Sunday, November 30, 2008

Singapore (government) strikes again: Wall Street Journal

Singapore Strikes Again
Wall Street Journal, 29 Nov 08

The city-state resumes its campaign against the Journal.

Let us begin with an apology to our readers in Asia. Unless they are online, they will not see this editorial. For legal reasons, we are refraining from publishing it in The Wall Street Journal Asia, which circulates in Singapore.

Our subject is free speech and the rule of law in the Southeast Asian city-state -- something on which the international press and Singapore's government have often clashed. We can't say which side would prevail if the Singapore public could hear an open debate, but the fact is that we know of no foreign publication that has ever won in a Singapore court of law. Virtually every Western publication that circulates in the city-state has faced a lawsuit, or the threat of one.

Which brings us to the ruling against us this week in Singapore's High Court. Dow Jones Publishing (Asia) was found guilty of contempt of court for two editorials and a letter to the editor published in The Wall Street Journal Asia in June and July. The Attorney General, who personally argued the contempt case against us, characterized the articles as "an attack on the courts and judiciary of Singapore inasmuch as they impugn the integrity, the impartiality and the independence of the Court."

In suing for contempt, Singapore chose to go after us for the most basic kind of journalism. The first editorial, "Democracy in Singapore," reported on a damages hearing in a defamation case brought (and won) by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew against opposition politician Chee Soon Juan. The second editorial, "Judging Singapore's Judiciary," informed readers what an international legal organization had said about Singapore's courts.

Regarding the first editorial, we'll note that court proceedings are privileged under Singapore law, which means they can be reported -- though Singapore's media rarely do the job. Mr. Chee wrote a letter in response to the first editorial, which we published and which is cited in the contempt charge. We also published two letters from Mr. Lee's spokeswoman.

In the second editorial, we reported on the International Bar Association's critical study of the rule of law in Singapore. This is the same outfit that held its annual conference in Singapore last year, a meeting that Mr. Lee himself touted as a sign of confidence in Singapore's courts. The Law Society of Singapore is a member of the IBA. If reporting on what such a body says is contemptuous of the judiciary, then Singapore is saying that its courts are above any public scrutiny.

Again, we published a letter from the Singapore government responding to the editorial. This one was from the Law Ministry, which blasted the IBA report and us for repeating its "vague allegations." The IBA then weighed in, in a posting on its Web site, saying it wished "to correct some inaccurate comments" in Singapore's letter. It invites readers to read the report and "see for themselves" that its views are "based on comprehensive examples and evidence." The IBA homepage is

In his ruling, Justice Tay Young Kwang refers to us as a "repeat offender." He's right in the narrow sense that this isn't the first time Singapore has pursued the Journal Asia for contempt. In 1985, the newspaper and its editors were sued over an editorial about legal actions against opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam. The editors apologized.

In 1989, the paper was sued for contempt again, this time over a news story that quoted Dow Jones's then-president, Peter Kann. Mr. Kann had criticized a libel judgment won by Mr. Lee against the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Journal Asia's sister publication. The paper, its editor, publisher, local distributor and local printer were all named. They lost.

We are not eager to return to that fractious era, when the Journal Asia had its circulation severely restricted in Singapore and the paper's reporters were unwelcome. Since 1991, when the newspaper and Mr. Lee reached a settlement, our relationship with Singapore had been more or less stable until the latest contempt charge.

Meanwhile, in September, the Far Eastern Economic Review lost a defamation case brought by Mr. Lee and his son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, over an interview it published with opposition leader Mr. Chee. The elder Mr. Lee has long used defamation suits to silence his critics in the press and among the political opposition.

As for this week's contempt ruling, the first line of Justice Tay's decision is revealing as a standard for Singapore justice. "Words sometimes mean more than what they appear to say on the surface," he writes, going on to interpret the words as contemptuous because they had an "inherent tendency" to "scandalise the court." The fine he levied, S$25,000 ($16,500), is the largest ever meted out for such an offense. Justice Tay expressed the hope that it will deter "future transgressions."

We'll pay the fine. We'll also continue to express our views about politics, the courts and other subjects that we think our readers should know about. And we'll let readers decide what to make of the judiciary in Singapore.

Singapore Wins Again
Asia Sentinel, 26 Nov 08

A high court judge reinvents Alice in Wonderland in a contempt case

As expected, a Singapore high court judge has once again ruled against a western news organization, in this case the Wall Street Journal Asia, for contempt of court for three articles published in June and July that “impugn the impartiality, integrity and independence of the Singapore judiciary,” according to the complaint.

