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Use of Defamation and Contempt of Court on Singapore Government Critics

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The Asian Forum Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is deeply concerned about Singapore's use of defamation laws to silence political critics such as Opposition Leader Dr Chee Soon Juan.  This is a persistent problem in Singapore's judicial
process that needs to be addressed urgently.The Asian Forum Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is deeply concerned about Singapore’s use of defamation laws to silence political critics such as Opposition Leader Dr Chee Soon Juan. This is a persistent problem in Singapore’s judicial process that needs to be addressed urgently.

The recent case involving Dr Chee of the Singapore Democratic Party is the latest in the pattern of political persecution and intimidation. Since the 1990s, Dr Chee has been repeatedly fined and has served time in prison for allegedly defaming officials of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). On 17 March 2006, Dr Chee was sentenced to one day in jail and fined S$6,000. He refused to pay the fine on principle and was also unable to do so due to his bankruptcy. As a consequence, he was sentenced to another seven days in jail as a substitute and is expected to be released on Monday, 27 March 2006.

During Dr Chee’s bankruptcy hearing on 10 February 2006, the Attorney-General stated that Dr Chee acted in contempt of court when the latter asserted the judiciary lacked independence in its judgments on opposition politicians. Dr Chee’s bankruptcy resulted from failing to pay former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong some S$500,000 in libel damages.

The use of the judiciary by the government to repeatedly constrict opposition politicians by imposing heavy fines and jail terms have cast grave doubts in Singapore on the processes of the democratic rule of law in accordance with internationally recognised human rights standards and norms.

FORUM-ASIA notes that Singapore is an economically developed country and has declared itself a democracy. Those in authority, including the judiciary, should be more open to critical opinions that run contrary to official viewpoints. However, the behaviour and attitude of the Singaporean authorities have shown that they are not sufficiently open to other opinions. Therefore, society remains restricted under its “guided democracy” without full participation of all citizens. This does not reflect the needs or the characteristics of a developed and modern democratic government.

Economic development cannot sustain itself without the promotion of democracy and respect for human rights as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has stated, “We will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.”

FORUM-ASIA urges the Singaporean government to be more accountable to its international human rights obligations such as freedom of expression as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other numerous human rights conventions. The use of defamation and contempt of court charges only serve to stifle free expression of political opinions essential for the democratic development of an open and modern society.

For more information, please contact Roderick Chia (66-9-126 1871 / [email protected]).

Sincerely yours,

Anselmo Lee
Executive Director