by Teo Soh Lung
In September 2000, the Singapore Government designated Hong Lim Park as the venue for Speakers’ Corner. Initially, people were not interested in trying to turn it into the famous London Hyde Park. They thought it was a park for the government to spy on vocal citizens.
As the years went by, Singaporeans relented. The Singapore Democratic Party became the first political party to use the park for a political rally. They brought in the use of the electronic sound system and tentage. Thereafter, several events attracted a few thousand people.
Pink Dot attracted crowds exceeding 15,000. The government always weary of the good intentions of people, started to impose more and more conditions as the years went by. As we all know, any gathering of people even in Hong Lim Park, can be deemed to be a public gathering and requires a police permit which may take weeks to approve or disapprove.
As the park’s usage grew, the government became even more jittery and clampdowns started. Surveillance intensified. Even though Hong Lim Park which is only 0.94 hectare is supposed to be the only venue for free assembly, speech and expression, it was never the case. Several activists have been hauled up for interrogation by the police and some have been charged and convicted. Big Brother watches over the park 24 hours.
I recall attending one event organised by human rights defender, Mr Jolovan Wham in support of Malaysians who were deported for gathering beneath the iconic Merlion. It was swarmed with plain clothes men and women. There were at least three police vehicles, including a riot van at the car park. The plain clothes officers clearly outnumbered the handful of people who attended the event!
It is the business of the Singapore Government to watch over all its citizens even in supposedly free Hong Lim Park. In a way, they treat all Singaporeans as potential terrorists. They don’t trust us. Just look at the cameras located at five strategic points of the park in the photographs below. Judge for yourselves as to how free Singaporeans are today.
And one question I always ask is this: Since we are not trusted by our government, should we trust them?