The court fined Dow Jones Publishing Co. S$25,000, said to be the highest amount ever levied for such a case, according to the Wall Street Journal. "Dow Jones is extremely disappointed with the ruling of the High Court and strongly disagrees with the court’s analysis that the editorials and letter to the editor constitute contempt of court," a Dow Jones spokesman said. "Also, contrary to what the attorney general has alleged, The Wall Street Journal Asia has not engaged in a ‘campaign’ of any sort against the Singapore judiciary. We will in the future continue to defend the right of The Wall Street Journal Asia to report and comment on matters of international importance, including matters concerning Singapore."

The 43-page judgment, written by High Court Judge Tay Yong Kwang, contains some startling language in its attempt to pin contempt charges on the newspaper, its editor, Daniel Hertzberg, managing editor Christine Glancey, and Dow Jones Publishing Co., now owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. In effect, Tay said, there were no actionable words in the articles. But, he wrote:

“Words sometimes mean more than what they say on the surface. This proposition is a recurring theme in the present proceedings before me, which concerns an application for by the Attorney General for orders of committal for contempt against [the] three respondents...”

And, as part of the background of the case, Tay wrote: “As will be demonstrated shortly, it is not the AG’s case that the publications contained passages or words that expressly scandalize the Singapore judiciary, but that they do so by implication, especially when the offending passages or words of each publication are read in the context of that individual publication.”

In other words, any publication deemed by Singapore to have been hostile to Singapore in the past could find itself in the dock without using “passages or words that expressly scandalize the Singapore judiciary” or presumably the family of ageing patriarch Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s minister mentor.

The court, however, is about as touchy as the Lee family. In October, three supporters of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party were promptly arrested when they turned up at Singapore’s Supreme Court wearing T-shirts depicting a kangaroo in judicial robes. The three, 19-year-old Muhammad Shafi'ie Syahmi Sariman, 33-year-old Isrizal Mohamed Isa and 47-year-old John Tan Liang Joo, were convicted and were to be sentenced November 27 for contempt of court.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the Wall Street Journal ruling, saying that "Even if the fine is not colossal, the ruling very clearly shows that Singapore's judges have no intention of letting the foreign media express themselves freely about the country's judicial system, which is lacking in independence."

As to the Journal case, it is hardly the first time Singapore has found the western press wanting, or used tortured language to go after them. The lawsuit-happy Lee family has filed a plethora of defamation lawsuits and contempt charges repeatedly against Dow Jones publications, particularly the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Asian Wall Street Journal, now known as the Wall Street Journal Asia, as well as Time Magazine, the Economist, the International Herald Tribune and many more.

In 2007 for instance, the Financial Times issued a hasty apology and paid undisclosed damages for a story in which there appeared to be no libel. The article dealt with the growth of so-called sovereign wealth funds, particularly a new Chinese fund that was unveiled at the end of September, and referred to growing concern over the acquisition of strategic industries by funds controlled by governments in Asia and the Middle East. At the end of the piece, the author referred to Temasek, the increasingly troubled Singapore state investment fund, and described some of the problems Temasek has faced with the fallout from the fund's acquisition last year of Shin Corp, the Thai telecoms group owned by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which ultimately contributed to Thaksin’s downfall. At the end of the article, the author referred to the fact that Temasek is run by Ho Ching, the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and concluded with these words:

“DBS Bank, whose biggest shareholder is Temasek, this week surprised many by announcing that US-born Jackson Tai would step down towards the end of the year. Mr Tai was said to be keen to ‘spend more time with his family.’

“Last week Jimmy Phoon, Temasek's chief investment officer, announced he was leaving ‘to take a break and spend some time with the family.’ “Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at the reasons. Singapore, after all, is built on strong family values. Lee Kuan Yew, founding father of the city-state, must be proud to see Lee Hsien Loong, his son, occupy the role of prime minister. “Mr Lee (Jnr) himself will be pleased Ho Ching, his wife, has helped turn round the performance of Temasek after being appointed chief executive in 2002. The rumour mill now suggests Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother, could replace Mr Tai at DBS. The younger Mr Lee earned his spurs as chief executive of SingTel, also part of the Temasek firmament.”

That caused an apparent explosion among the Lees, and allegations of libel over charges of nepotism. The FT quickly complied with its public apology.

