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Detained civil society activists suffer cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment before deportation

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FORUM-ASIA strongly condemns the Singapore government’s detention and deportations of civil society activists during the recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank annual meetings in the country. The harsh and intimidating treatment of activists and speakers from civil society organisations, as well as the denial of fundamental freedom of expression, is a cause for serious concern.The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) strongly condemns the Singapore government’s detention and deportations of civil society activists during the recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank annual meetings in the country. This denial of the fundamental freedom of expression is a cause for serious concern.

FORUM-ASIA raises concerns about the harsh and intimidating treatment of activists and speakers from civil society organisations.

First-hand testimonies from some of the deportees have indicated blatant practices of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment disproportionate to the situation and station of these activists and speakers. Most of them had travelled to or transited through Singapore to attend the International People’s Forum meetings in Batam, Indonesia, an event parallel to the IMF-World Bank meetings. A number were also going to attend smaller-scale civil society meetings in Singapore.

These detentions came after an official blacklist of 27 activists or speakers already accredited by the IMF-World Bank were made known to these two institutions. When the detentions and deportations occurred from a period lasting from 13-18 September, it was then made known that the Singaporean authorities also had unofficial blacklists of dozens, if not hundreds, of other civil society activists and speakers.

The blacklists resulted in these actions: about two dozen activists and speakers were detained and deported; a number of them were detained for up to 38 hours before being deported. Some had their personal equipment such as cellphones confiscated; most were not allowed to contact anyone such as their family, friends, colleagues or employers. All were questioned, put in holding cells with harsh white fluorescent lights turned on continually, and closely monitored including trips to the restrooms; all have had their luggage ransacked; and only those with longer hours of detention were provided with the bare minimum of food and water. Those holding valid visas had them cancelled by the Singaporean authorities. Most or all of the detainees did not have access to the consuls or embassies of their home countries.

We draw attention to the Singaporean government's practice and culture of denying fundamental freedoms to those in their custody. By detaining and deporting these individuals, the Singaporean government has shown that they do not respect international human rights laws.

As a member of the United Nations (UN), Singapore has contravened Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. By its actions, the government has also contravened Articles 1, 5, 8 and 12 of the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Furthermore, by blacklisting and preventing civil society activists to participate in events related to development, the Singapore government has also violated Articles 2 and 8 of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development.

Fundamental human rights are indivisible and non-derogatory; individuals; groups and governments are not allowed to degrade anyone's fundamental human rights. With the above violations and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, internationally-recognised rights, freedom of expression, assembly, association and access to information, were undermined in one broad sweep.

The Singaporean government's restriction on and treatment of these activists is not acceptable and the authoritarian mindset giving rise to this behaviour must not be encouraged.

The Singapore government should allow and encourage its citizens and all civil society activists to exercise their fundamental rights, not trample and violate them. Civil society activists and dissenters who express different opinions and views are human beings with rights. When there are doubts one should resolve the issue in favour of expression rather then suppression.

The Singapore government should set priorities to remove outdated policies, laws and restrictions on public speech, gatherings and assembly. These outdated policies and practices only exist to darken Singapore's image as a developed nation with opportunities for all.

FORUM-ASIA deplores deeply the actions of the Singaporean government during the period 13-18 September 2006. We hope that the Singaporean authorities will not repeat this sort of behaviour during future international or regional meetings that it hosts. It should also reform its practices for future events that may involve foreign civil society actors, such as during the forthcoming ASEAN Summit in 2007.

For more information, contact Roderick Chia ([email protected]), Information and Media Programme Coordinator.