 1997 : PAP leaders cancelled the passport of Mrs Tang Liang Hong because her name appeared as a co-trustee in one of Tang’s documents. If she was allowed to leave Singapore, PAP leaders had feared that they may be unable to recover damages from Tang.
July 1997 : Political prisoner Chia Thye Poh was allowed to travel to Germany to study but was not allowed to make any public statements or address public meetings. He also needed written permission to take part in any political activity or be a member, adviser, helper, official or participant in any organisation or association. Chia, previously an opposition Member of Parliament – was detained without trial in 1966 at the age of 26.
Aug 1997 : The Singapore Government demanded that the Foreign Correspondents Association cancel a speech by then Indonesian opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri. The group’s executive committee acceded to the Government’s demand.
Aug 1997 : The Internal Security Department, Singapore’s secret police, was alleged to have burglarised the home of an American academic helping political exile Tang Liang Hong take up a six-month fellowship at an American university. The break-in, which seemed intended to find computer files and other records listing people interested in Singapore affairs, was investigated by local police and the FBI. According to a recent US State Department’s human rights report on Singapore, it is “widely believed that the authorities routinely conduct surveillance on some opposition politicians and other critics of the Government.” The same report also stated that the ISD is believed to run a network of part-time informants in the US, Australia and other countries.
Sept 1997 : JB Jeyaretnam was found guilty of defaming Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at an election rally when he told the crowd police reports had been filed against the PM and his PAP colleagues. He was ordered by Justice J. Rajendran to pay $20,000 in damages plus legal fees. After a subsequent appeal by Mr Goh, the damages awarded were increased five-fold, to $100,000.
Nov 1997 : The High Court ordered political exile Tang Liang Hong to pay the PAP leaders $4.53 million in damages.
1997/98 : In 1997 two persons were detained and in 1998, four were detained under the Internal Security Act, all for alleged espionage. Of these six, two remained in detention at the end of 1998. The names of the six detainees remained undisclosed.
Feb 1998 : Tang Liang Hong was declared bankrupt by the High Court after failing to pay $739,976 in damages and interests owed to PAP leaders. Assets belonging to him and his wife were seized. In addition, he was charged with thirty-three counts of tax evasion and there is presently an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
Mar 1998 : The Films Act was amended to ban political films and videos. The Government justified the ban as protecting politics from sensationalism, innuendo, and inaccuracy. The legislation defines a party political film as one “made by any person and directed toward any political end in Singapore” or one that contains “partisan or biased references on any political matter.”
Mar 1998 : The Singapore Government asked foreign TV stations to restrict coverage of political parties that do not have a wide following. “If we are not careful, foreign broadcasters, like foreign newspapers, can undermine some of our important social and other policies,” the Straits Times quoted Minister George Yeo as saying.
July 1998 : The Government passed the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act, the Electronic Transactions Act and the National Computer Board (Amendment) Act. Under the amended CMA , the police now has lawful access to data and encrypted material in their investigations of offenses under the CMA as well as other offenses disclosed in the course of their investigations. Under the ETA, the police has been given broad powers to search any computer for an offence related to the act without a warrant.
Sept 1998 : The Undesirable Publications Act was amended to include CD-ROMS, sound recordings, pictures, and computer-generated drawings, and to raise the fine for distribution or possession of banned publications. The Government also publicized the list of banned English-language publications, which is made up primarily of sexually-oriented materials, but also includes some religious and political materials.
Nov 1998 : Political detainee Chia Thye Poh was granted unconditional release. He had spent 22 years, six months, two weeks and four days in jail, mostly in solitary confinement. He then spent another 9 years in Sentosa under severe restrictions.
“The best years of my life were taken away just like that without a charge or trial. As a victim of the notorious Internal Security Act, I sincerely call on the government to abolish the act,” said Mr Chia.
Dec 1998 : JB Jeyaretnam and Workers’ Party were ordered by the High Court to pay ten members of a committee which organised the first Tamil Language Week in 1995, including PAP MP R. Ravindran, $265,000 in defamatory damages plus legal costs for the 14-day trial.
Feb 1999 : Opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan was jailed twice for giving two speeches at Raffles Place without a licence. For both convictions he was fined a total of $3,900 but chose instead to serve two prison terms of seven and 12 days respectively. Chee’s colleague, Wong Hong Toy, was also imprisoned for 12 days after refusing to pay a fine for adjusting the microphone and the volume of the speaker. Amnesty International named both men prisoners of conscience.