In 1994, the Lee family sued the International Herald Tribune, which also quickly issued an apology and paid damages, for a column in which the author wrote about dynastic politics in China and, in passing, mentioned Singapore, saying “Dynastic politics is evident in ‘Communist’ China already, as in Singapore, despite official commitment to bureaucratic meritocracy. Similarly with the Kuomintang inheritance in Taiwan, which won out until 1987, when lack of candidates and the pressure of opinion ended the Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek era".

The courts awarded aggravated damages on the basis of Lee Kuan Yew’s claim (and similar claims by Lee Hsien Loong and Goh Chok Tong) that "The said words, in the context in which they were published, and in their natural and ordinary meaning, meant and were understood to mean" that Lee Hsien Loong was "appointed to various offices in the Singapore government on the basis of nepotism and not on the basis of merit."

No member of the Lee family has ever lost a case in a Singapore court as far as can be determined. The Lees recently won damages against Far Eastern Economic Review for defamation and the government has banned the publication over a 2006 interview with Chee Soon Juan, the head of the Singapore Democratic Party, in which Chee said the authoritarian city-state would only change direction after the elder Lee’s death. At one point, Judicial Commissioner Sundaresh Menon refused to allow the Review’s lawyer, Australian Tim Robertson, permission to sit in on the hearing because Robertson had made comments critical of Singapore in 2005 over Singapore’s decision to execute a convicted drug trafficker.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Singapore's embattled human rights lawyer

Leading Rights Lawyer Faces Jail Term
By Baradan Kuppusamy

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25, 2008 (IPS) - Singapore’s embattled human rights lawyer and leading anti-death penalty campaigner, Ravi Madasamy, intends to defend his reputation "all the way" to the highest courts after being released on bail for allegedly causing a disturbance at a mosque.

On Aug 11, a Singapore judge ordered Ravi to be examined by the Institute of Mental Health after police arrested him on charges of harassment and causing a public disturbance during a prayer session.

Ravi, 40, who was discharged from the hospital earlier this month, remains on bail facing a possible three-year prison sentence, if found guilty.

Ravi has strenuously denied the charges and dismissed prosecution suggestions about his mental health. He represented himself in court as no lawyer in Singapore was prepared to take up his case.

Only a small group of committed local rights activists have rallied to his defence. The country’s Law Society, which took him to court for allegedly disrespecting a judge, leading to a one-year practicing suspension in 2007, has distanced itself from the case.

"I am saddened but I will continue my mission," Ravi told IPS. "The environment is increasingly tough and dangerous."

Charles Hector, a prominent Malaysian human rights lawyer, described Ravi as "a victim of state repression".

"The Malaysian Bar is closely monitoring his plight," Hector told IPS. "He is a defender of human rights and we are very concerned. We are taking up his victimisation internationally.

"The Singapore authorities should immediately end the persecution and respect Ravi’s right to free expression and advocacy to end mandatory death penalty."

Ravi has led a virtually one-man international campaign to save death row prisoners facing execution by hanging, mostly for drug trafficking in Singapore. He has also fought, in the courts and outside, to defend dissidents, persecuted opposition politicians, lawmakers and human rights activists. As a result he has been vilified and severely criticised by Singapore’s government-controlled mainstream media and often accused of being a publicity seeker.

"I face numerous other problems arising out of my activism," Ravi told IPS.

"With all the happenings I came under tremendous pressure. Because of the mounting problems my pace has slackened but my resolve is the same. I will press on to enlighten Singaporeans on the horrors of the death penalty. People should know that mandatory death penalty [impelling judges to sentence people to death in capital convictions] is a step backwards into a barbaric era. We must campaign and people should want to end it."

Ravi, who is also an author and manager of the anti-death penalty website Hung at Dawn first gained prominence in mid-2005 for trying to save death row inmate Shanmugam Murugesu, who was sentenced to death for possession of 1 kg of marijuana.

Murugesu, 38, a former military veteran and Singaporean civil servant, was arrested in August 2003 for carrying six packets of marijuana in his bags when returning home from Malaysia.

Under Singapore law, the death penalty is mandatory for possession of 500 gm of marijuana and 2 gm of heroin.

Before Murugesu’s execution on May 13, Ravi and a few supporters organised a three-hour vigil at a hall in the Furama Hotel. "It was the first time citizens had organised to speak against the arbitrary, biased and discriminatory death penalty law," Ravi said. "It was an eye opener for us all."

In 2004, Singapore, with a population of 4.3 million, had the highest per capita rate of state executions in the world, according to Amnesty International. From then on, Ravi represented other death row inmates in court. He also travelled the world speaking out against state repression and the mandatory death penalty in Singapore.

