The following are excerpts of the Singapore Government’s response to the “White Paper on the repression of political freedom in Singapore” by Canadian law firm, Amsterdam and Peroff.
You can view the full text of the response here.
We have received queries on the “White Paper on The Repression of Political Freedoms in Singapore: The Case of Opposition Leader Dr Chee Soon Juan” by Amsterdam & Peroff.
The Paper recycles the views and comments that Dr Chee Soon Juan has regularly expressed. Singaporeans have, however, repeatedly rejected Dr Chee, his politics and his party. In the 1997 General Elections, Dr Chee lost decisively, obtaining only 35% of the votes. In the 2001 General Elections, he obtained only 20% of the votes, the lowest of any candidate in the Elections, where there were over 100 candidates. These results were a clear indication of what the electorate thought of him and his policies. In the 2006 General Elections, Dr Chee’s party, the SDP, consistently polled the lowest votes in every constituency in which its candidates stood, and some of them were not far off from losing their deposits. There are others from the Opposition who are not only in the current Parliament but have also won several elections successively. These facts are not to be found in the Paper. Despite these facts, the Paper seeks to portray Dr Chee as the Leader of the Opposition in Singapore and a martyr.
Singapore has a written Constitution that is Supreme and which guarantees fundamental liberties such as the right to life or personal liberty, right to equal protection, freedom of speech, assembly and association, and freedom of religion. Such rights are not absolute. They need to be balanced against the interests of society as a whole. Just as much as the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly need to be protected, we believe that it is a fundamental human right of all our people to live in a safe and stable environment, free from violence and social disorder.
All Singapore citizens, including Dr Chee and his supporters, are guaranteed under Article 14 of our Constitution the right to assemble peaceably and the right to form associations. The Constitution recognises that these rights are not absolute and allows for necessary restrictions in the interest of the security of Singapore or public order. Such legitimate restrictions are consistent with international instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The law of defamation is not unique to Singapore and as in other jurisdictions that value the rule of law, the purpose of such a law is not to stifle free speech and expression, but to protect debate from untrue and scurrilous personal attacks.
There are 5,500 foreign newspapers and journals in circulation in Singapore. Many freely carry articles critical of Singapore. Singapore’s population is not only well-educated, it is internationally connected and highly wired. Household broadband penetration is at 115%. Singapore ranks amongst the top three connected cities in the world. The Singapore population is able to judge for itself the truth.
It is pertinent to note that the Constitution of Singapore was amended to allow opposition politicians who have failed to win a seat at an election to hold seats in Parliament as “non-constituency” members. Opposition non-constituency members have not been reticent, inside or outside Parliament, in criticising Government policies and holding the Government to account. If the intention of Government leaders were to remove the opposition from Parliament by utilising defamation laws, the Constitution would not have been amended to ensure precisely the opposite effect.
Singapore has grown and prospered because of its adherence to the rule of law and its robust legal framework. In a world of competing interests and priorities, Singaporeans must choose for themselves the kind of government they want, and the appropriate balance to be struck between societal interests and the individual. Singapore does not seek to prescribe or impose its values on others, but simply for an open dialogue on these issues untainted by misrepresentation. This response clarifies facts which the Paper chose to ignore.