Mar 1999 : The ten members of the Tamil Language weekly filed a petition with the High Court to wind up the Workers’ Party after it failed to pay over $500,000 in libel damages and legal costs.
Mar 1999 : Dr Chee Soon Juan was fined for selling his book, To Be Free, without a permit. He had pleaded not guilty to the charge as book stores and vendors had refused to sell his books out of fear of prosecution.
May 1999 : When JB Jeyaretnam and Dr Chee Soon Juan applied to register Open Singapore Centre, an official said the application would have to be sent for clearance to the Internal Security Department.
May 1999 : After a law student complained to police that someone with an account in the Home Affairs Ministry had hacked into her computer, the Ministry disclosed that it had secretly scanned the computers more than 200,000 SingNet and SingTel Magix customers, ostensibly for viruses. Singnet apologised to its customers – by email – and says the security check has since been abandoned.
However, according to a recent US State Department’s human rights report on Singapore, the “Internal Security Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board, have wide networks for gathering information and highly sophisticated capabilities to monitor telephone and other private conversations and conduct surveillance. It is believed that the authorities routinely monitor telephone conversations and use of the Internet.. The law permits government monitoring of Internet use.”
May 1999 : In a Straits Times interview, Minister George Yeo warned Singaporeans: “We have had occasions to tell women’s magazines not to get involved in partisan matters. If we did not do this, every political party will use women’s magazines to get their views across. I do not think that is healthy for Singapore…If you are a civic organisation, whether you are an organisation, if you want to get yourself involved politically, please get into the political arena and not hide behind a religious group, a tuition class, or a theatre troupe.”
Aug 1999 : The police rejected two applications by Dr Chee Soon Juan to hold public rallies.The application was rejected because the venues were outdoors, and there was “a potential for trouble” and public “inconvenience,” said the head of the police licensing division. But in a letter to the Home Affairs Ministry, Chee said officials and MPs from the ruling People’s Action Party “routinely give political speeches in outdoor areas.” Public gatherings of more than five people in Singapore require a police permit.
Sep 1999 : Mrs Tang Liang Hong lost her appeal for damages from PAP leaders, whom she claimed had caused her financial loss. The Court of Appeal also found that she was not entitled to damages for mental distress and anxiety.
Sep 1999 : Elected President Ong Teng Cheong
resigned but not before criticising the PAP Government for not providing details of Singapore’s financial reserves. They had told him that it would take “52 man-years” to provide the information.
In rapid succession, Parliament passed four constitutional amendments to grab back some of the powers that had been vested in the elected president
, like his right to veto both defense spending and laws that curtailed his own authority. In a news conference, Ong said that some Ministers and public officials had treated his office as a “nuisance.”
“The elected presidency was Lee Kuan Yew’s initiative. He came out with the idea way back in ‘82, ‘83,” said Mr Ong.
2000 : According to the US State Department’s human rights report on Singapore, the Singapore Government released a statement confirming that an individual detained by the Internal Security Act in 1998 was still in detention.
May 2000 : Parliament passed the Political Donations Act. Apart from disallowing political organisations from receiving foreign funding, the Act also prohibits anonymous contributions of more than $5000 in any financial year. The Home Affairs Minister has the freedom to define which civil societies are political in nature and are thus bound by the law.
Nov 2000 : Following a four-hour standoff at the Drama Centre, police arrested the president of a theatre company after she tried to rehearse a banned play about marital violence in Singapore’s Indian Muslim community. The government said the ban was necessary because artistic works must “respect religious sensitivities in multiracial and multi-religious Singapore.” Ms S. Thenmoli, who heads the Agni Kootthu theater group, was given “a stern warning in lieu of prosecution.”
Dec 2000 : A Radio Corporation Singapore (RCS) radio report on a Human Rights Day event at Speakers Corner was re-edited after the first report went on air containing comments by JB Jeyaretnam and a letter by Kofi Annan. Shortly after, a spokesperson for RCS said that the journalist Fauziah Ibrahim had “resigned.”
Dec 2000 : On Dec 31, police arrested and later charged 15 Falungong adherents for conducting a protest without a permit; only 2 of those arrested were Singapore citizens. The 15 persons arrested had participated in an assembly of 60 Falungong members who sought to draw attention to the arrest and killing of Falungong members in China. The group had not sought a permit, asserting that police had not responded to their previous efforts to obtain permits. In March 2001 seven of the group were sentenced to 4 weeks in jail for refusing to hand over placards to the police.