A colleague, requesting strict confidentiality, said police placed Ravi under strict surveillance. "They followed him, took photographs and filed reports," he told IPS. "The relentless scrutiny caused Ravi tremendous personal and professional stress."

Although on bail, Ravi has resumed practicing law until his trial date is set.

Last year, Singapore carried out two executions and sentenced two people to death, according to Amnesty.

This is the synopsis of Hung at Dawn, a book by M Ravi, published in 2005,

On what first seemed like just another day, a young Malaysian commuter-worker was arrested in Singapore in September 2001, a nation which has the highest per capita execution in the world (according to 2004 report by Amnesty International). The charge: drug-dealing. He had just handed an undercover narcotics agent a small bag packed with 27.65g of heroin and received $8,000 in return. But was he really a drug-dealer? The young man swore his innocence, insisting that he was only doing a favor for an old family friend, who had asked him to pass along some religious incense to an associate and collect some money from him.

From there, the young man went on a rapid plunge downward through the dark hole of a system he had little understanding of. He found himself facing a mandatory death penalty for dealing drugs and was dragged quickly through the few stages the Singapore justice system allows between arrest and execution: trial, the single appeal, and the clemency plea to the president – all to no avail.

The story might have ended right there for this young man, as it has for so many others found guilty of capital crimes in Singapore. It would have if not for a veteran human rights activist and a young lawyer who took up the cause and brought the young Malaysian's fight into legal areas never before dared in this tightly regulated city-state.

Hung At Dawn is the true story of the desperate fight to save this young man from a possible miscarriage of justice, veering around and leaping over all the roadblocks the legal system here sets up. It also tells the story of a second, even more well-known case the young lawyer fought in defence of a convicted drug-dealer two years later. This tale, also true in every detail, involves a charismatic figure who had risen from grinding poverty to become a kind of national hero in Singapore (having won a medal in the Jet-Ski World Championship), only to fall when personal problems led him to start using and dealing in soft drugs. Caught at a border crossing, this former hero was sentenced to die for possession of just over 1 kilo of cannabis!

The latter part of Hung At Dawn looks at the unprecedented campaign which Guardian described as a “high profile campaign” in their report entitled “Singapore finally finds a voice in death row protest”. To save this man's life, a campaign that stretched beyond the courts into the streets to engage the general Singapore public and brought together a wide coalition of people galvanized by this particular case and the wider struggle to bring Singapore's drug laws more into line with international humane standards.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Kangaroo court" trio sentenced to 15 days and 7 days imprisonment

I just received this piece of news from a friend who attended the sentencing today of the "kangaroo court" activists.

John Tan has been sentenced to 15 days imprisonment. Shafi'ie and Isrizal have been sentenced to 7 days each. Furthermore, they each have to pay S$5,000 costs to the Attorney-General. Their jail term begins mid-December.

Here are two recent related posts: Persecution and prosecution of activists continue and 3 out of 3 as Wall Street Journal Asia fined S$25,000 for contempt of court.

Updated at 1715hrs with this report:
Singapore jails 3 for kangaroo T-shirts in court

SINGAPORE, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Three Singaporeans were jailed on Thursday after being charged with contempt of court for showing up at Singapore's Supreme Court wearing T-shirts depicting kangaroos in judges robes.

Isrizal Bin Mohamed Isa and Muhammad Shafi'ie Syahmi Bin Sariman were sentenced to seven days' jail, while Tan Liang Joo John received 15 days imprisonment. They were each ordered to pay S$5,000 in costs.

Tan is the Assistant Secretary-General of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, led by Chee Soon Juan.

The three had worn the T-shirts at a court hearing in May to determine the damages that Chee Soon Juan and his sister Chee Siok Chin were to pay after being found guilty of defaming Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former leader Lee Kuan Yew.

Singapore's attorney-general said in bringing the case to court the trio had "scandalised the Singapore judiciary".

Singapore bans gatherings and protests in all public areas without a permit except Speakers' Corner, the country's equivalent of the historic free-speech haven in London's Hyde Park.
Updated 10am, 28 Nov: According to this report by TODAY,
Yesterday, the trio sought to start their jail terms at a later date. Justice Prakash gave time for Mr Isrizal to settle his personal affairs and for Mr Shafi’ie to complete his basic military training. They were ordered to surrender themselves on Dec 12.

