Read also: 19 in court to face illegal assembly and procession charges.

From Amnesty International:

Once again, trials against dissidents are taking place in Singapore. Some nineteen government critics and human rights defenders are facing criminal charges following their attempts to exercise their right to freedom of expression by engaging in peaceful public protests. In recent years, opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan, with his colleagues and supporters, has been increasingly calling for human rights and democracy in Singapore and has been gaining international recognition for his efforts. Amnesty International continues to call for an to end the use of such suits against government critics — a call also made by human rights organizations and law associations worldwide, including the International Bar Association and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada.

The ruling People’s Action Party, in power now for half a century, has jailed critics without trial, and in recent years increasingly brought ruinous defamation and other suits against opposition members. It has bankrupted Dr Chee and others, thus barring them from seeking parliamentary seats and from leaving the country without approval. Dr Chee was also fired from his academic post, repeatedly imprisoned and barred from travelling abroad — necessary for his international committee responsibilities — without obtaining official permission. In a recent trial, he and his sister, Chee Siok Chin, were ordered to pay over Singapore $600,000 (roughly equivalent in Canadian dollars) for “defaming” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. Their party, the Singapore Democratic Party, faces possible closure.

Four trials are currently scheduled against some nineteen critics from October to the end of January 2009. They are charged with assembly without a permit and illegal procession. Permits are required for public gatherings of more than four people, but activists point to their difficulties in obtaining such official permission. The first trial, started on 23 October, refers to a March 2008 protest by eighteen individuals to draw attention on World Consumer Day to price hikes and to — in contrast — government ministers’ high salaries. (Singapore’s Prime Minister is paid about five times the salary of US President Bush.) The eighteen stated that they would walk into court “with our heads held high and our spirits uplifted….It is a fight that all who wish to see democracy and freedom in Singapore must undertake”. Canadian lawyer Robert Amsterdam is providing legal advice. Singapore’s lawyers rarely defend the opposition, and foreign lawyers have found it difficult to gain entry into Singapore. Instead, Canadian lawyer Robert Amsterdam is providing legal advice from abroad.

The eighteen charged in the October trial are: Gandhi Ambalam, Chia Ti Lik, Chong Kai Xiong, Jeffrey George, Jaskyn Go (f), Chee Siok Chin (f), Govindan Rajan, Chee Soon Juan, Jufrie Mahmood, Jufri Salim, Surayah Akbar, Ng E-Jay, Seelan Palay, Shaffie, Carl Lang, John Tan, Francis Yong, Sylvester Lim.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Singapore government to stop using restrictive laws and civil defamation suits to muzzle critics and opposition party members. AI states that such actions impose restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly that violate international standards. The result is a climate of political intimidation and self-censorship in Singapore, deterring many Singaporeans from exercising their right to take part in public affairs. Dr Chee Soon Juan and his colleagues resolutely state their determination to continue their campaign for human rights and democracy — at whatever the personal cost.

TAKE ACTION

Write a courteous letter:

* Calling for an end to the use of restrictive laws and civil defamation suits against critics;

* State that the stifling of criticism and debate is a clear violation of international law and standards on freedom of expression;

* Express your understanding that the government has claimed to be building an ” open society” and ask the reason therefore for the continuing use of restrictive laws against peaceful critics and human rights defenders.

To:

President S R Nathan Salutation: Dear President

Office of the President of Singapore

Orchard Road

Singapore 238823

Email: [email protected]

Fax: 011 65 6737 5522

Copies to:

His Excellency Mr Vanu Gopala MENON Salutation: Your Excellency

High Commissioner for Singapore and

Permanent Representative of Singapore to the UN

231 East 51st Street

New York, NY 10022, USA

Fax: +1 212 826 2964

Professor S Jayakumar Salutation: Dear Minister

Minister of Law

100 High Street

The Treasury 08-02

Singapore 179434

Fax: 011 65 6332 8842

 

Please send messsages of support to

Dr Chee Soon Juan and colleagues

2A Jalan Gelenggang

Singapore 578187

or to [email protected]

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