Jan 2001 : JB Jeyaretnam was declared bankrupt after missing by one day the deadline for a $23,450 payment to eight claimants, members of the organising committee of Tamil Language weekly of 1995. As a bankrupt he is effectively disqualified from elections.
Feb 2001 : Police called up two activists from the Open Singapore Centre and Think Centre for questioning in connection with the above Human Rights Day event at Speakers Corner. In a strongly worded release, the Singapore Police Force pointed out that “it is one thing to have a group of people gather to hear a person or persons speak; but quite another when people come together for a specific cause, and in the process, they chant slogans, display placards and show gesticulations, such as clenching of fists. Police treat such actions as indicative of a demonstration or of disorderly behaviour.”
Feb 2001 : Police rejected a permit by Think Centre who had wanted to protest outside a Singapore radio station next month to mark World Press Day.
Feb 2001 : The Public Entertainments and Meetings Act was revised to double the fines for holding a public talk or delivering a political speech without a police permit from $5,000 to $10,000.
Mar 2001 : The Government named Open Singapore Centre and Think Centre political associations, so making them ineligible to receive foreign funding. “An organisation which is not registered as a political party but carries out activities to influence the domestic political process should logically also be prohibited from accepting donations,” the Government said in a statement.
Apr 2001 : Police summoned political discussion group Roundtable members Kevin Tan and Zulkifli Baharudin for questioning following an event in November to discuss freedom of assembly. Police had wanted to investigate whether the event had provided public entertainment without a license.
Apr 2001 : Parliament passed a law that allows punishment of foreign news broadcasters deemed to be “engaging in the domestic politics of Singapore.” The rules are similar to those placed on the foreign print media in 1986.
Apr 2001 : Government officers raided Ngee Ann Polytechnic and confiscated film equipment and tapes after three lecturers had made a documentary about JB Jeyaratnam. The three were told that they could be charged in court if they went ahead with a planned screening of the film at the Singapore International Film Festival. They submitted written apologies for making the film and withdrew it from the Festival.
July 2001 : JB Jeyaretnam lost his Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) seat in Parliament after he lost a final appeal against a bankruptcy order. He has been subjected to lawsuits, fines and jail throughout his political career and is estimated to have paid more than $1.6 million in damages and costs so far. Three months later, he resigned from the Workers’ Party.
Aug 2001 : Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng warned that Singapore could face the chaos that hit Indonesia after the fall of Suharto if there were too much emphasis on democracy, human rights and press freedom. “We do ourselves a great disservice if we import unthinkingly and wholesale fashionable and hollow abstractions…So do not believe those few Singaporeans who tell you that with democracy, human rights and press freedom a hundred flowers will bloom and Singapore will prosper,” said Mr Wong.
Aug 2001 : Parliament passed new laws to restrict political campaigning on the internet. All political websites are to register with the authorities. Non-party political websites are not allowed to campaign for any party, such as displaying party banners and candidate profiles. Election surveys and exit polls are banned.
Aug 2001 : Sintercom, a popular political discussion website, shut itself down after eight years due to pressure by the Government to register as a political site.
Aug 2001 : The Singapore Democratic Party called off a planned political rally after a permit from the police came too late. Approval from the police licensing division had come only four days before the planned rally. “Approval for political rallies is rare in the strictly-governed city-state where the government has been accused of restricting freedom of speech,” reported AFP.
Oct 2001 : Despite earlier promises to allow overseas voting, Parliament passed a bill to suspend overseas voting for citizens in the coming general elections, citing security concerns due to ongoing US military strikes in Afghanistan.
Oct 2001 (General Elections) : Snap elections were called 17 days before polling day – the shortest in Singapore Elections history. Parties were given only 9 days to campaign. Election deposits for each candidate were increased to $13,000, up from $5000 in 1997.
A Workers’ Party team of candidates were disqualified by the Elections Department from contesting after submitting incomplete forms, resulting in the opposition contesting only two-thirds of the total number of seats, the lowest since 1968.
Under the New Singapore Shares scheme implemented before polling, Singaporeans were given between $200 and $1,700 worth of shares which could be converted to cash.
Non-party political websites were prohibited from political campaigning, while exit polls and appeals for funds over the Internet were banned. Restrictions were also imposed on campaigning via mobile text messaging service. Citing terrorist scare, police banned lunchtime rallies at the central business district.