Mr Tan sought to start his jail term four weeks later as he was “thinking of the possibility of an appeal”. Mr Tan, who represented himself, said he would need to seek legal advice to weigh his options. Justice Prakash ordered Mr Tan to surrender himself on Dec 18.

Persecution and prosecution of activists continue

Speakers Cornered by Martyn See. See his blogpost here.

Chee, 5 others charged
By Aaron Low, Straits Times website, 26 Nov 08

ONE of six people charged with attempting to hold a public processsion without a permit has pleaded guilty.

Jeffrey George, 44, was part of a group that allegedly tried to hold a procession at the Speaker's Corner in 2006 when the International Monetary Fund and World Bank were holding meetings here.

Four of the six - Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, 46; his sister Chee Siok Chin, 42; Teoh Tian Jin, 23; and Yap Keng Ho, 47 - have pleaded not guilty to the charge.

The other individual, Gandhi Ambalam, 65, did not enter a plea.

George faces a fine of up to $1,000 and his guilty plea is being dealt with at a separate hearing this afternoon.

Earlier, at the hearing held in the morning in the Subordinate Court, the Chees, Yap and Gandhi complained about an amendment made to the charge against them.

They were unhappy that the prosecution amended the charge from 'holding the public procession' to 'attempting to hold the public procession'.

The group, who are representing themselves, pointed out that this was done just a week before the trial started.

They argued that this caused difficulties in preparing for their defence and asked the court to give them more time.

District judge Toh Yung Cheong will hear their application for an adjournment of the trial tomorrow morning.

First day of trial for WB-IMF protesters
Singapore Democrats, 26 Nov 08

The first day of the trial of six SDP members and activists was adjourned. The defendants wanted more time to prepare the case because the prosecution had amended the charge at the last minute.

"What is amazing is the fact that only two days ago, the Prosecution decided to amend the charge when the matter happened more than two years ago," noted Mr Gandhi.

The Judge gave the defendants the rest of the day to seek legal advice on the amended charges.

The adjournment was also needed for Mr Jeffrey George to plead guilty in another courtroom. Mr George had applied to the court for him to be tried separately because of his overseas work commitment, which remained incomplete.

"If my case can be postponed till after this job is done, I will come back and face trial," he told District Judge Toh Yoon Cheong.

Judge Toh rejected his request and insisted that Mr George stand trial immediately. That left Mr George no option but to plead guilty because he needed to return to work the same afternoon.

Mr Jeffrey's case was then transferred to another court before District Judge Liew Thian Leng who fined him a total of S$1,300 for two charges, the present one and another for distributing flyers in September 2006.

In a statement, Mr Jeffrey said: "I am pleading guilty as there are no alternative avenues open to me. First I tried to postpone the trial or have a separate trial for me but both requests were rejected by DJ Toh. I put up the two requests because of my work commitments outside Singapore. I'm half-way through on a contract job in Peninsula Malaysia.

"My pleading guilty comes after I have exhausted all avenues. My guilty plea should in no way be interpreted as changing my views on challenging some of the unjust laws deliberately kept in place by the ruling party to prohibit peaceful assemblies and association.

"I will continue to defy unjust laws that trample upon my constitutional rights under Article 14. I take this opportunity to express my complete solidarity with my brave colleagues who are standing up for civil liberties and the rule of law."

Earlier the defendants applied to be tried separately from Mr Yap Keng Ho who was not part of the protest group. Mr Yap also wanted a separate trial because he said he was there as an observer, not a participant. The judge overruled this and said that the defendants would all be tried in a joint trial.

The trial continues tomorrow at 11.30 am in Subordinate Court No. 19.

A new trial begins before the last one ends
Singapore Democrats, 23 Nov 08

Even before the trial against the 18 Tak Boleh Tahan protesters is concluded, another hearing will begin on Wednesday, 26 Nov 08. This one involves six defendants who were part of a protest during the World Bank-IMF Meeting in September 2006.

Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Dr Chee Soon Juan, Ms Chee Siok Chin, Mr Jeffrey George, Mr Charles Tan, and Mr Teoh Tian Jing were initially charged for participating in a procession without a permit from Speakers' Corner to Parliament House.

However the charge was suddenly amended at the last minute (yesterday) to "did attempt to participate" in a procession.

The police had blocked the protesters at Hong Lim Park which resulted in a three-day stand off. The Government had also banned all groups from conducting protests during the Meeting which sparked off widespread criticism of the Singapore Government for not respecting freedom of speech and assembly.

