Amnesty International Report 2008 – Singapore

Criticism of the government grew despite restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. Suspected Islamic militants continued to be held without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act amid concerns that some were at risk of torture or other ill-treatment during questioning. Death sentences were imposed and at least two people were executed. Criminal offenders were sentenced to caning.


Critics pointed to a persistent misuse of laws by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and a perceived bias within the judicial system, reiterating the continuing influence of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in maintaining the country’s restrictive human rights climate. The authorities rejected a proposal to de-criminalize homosexuality. Concerns emerged about a reported increase in the gap between rich and poor. Singapore chaired the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), during a year in which the regional body adopted a charter including human rights commitments.

Freedom of expression and assembly

Criminal charges, civil defamation suits and other restrictive measures were variously brought against government critics and human right defenders, foreign news media, peaceful demonstrators and conscientious objectors.

The revised Penal Code broadened the scope of the offence of unlawful assembly.

Falun Gong practitioners were fined or jailed for holding peaceful public demonstrations against the Chinese government.

Dr Chee Soon Juan, leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), was imprisoned for two weeks for attempting, as a bankrupt, to leave the country without permission. He had been bankrupted in 2006 following a series of civil defamation suits filed by PAP leaders. He faced numerous other charges, including speaking in public without a permit and selling books on the street without permission.

The Far Eastern Economic Review was banned and faced a defamation suit for a 2006 article in which it interviewed Chee Soon Juan. The Financial Times, rather than contest a defamation suit, apologized to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Minister Mentor for an article that linked them with alleged nepotism. Reporters without Borders ranked Singapore 141 out of 169 countries in its press freedom index.

A visiting delegation of European and Asian parliamentarians were refused a permit to speak at a SDP forum on the development of democracy internationally.

Justice – detention without trial

At least 37 suspected Islamic militants reportedly remained detained without charge or trial under the Internal Security Act at the end of the year. At least six arrests, some reportedly after “rendition” from abroad, and at least eight releases were reported during the year. Concerns about the risk of ill-treatment or torture continued, despite government assurances that such prisoners were protected by law.

Death penalty

Singapore opposed a UN vote for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. Death penalty legislation was reportedly expanded to cover terrorist-linked kidnapping cases.

Trials continued to fall short of international human rights standards due to mandatory death sentences and presumptions of guilt for a number of capital offences. At least two death sentences were handed down after convictions for drugs trafficking and murder. Two convicted drugs traffickers, both foreign nationals, were executed.

Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments

Criminal offenders were sentenced to caning.

  • Despite his allegedly low IQ, Emmanuel Munisamy was sentenced to 24 strokes for armed robbery and assaulting a policeman. The sentence was overturned on appeal.


From Amnesty International.

Read also: Human Rights Watch’s report on Singapore 2008.


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