Dr Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party was labelled a “cheat, congenital liar and political gangster” by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Defamation suits followed, and again it wasn’t Lee who got sued. Chee was sued by both PM Goh Chok Tong and SM Lee Kuan Yew for questioning a $17 billion loan to former Indonesian President Suharto in 1997.
15 men and a woman were arrested for alleged “rioting” after an opposition rally. The police said the arrests occurred after about 200 people had gathered at a roadside and waved flags in support of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA). The crowd held up traffic and tapped on windows of passing cars, the statement added.
The US State Department’s human rights report on Singapore’s electoral system noted that “the PAP completely controlled key positions in and out of government, influenced the press and courts, and limited opposition political activities,”
Nov 2001 : Police arrested internet critic Robert Ho Chong at his home after being charged with an offence punishable by up to three years in jail. The 51-year-old former journalist had posted articles before the general elections urging opposition candidates to enter polling stations, as did the PAP leaders in the 1997 elections. The police classified Ho’s article as an attempt to incite violence or disobedience to the law that was likely to lead to a breach of peace.
Dec 2001 : Singapore security police detained without trial fifteen suspected Jemaah Islamiah members. Thirteen of whom were ordered subsequently to preventive detention for a period of 2 years; two others were released with restrictions on their travel and their contacts. In August of 2002, additional terrorist suspects were detained. Three were subsequently released with restrictions. The Government does not allow human rights monitors to visit prisons although previous cases of torture in prisons have been documented by Amnesty International.
Jan 2002 : The Government attacked Muslim website fateha.com for postings which allegedly condones violence. Information Minister David Lim called for fateha to be registered as a political website. “Spreading anything that goes against the public interest, public order or national harmony would be in breach of the SBA’s Code of Practice,” reported the Straits Times.
Jan 2002 : The Ministry of Education suspended four 6-year-old girls after their Muslim parents had refused to heed school warnings regarding the headscarves ban in public schools. One subsequently returned to school in June, and another moved to Australia in July. The parents of the other two challenged the ban, and attempted to bring in longtime Malaysian opposition leader and lawyer Karpal Singh to present their case. However, the application for Singh’s employment permit was refused.
Feb 2002 : Dr Chee Soon Juan’s application to admit Queen’s Counsel Stuart Littlemore to represent him in the defamation suit brought by PM Goh Cok Tong and SM Lee Kuan Yew was rejected by the High Court. The court demanded that he post a $10,000 bond before appealing against the ruling.
May 2002 : The police aborted a Labour Day rally outside the Istana State compound by arresting speakers Dr Chee Soon Juan and Gandhi Ambalam. The two men were whisked away into a police van moments after they arrived at the scene. The police had earlier turned down Chee’s application to stage the ‘People Against Poverty’ rally on the grounds that it might disrupt law and order.
May 2002 : The court again rejected Dr Chee Soon Juan’s bid to have QCs Martin Lee (Hong Kong) and William Henric Nicholas (Australia) represent him in his legal battle against PM Goh and SM Lee. Judicial Commissioner Tay Yong Kwang had ruled that the cases were “not complex” enough to warrant the admission of QCs. Both Mr Lee and Mr Goh were represented by Senior Counsel and PAP MP Davindar Singh.
Jun 2002 : UnionWorks’ Mandarin radio station was fined $15,000 for adding “injections of personal remarks and observations by the newsreader, which were unwarranted in normal news bulletins,” said the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA).
Jul 2002 : Dr Chee Soon Juan was charged and convicted with violation of the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act for speaking at the Speakers’ Corner in February to criticize the government’s enforcement of the headscarves ban in public schools. The $3,000 fine imposed on Chee meant that he cannot stand in a parliamentary election for 5 years.
Jul 2002 : The police again raided internet critic Robert Ho’s home and confiscated his computer for two articles posted on soc.culture.singapore. On the same night, social activist Zulfikar Mohamad also had his computer carted away by the police for an article posted on fateha.com. Both postings had raised the issue of nepotism. The two men were being investigated for criminal defamation which can result in a prison sentence of up to 2 years, a fine, or both. Mr Ho complained that, 2 weeks after seizure of his computer, authorities had compelled him to stay in a mental facility for more than a week. Zulfikar Mohamad has since left for Australia.
Aug 2002 : Bloomberg news service publicly apologized and agreed to pay $595,000 in damages to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew for an internet-distributed column which had alleged that Ms Ho Ching, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, was promoted to the senior position in government investment firm Temasek Holdings because of her relationship with the senior leadership.