The World Bank also chastised the Government for reneging on its promise to allow 28 accredited NGO representatives to attend the Meeting. Then WB president Paul Wolfowitz angrily raised the issue with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saying "Enormous damage has been done...A lot of that damage has been to Singapore and it's self-inflicted."

Mr Lee backed-down and decided to allow 22 of the representatives in. But the activists boycotted the Meeting and refused to attend.
The charge

You are charged that you on 16 September 2006 at about 12 noon, at Speakers' Corner, Hong Lim Park, North Canal Road, Singapore, which is a public place...did attempt to participate in procession from Speakers Corner to Parliament House intended to demonstrate opposition to the actions of the Government, when you ought reasonably to have known that the intended procession would have been held without a permit under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) (Assemblies and Processions) Rules (Cap 184), and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under rule 5 of the said rules read with section 511 of the Penal Code (Cap 224).

Rule 5 of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) (Assemblies and Processions) Rules - Any person who participates in any assembly or procession in any public road, public place or place of public resort shall, if he knows or ought reasonably to have known that the assembly or procession is held without a permit, or in contravention of any term or condition of a permit, be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000.

Section 511 of the Penal Code - Whoever attempts to commit an offence punishable by this Code or by any other written law with imprisonment or fine or with a combination of such punishments, or attempts to cause such an offence to be committed, and in such attempt does any act towards the commission of the offence, shall, where no express provision is made by this Code or by such other written law, as the case may be, for the punishment of such attempt, be punished with such punishment as is provided for the offence: Provided that any term of imprisonment imposed shall not exceed one-half of the longest term provided for the offence.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

3 out of 3 as Wall Street Journal Asia fined $25,000 for contempt of court

Wall Street Journal Asia (WSJA) has been fined $25,000 for contempt of court. See here for my post on this case.

It was one of three contempt of court cases brought by the Attorney-General of Singapore.

The other case involved Gopalan Nair.

And i just blogged earlier today about the third case involving the "kangaroo court" activists who were found in contempt of court and will be sentenced on Thursday.

WSJA fined $25,000
By Zakir Hussain, Correspondent
25 Nov 08, ST Online

THE High Court has found Wall Street Journal Asia (WSJA) to be in contempt of court and fined it $25,000 - the highest ever fine meted out for such a case in Singapore.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang on Tuesday said the fine would serve to denounce the conduct of the newspaper, 'a repeat offender', and hopefully deter future transgressions.

He also ordered the Hong Kong-based publication to pay costs of $30,000.

Previous fines for contempt of court involving newspapers have been in the thousands of dollars. The highest - $10,000 - was meted out to American academic Christopher Lingle in 1995 for an article he wrote in the International Herald Tribune that insinuated the judiciary was compliant.

In the present case, the Attorney-General took Dow Jones - the publisher of the WSJA - to court over three articles published in the newspaper in June and July this year.

The first was an editorial on Singapore's democracy, arising out of a May hearing to assess damages that Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan and others had to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew for libel.

The second was a letter by Dr Chee, in reply to a rebuttal of that editorial by MM Lee?s press secretary.

The third article was another editorial, on the International Bar Association?s Human Rights Institute's report on the Singapore judiciary in July.

At a hearing on Tuesday morning, Justice Tay found that all three articles contained insinuations that the judiciary was biased, impartial and lacked independence.

The articles also implied that the judiciary was subservient to Minister Mentor Lee and the People's Action Party, and was a tool for silencing political dissent.

These allegations had the inherent tendency to interfere with the administration of justice and risked undermining public confidence in the courts, Justice Tay said.

His ruling came three weeks after he heard arguments from Attorney-General Walter Woon and Dow Jones' lawyer, Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam.

In a 42-page written judgment which he summarised in court, Justice Tay noted that although the paper's earlier instances of contempt of court were committed about two decades ago - in 1985 and 1989 - 'that is not a very long period of time in the context of corporate history'.

In 1985, when the paper was called the Asian Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and then-editor Fred Zimmerman were fined $6,000 and $2,000 respectively for a report on the conviction of then-Workers' Party leader J.B. Jeyaretnam.

In 1991, Dow Jones and then-editor Barry Wain were each fined $4,000 for implying that a judge hearing a libel case was biased towards Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Justice Tay also cited three other aggravating factors against the WSJA:

One, the offending articles appeared in the span of three weeks, in a respectable journal with a wide and sophisticated readership.

Two, the constant refrain of the imputations against the judiciary's independence destablised the rule of law and threatened to bring down the reputation of Singapore.

