*Video of the event here.
By Andrew Loh
I arrived at St Martin’s Drive, off Tanglin Road, at about 5 pm.
The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) had earlier posted a notice on its website asking the public to go down to the Burmese embassy to sign a petition of protest against the treatment the Burmese government is taking against its citizens in Burma. (link)
I wasn’t sure what to expect – as Singaporeans are known for giving the cold shoulder to such calls. As I walked up the hill which leads to the embassy, the number of people already there surprised me.
There were around 60 people. It was evident that most of them were Burmese nationals. Some were standing around chatting, others were seated by the kerb. A few were at the embassy entrance reading the protest messages which were pasted on the gates.
The number of signatures collected then was about 70.
At about 6pm, everyone’s attention was directed at the police who started filming the people there with their video camera. They went round the small crowd and video-taped everyone. This created a little uneasiness among the small crowd, some of whom then took out their digital cameras and started taking pictures of the police.
Otherwise, everyone was unperturbed. I was told that the police had earlier issued a warning to Dr Chee Soon Juan that what he was doing constituted “an illegal assembly”.
Reading the messages pasted on the gates of the embassy revealed the strong emotions which belied the peaceful gathering. “Stop the bloodshed! Stop murdering”, said one. “Stop and spare the lives of the monks” was another. “We want real independence!”, “Free Aung San Syu Kyi!”. “Stop killing your own people! It’s inhuman!”, “Monasteries are not rebel grounds. Get permission before enter!”.
Even the United Nation’s envoy to Burma was not spared, “Gambari, open your eyes and don’t deliver false message!”
Heartfelt sentiments mirroring the solemn mood there.
The embassy itself, which was nestled between residential homes, was silent. I found it rather ironic when compared to the heavy military presence we see in Burma, where the troops are reported to be guarding monasteries and some homes to prevent the monks from staging further protests.
As the sun began to set, candles were lit and placed by the roadside as everyone observed a vigil for the Burmese back home. It was conducted in a quiet manner. Each would take a stick of candle, walked to his or her own corner, lit the candle, placed it on the floor and sat by it in silence. It was a contemplative moment to say a prayer for their fellow countrymen – family, friends, relatives who must be living in fear back home.
The police tried to stop people from walking into St Martin’s Drive – asking for their names, NRIC number and if they were “going in there”. They were stationed at the entrance to the road as well, with their filming equipment recording the comings and goings taking place. Nonetheless, more people turned up as the night wore on.
Some came alone while others came in groups of 4 or 5 – which included a few Singaporeans. They all proceeded straight to the table to sign the petition. Most stayed on for the candlelight vigil while others left after signing the petition. The number of protest messages at the embassy gates had also increased. The embassy gates were covered with these messages.
At around 9pm, the crowd had swelled to about 100 and the signatures to more than 200.
As I looked at the rows of candles on the ground, the poster of Aung San Syu Kyi placed directly opposite the embassy, and the faces of those present, I realized that the violence of recent days are not so far removed at all.
During the time I was there, more than 400 people had visited.
When I left at 11pm, the number of signatures collected was more than 300.
*Click on pictures to enlarge
*Read the SDP’s account of events here.
*You can see more pictures of the event here.