Aug 2002 : The court ruled that there will be no trial for the defamation suits brought by PM Goh Chok Tong and SM Lee Kuan Yew against Dr Chee Soon Juan. In a summary judgment pronounced by the registrar, Chee was found guilty of defamation.
Sep 2002 : Ho Peng Kee, the People’s Action Party second organising secretary, dismissed a proposal by groups such as the Feedback Unit and Roundtable for an independent electoral commission to oversee the running of national polls. Singapore’s Elections Department comes directly under the command of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Oct 2002 : Dr Chee Soon Juan was charged under Public Entertainment and Meetings Act for holding an unauthorized “People Against Poverty” rally on Labour Day outside the Istana. Chee was fined $4500 and his colleague Gandhi Ambalam was fined $3000. Chee chose to serve a 5-week prison sentence rather than pay the fine. Amnesty International issued a scathing attack on the Singapore Government, saying that the detentions “typify a pattern of unreasonable restriction on public gatherings and on the free expression of opinion”.
Oct 2002 : In response to calls to allow bar-top dancing in pubs, Minister of State Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament “If you want to dance on the bar top, some of us will fall off that bar top. Some will die as a result… Usually it is a girl with a short skirt who’s dancing on it, who may attract some insults from other men. The boyfriend starts fighting. Some people will die. Blood will be shed for liberalising the policy.”
Nov 2002 : A report by the Asian Human Rights Commission stated that Dr Chee Soon Juan was being “incarcerated in a poorly ventilated 7 foot x 15 foot cell with two other prisoners. Having been assigned to a straw mat next to the toilet “bucket”, he sleeps only two to three hours each night. Dr Chee is afflicted with nausea and dizziness, and he lost 10kg of weight during his first ten days of incarceration.”
Dec 2002 : Police rejected an application by JB Jeyaretnam to hold an anti-GST march on the grounds of maintaining “law and order”, despite JBJ’s assurance that “no one will be carrying any sticks or shouting anything, except perhaps the slogan ‘Say No to GST’.”
Dec 2002 : Muhamad Ali Aman, recently-appointed Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Alliance, was expelled by his union after he refused to resign over ties with the opposition. He was a branch chairman of a union which comes under the purview of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), an affiliate of the PAP Government. Following Aman’s dismissal, Melvin Tan, a member of the Workers’ Party, resigned from his union post.
Feb 2003 : On the weekend of 17 February 2003, while six million people all over the world were out on the streets in anti-war demonstrations, Singapore police arrested six Singaporeans who had turned up or were en-route to the US Embassy, and which prompted Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng to decree that “the government does not authorise protests and demonstrations of any nature.”
US Ambassador Franklin Lavin saw it differently, “I don’t see why a group of people who want to stand in front of my Embassy and tell me they don’t agree with a policy of my country should not be able to do so. The right of peaceful expression of opinion is an important element of a successful society”
Feb 2003 : The Ministry of Defence disallowed a woman to open her home to the public for an anti-war candle-light vigil because her rented home was located within the Seletar Army Camp. An army spokesman told the press that “certain activities are not allowed within that area.” Police spokesman, Philip Mah, referring to venues outside army jurisdiction, added, “When you have an assembly of five or more people in a location where the public can have access to, a permit is required under the law.”
Apr 2003 : The police denied the Open Singapore Centre its application to hold a march for May Day. The OSC has applied for the march to take place starting at the Ministry of Manpower and ending in front of Parliament House where a rally will take place.
Sept 2003 : Think Centre’s application for a proposed display of dolls to mark Children’s Day at Raffles Place and Stamford Road was rejected by the police on grounds of “law and order considerations”.
Oct 2003 : Information Minister Lee Boon Yang publicly reprimanded a London-based writer, Michael Backman, over the latter’s article on Today, which had said that Singapore still maintains “the old-fashioned, outmoded trappings of a Third World dictatorship.” Mr Lee told the Singapore Press Club audience that Backman “had clearly crossed the line and engaged in our domestic politics.” He further said that one rule “that remains firmly in place is the requirement that foreign journalists stay out of Singapore’s politics.”
Nov 2003 : Following a report in Today newspaper on the trauma of SM Lee Kuan Yew in London after his wife had suffered a stroke, an advisor to Mr Lee reprimanded Today editor Mano Sabnani for allowing the report to be published. The young journalist who wrote the story, Val Chua, reportedly had her press card suspended.