Three, the WSJA had not offered any apology but maintained that the articles were not in contempt.

WSJA has seven days from Tuesday to pay the fine.

Said a Dow Jones spokesman: 'We are currently reviewing the decision.'
Reports from AFP, Reuters and AP,
Wall Street Journal Asia Publisher Fined In Singapore

SINGAPORE (AFP)--The publisher of the Wall Street Journal Asia was found in contempt of court Tuesday and ordered to pay more than $16,000 in damages for questioning Singapore's judicial integrity.

The judgment against Dow Jones Publishing Company (Asia) Inc. is the latest court ruling against critics of the Singapore government.

High Court Justice Tay Yong Kwang found the publisher in contempt for two editorials: "Democracy in Singapore," published on June 26 this year, and " Judging Singapore's Judiciary," which appeared on July 15.

He said that a letter that the business daily published in July by Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, or SDP, was also in contempt, and fined the newspaper a total of SGD25,000 ($16,490).

"In my opinion, all three publications, individually as well as collectively, contained insinuations of bias, lack of impartiality and lack of independence and implied that the judiciary is subservient to Mr Lee and/or the PAP and is a tool for silencing political dissent," the judge wrote.

He was referring to Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, and the People's Action Party, or PAP, which has ruled the city-state since 1959.

Tay noted that the editorials and the letter appeared within a relatively short period of less than three weeks while a defamation case involving Chee and Lee continued, and while charges against an American blogger, Gopalan Nair, were also before Singapore's courts.

"The three publications...are in contempt of court because the allegations by way of insinuations clearly possess the inherent tendency to interfere with the administration of justice," the judge wrote.

"A judiciary which is not impartial and independent is as good as salt that has lost its flavor."

Last month, a Singapore judge ordered the SDP party, Chee - who is bankrupt - and his sister, to pay $610,000 in damages for defaming Lee and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In September, the blogger Nair was sentenced to three months' jail for accusing a Singapore judge of "prostituting herself." He made the comment in a blog about the case involving Chee and the Lees.

Tay said there were aggravating factors, including the fact that Dow Jones had been found in contempt on two earlier occasions in Singapore.

The publisher also failed to apologize, and maintained that the publications weren't in contempt, he said.

Defense counsel Philip Jeyaretnam declined to comment on the case, referring inquiries to Dow Jones.

A spokesman for the publisher said only that they were reviewing the court's decision. In a statement issued during the hearing, Dow Jones said it was defending its "right to report and comment on matters of international interest, including matters concerning Singapore."

Singapore's leaders have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from defamation suits filed against critics and foreign publications.

International human rights groups have accused the country's leaders of using courts to stifle dissent, but the leaders argue that suing for defamation is necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded attacks.

Singapore fines WSJ for contempt of court

SINGAPORE, Nov 25 (REUTERS) - A Singapore court has found the Wall Street Journal in contempt of court for publishing three articles relating to Singapore's judiciary, and fined it S$25,000 , court documents said on Tuesday.

Singapore's attorney general brought contempt of court charges against the publisher of the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal, News Corp's Dow Jones & Co, and two of the newspaper's editors, Daniel Hertzberg and Christine Glancey.

The case was brought for two editorials and a letter written by opposition leader Chee Soon Juan about Singapore's judiciary in the newspaper.

"The three publications, read individually or collectively, are in contempt of court because of the allegations by way of insinuations clearly possess the inherent tendency to interfere with administration of justice," said Justice Tay Yong Kwang in his written judgement.

Tay said the fine, to be paid in seven days, was supposed to be a deterrent and denunciation of the paper's actions.

The court documents said the previous highest penalty for contempt of court was S$10,000.

A Dow Jones spokesman told Reuters the company was currently reviewing the court's decision.

During the trial, Singapore's attorney general argued that the Wall Street Journal was waging a 20-year campaign to smear the reputation of Singapore's courts. But Philip Jeyaretnam, a lawyer acting for the newspaper, said the claim was not true.

Singapore first took legal action against the Wall Street Journal in 1985 for contempt of court for an editorial commenting on the trial of late Singapore opposition leader J.B. Jeyaretnam. The Wall Street Journal apologised and was fined $7,600, according to newspaper reports.

Singapore leaders have won damages, settlements and apologies in the past from foreign media groups when they reported on local politics, including The Economist, the Far Eastern Economic Review, Bloomberg News and the Financial Times.