Nov 2003 : The police rejected three applications by a White Ribbon Campaign group to stage outdoor events to mark International Day Against Violence Against Women. Police had first denied the group a permit for a march – and later turned down its application to hold a children’s drama presentation – because such events could threaten “law and order.” The group then applied to hold an outdoor children’s choir performance, but that was also rejected.
Nov 2003 : The Computer Misuse Act was amended to allow government agencies to patrol the internet and swoop down on hackers suspected of plotting to use computer keyboards as weapons of mass disruption. Violators of the Act such as website hackers can be jailed up to three years or fined up to $10,000. A PAP MP described the Act as “the cyberspace equivalent of the Internal Security Act.” An online poll by internet portal Yahoo Singapore showed that 70 percent of respondents felt the new laws gave the authorities too much power, and they were afraid they were being watched.
Nov 2003 : Labour Minister Ng Eng Hen accused the Air Line Pilots’ Association-Singapore of being “self-serving and confrontational” after its members voted to sack its entire leadership over controversial wage cuts imposed by Singapore Airlines. The Government then announced it will amend the Trade Unions Act in a bid to restrict members’ rights.
“(SIA) Pilots believe they are special, they got huge egos, I am told…I can assure you that in Singapore, when we decide that they are breaking the rules of the game, the unspoken rules as to how we survive, how we have prospered, then either their head is broken or our bones are broken,” SM Lee Kuan Yew told an audience at the World Brand Forum.
Dec 2003 : The Government banned a public forum entitled “Democracy in Burma: How can Asians help?” In a terse reply, the police stated that the application by the Open Singapore Centre was rejected because the “proposed event is likely to be contrary to the public interest.”
Mar 2004 : The Government revoked the permanent residency of SIA pilot Captain Ryan Goh after the ministry deemed him an “undesirable” immigrant. SM Lee Kuan Yew had previously singled him out as “the instigator” to get the previous leaders of the pilots union sacked.
Mar 2004 : Young drama group The Fun Stage’s planned series of talks and forums on gay representation, entitled The Lover’s Lecture Series, was denied a licence by Public Entertainment Licensing Unit (Pelu). Pelu said the talks involving academics, critics and theatre practitioners “were contrary to the public interest.”
Apr 2004 : Gay rights group People Like Us’ second bid to register itself as a society was rejected. Its first application was turned down in 1997. According to the Societies Act, groups may be turned down because they are either likely to be used for unlawful purpose or purposes “prejudicial to public peace, welfare and good order,” or are likely to act against “national interests.”
Aug 2004 : Shortly after Lee Hsien Loong was sworn in as the country’s new Prime Minister, he promised an “open and inclusive society.”
But his father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, told an international audience at the Global Brand Forum that “political reform need not go hand in hand with economic liberaliastion.” He also invoked the ghost of Deng Xiaoping and said, “He took over, and he said: ‘If I have to shoot 200,000 students to save China from another 100 years of disorder, so be it.’”
Sept 2004 : Despite amending the law to allow certain interest groups to register on a fast track, the Government announced that the following will not be included – groups whose activities relate to human rights, political rights, civil rights, animal and environmental rights, gender issues, religion, ethnicity and martial arts.
Sept 2004 : The Economist paid $390,000 in damages plus legal costs to PM Lee Hsien Loong and MM Lee Kuan Yew for an article it ran mentioning “a whiff of nepotism” upon the appointment of the Prime Minister’s wife, Ho Ching, as chief executive of Temasek Holdings.
Sept 2004 : The Government extended for another two years the detention of 17 suspected Jemaah Islamiah members held under Internal Security Act. Eighteen other suspected members remain under ISA detention.
Nov 2004 : The Court of Appeal upheld a High Court decision to deny the application by JB Jeyaretnam to be discharged from bankruptcy. His liabilities are estimated at more than $600,000.
Dec 2004 : Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew issued a stern warning to foreign media against meddling in Singapore’s politics. In a forum with the Foreign Correspondents Association, Lee said, “We are not that daft. We know what is in our interest and we intend to preserve our interests and what we have is working. You are not going to tell us how to run our country.”
Dec 2004 : Police rejected an application by a Hong Kong based gay portal to hold a Christmas party as “the event is likely to be organised as a gay party which is contrary to public interest.”
Jan 2005 :The Internal Security Department arrested two Singaporeans for alleged involvement in terrorist groups, bringing the total number of ISA detainees to 36.
Jan 2005 : Dr Chee Soon Juan was ordered by the High Court to pay $500,000 in damages plus legal costs to MM Lee Kuan Yew and SM Goh Chok Tong.
Mar 2005 : The High Court dismissed a defamation lawsuit by Dr Chee Soon Juan against MM Lee Kuan Yew. Chee had filed the counter suit in 2001 after Lee had called him a “political gangster, a liar and a cheat”.
Mar 2005 : Police rejected an application by a local gay Christian support group to hold a concert because the Media Development Authority said that the show would “promote a homosexual lifestyle.”
Mar 2005 : Chief Justice Yong Pung How sued his former remisier, Mr Boon Suan Ban, for defamation because Mr Boon was apparently pestering the Chief Justice on an outstanding financial matter when Mr Yong was the chairman of a bank. The Attorney-General charged Mr Boon for criminal defamation. The financier was subsequently acquitted because he was of “unsound mind”, but was ordered to be detained at the Institute of Mental Health where he now remains at the President’s pleasure. In June, CJ Yong ordered all court files relating to the case sealed.
Mar 2005 : The police rejected an application by JB Jeyaretnam for a march to protest the Government’s decision to allow casinos to be built, saying it would have disrupted civil order.
Apr 2005 : The Government barred Amnesty International’s Tim Parritt from speaking at a public forum entitled “Death penalty and the rule of law in Singapore”. The police justified the ban by saying that it does not need a foreigner to lecture it on its criminal justice system.
May 2005 : Student blogger Chen Jiahao received an email from Mr Philip Yeo, a powerful state executive, who threatened to sue Chen because he had made disparaging remarks in his blog about Mr Yeo’s company. The blogger apologised and shut down his website.
May 2005 : Police threatened filmmaker Martyn See with prosecution for a film he made about Dr Chee Soon Juan. See was forced to withdraw the film from the Singapore International Film Festival after authorities warned that he could be jailed for up to two years or fined up to $100,000 if it was screened. See withdrew his entry but got a call from the police for questioning anyway.
May 2005 : Two Falungong practitioners were imprisoned for handing out VCDs and gathering in public without permits. Singapore Falun Buddhist Society spokeswoman Diana Wang said in a statement that Singapore was the only country outside China that had brought charges against Falungong practitioners for carrying out “truth-clarification” activities. Handing out VCDs without a license is punishable by a fine of up to $40,000, or a one-year jail term, or both.
May 2005 : American activist Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan was denied entry and deported from Singapore. The government said that he has been banned indefinitely for interfering in the nation’s domestic politics. Mr Yeshua had been invited to conduct a non-violence workshop for Singaporean activists.
May 2005 : In its annual report, Amnesty International criticized Singapore for its highest rate of executions in the world, and for its “broad array of restrictive laws” that curtail the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Jun 2005 : Police denied the gay group Fridae permission to organise a public party, saying that this would be contrary to public interests.
Jun 2005 : Police warned would-be protesters at the Olympic vote held in Singapore that they would be arrested. A group of small businesses had threatened to stage protests against London’s bid for the 2012 Olympics.
Jul 2005 : Police attended and videotaped Dr Chee Soon Juan’s book launch on non-violence. They also seized a VCD and took down the particulars of the speakers. Investigations are on-going.
Aug 2005 : Police threatened organisers of an anti-death penalty concert that it would not give the licence if the photograph of Shanmugam Murugesu was not removed from the concert posters. The police said that they did not want to glorify an executed person. Shanmugam was executed in May 2005 after he was convicted of smuggling marijuana into Singapore.
Aug 2005 : Riot police, in full battle gear, were sent in to break-up a peaceful protest by four activists who were protesting against the non-transparent nature of charity organisation NKF, and government institutions such as the CPF, GIC and HDB. About 40 police officers were deployed. They confiscated the protesters’ T-shirts and placards.
Aug 2005 : Filmmaker Martyn See was questioned for the second time by the police and was asked to surrender his video camera and six existing tapes used as part of his banned documentary. Police also called up blogger Mr Jacob George and filmmaker Ms Tan Pin Pin for questioning in relationship to See’s making of his film. Investigations are on-going.
Sep 2005 : Police launched investigations into cardboard cut-outs of white elephants displayed in front of a railway station. The cartoons were put up to protest the non-opening of the Buangkok MRT station.
Sep 2005 : FinanceAsia.com, an Asian online publication, issued an apology and agreed to pay an unspecified amount of damages and legal costs to PM Lee Hsien Loong, SM Goh Chok Tong and MM Lee Kuan Yew for an article about the Lee family and Temasek Holdings.
Oct 2005 : Two bloggers who allegedly posted racist remarks online were sentenced to jail under the Sedition Act, a colonial-era law used by the British to fight communist insurgency, and invoked for the first time since independence. In the same month, sedition charges were also brought against another blogger who allegedly posted inflammatory remarks about Muslims. The district court placed the 17-year old student on probation.
Oct 2005 : Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the Foreign Correspondents Association that Singapore will not adopt a Western liberal democracy with a multi-party system during the next 20 years.
Oct 2005 : Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng announced in Parliament that people who are arrested in Singapore have no right to immediate legal counsel. Giving the accused access to lawyers during investigations could impede police work, said Mr Wong.
Oct 2005 : Senior lecturers at Warwick University in the UK voted against setting up a branch campus in Singapore due to worries about limits on academic freedom.
Oct 2005 : The outgoing US ambassador to Singapore criticised Singapore’s restrictions on free speech in a rare public rebuke. Ambassador Franklin Lavin said Singapore’s 20th-century political model may prove inadequate for the 21st century, warning that the government “will pay an increasing price for not allowing full participation of its citizens.”
Nov 2005 : The Government criticised Reporters Without Borders (RSF) for giving it low marks on press freedom. RSF had placed Singapore at 140 out of 167 countries. Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong defended Singapore’s pro-government media by echoing Lee Kuan Yew’s 1959 statement to the foreign press, “You are not going to teach us how we should run the country. We are not so stupid. We know what our interests are and we try to preserve them”.
Nov 2005 : Information Minister Lee Boon Yang told Parliament that the ban on satellite TV in homes is still valid as “we must remain vigilant against external influences which may seek to split and divide our society.”
Dec 2005 : The Singapore Government rejected appeals from the United Nations, two Popes, human rights organisations and the Australian government to spare the life of Australian citizen Nguyen Tuong Van, who was executed on December 2 after being convicted of smuggling heroin through Singapore’s Changi Airport. More than 400 prisoners have been hanged in Singapore since 1991, the highest per capita rate of execution in the world, according to Amnesty International.
Dec 2005 : The Media Development Authority ordered Mr Benny Lim, a theatre director, to remove all references to the death penalty in his new play.
Dec 2005 : High Court Judge VK Rajah dismissed an Originating Motion taken up by three of the four peaceful protesters against the Home Affairs Minister and the Police Commissioner. Mr Rajah ruled that Singapore citizens had no right to stage protests because this would undermine the stable and upright stature of Singapore.
Jan 2006 : US billionaire philanthropist George Soros told a Singapore audience that the city-state could not be an open society as long as its leaders use libel suits against opposition politicians. “The use of libel …can be a tremendous hindrance to freedom of expression. Obviously, Singapore doesn’t qualify as an open society,” said Soros.
Jan 2006 : The police warned a group of schoolgirls that the wearing of T-shirts en masse might be misconstrued by some as an offence under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public & Order & Nuisance) (Assemblies & Processions) Rules. The students had planned to help raise money for charity by selling white elephant T-shirts at the Buangkok MRT station’s inauguration ceremony.
Jan 2006 : Singapore was singled out by a rights group for its denial of individual rights. The Asian Human Rights Commission described the city-state as a place where “freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and the capacity to assert one’s rights do not exist at all.”
Jan 2006 : Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng told Parliament that the Government will not hesitate to cane and imprison protesters who commit violent acts during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meeting to be held in Singapore later this year.
Jan 2006 : The Economist apologized to MM Lee Kuan Yew and agreed to pay damages for statements in the magazine’s obituary on Devan Nair, Singapore’s former president.
Feb 2006 : Dr Chee Soon Juan was declared a bankrupt by the High Court after he failed to pay $500,000 in libel damages awarded to MM Lee Kuan Yew and SM Goh Chok Tong. “Almost all of Singapore’s leading opposition figures have faced legal action at some time by prominent members of the ruling PAP,” reported Reuters.
“Not only did I not have legal representation but I also did not get a trial. It is well-known that Singapore has detention without trial. Now it seems that we also have defamation without trial,” said Chee.
Feb 2006 : Dr Chee Soon Juan was charged with contempt of court for a statement he made at the above bankruptcy hearing in which he alleged that the judiciary is not independent and fair, especially in cases involving opposition politicians. The Attorney-General is pressing for a jail term.