Singapore rules Journal in contempt of court
By ALEX KENNEDY, Associated Press Writer

SINGAPORE - Singapore's High Court ruled the Wall Street Journal Asia in contempt of court for publishing two editorials and a letter to the editor that the government says damaged the reputation of the country's judicial system.

The court also fined the newspaper 25,000 Singapore dollars ($16,400).

Justice Tay Yong Kwang ruled Tuesday against the newspaper and two of its editors, three weeks after Attorney General Walter Woon argued the editorials published in June and July questioned the judiciary's independence from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the ruling People's Action Party. Not meting out punishment in this case would undermine the country's rule of law, the court said.

The letter to the editor was written by Chee Soon Juan, head of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party.

The editorials and the letter "contained insinuations of bias, lack of impartiality and lack of independence and implied that the judiciary is subservient to Mr. Lee and/or the PAP and is a tool for silencing political dissent," Tay wrote in the ruling.

"There can be no doubt that allegations of the nature mentioned above would immediately cast doubts on the judiciary in Singapore and undermine public confidence."

The newspaper's lawyer, Philip Jeyaretnam, was not immediately available for comment. The Wall Street Journal is published by Dow Jones & Co., a part of News Corp.

Singapore's leaders have sued journalists and political opponents several times in past years for alleged defamation. They have won lawsuits and damages against Bloomberg, the Economist and the International Herald Tribune.

Human Rights Watch called on Singapore last month to stop using defamation lawsuits to stifle criticism and bankrupt opposition politicians, citing the High Court's decision in October to order Chee and his party to pay $416,000 to Lee and his father, Lee Kuan Yew, in damages stemming from a 2006 defamation case.

Government leaders justify suing political opponents, saying it is necessary to defend their personal and professional reputations since it bears on their ability to govern properly and command respect from Singaporeans.

"Kangaroo court" activists found in contempt of court; To be sentenced on Thur, 9.30am

See my earlier post about this case

The news that John Tan, Shafi'ie and Isrizal (left to right in the picture) have been found in contempt of court is hardly surprising. Doesn't mean i'm not very disappointed and angered. (Sentencing is on 27 Nov, 9.30am, Court 6B)

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) actions are akin to a big schoolyard bully. Ask such bullies to take on someone their own size and they'll either keep quiet or back away. That's probably the reason why they don't go after the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute for their July 08 report or Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada for their Oct 07 report.

The following section is from yawning bread's article Conversation stoppers. Read the full article here.
With the advent of Walter Woon as Attorney-General, another conversation-stopper has been revived -– the contempt of court charge. Or was it in response to the sharp criticisms levelled by International Bar Associations' Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) in its report published July this year?

The 72-page report had examined various instances over the years of questionable court decisions in political cases. It also put under the spotlight the fact that Supreme Court appointments often have no tenure, or are subject to renewal, which thus "casts doubt on the independence of all decisions made by judges."

The Wall Street Journal Asia, in covering this story, got into trouble for it.

Dow Jones, the newspaper's publisher, is currently facing contempt of court charges, together with editors Daniel Hertzberg and Christine Glancey. The Attorney-General's office claims that an editorial published in the newspaper, titled "Judging Singapore's Judiciary" alleged that the judiciary is "not independent" and "is biased and lacks integrity", as did another, titled "Democracy in Singapore". The latter was about on an exchange in court between Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Chee in a separate defamation case filed by Lee against the opposition leader.

Cited too was a letter to the editor by the opposition Singapore Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan, published in the daily on 9 July, touching also on the IBAHRI report.

Dow Jones issued a statement 4 November 2008, asserting their innocence and right to fair comment. "Today in court we defended our right to report and comment on matters of international interest, including matters concerning Singapore," it said.

"We also argued that in this instance, what we published simply does not constitute contempt of court."

Denying complaints that the court action was an infringement of free expression, Woon said the case was "not about the freedom of speech per se" but "about the rule of law and the vital role that the courts and judiciary play in its maintenance."

We'll come back to this later.

Not only are big media companies being charged with contempt of court, but so are intrepid activists John Tan, Isrizal Mohamed Isa and Muhammad Shafi'ie Syahmi Sariman. They are facing similar charges in a case separate from that of the Wall Street Journal, for wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with a grey kangaroo in judge's robes and holding a gavel. The prosecution alleges that in wearing such a T-shirt, they intended to convey the sense that Singapore courts are "kangaroo courts".

At the time, they were in the Supreme Court building to witness a hearing to assess damages against opposition leaders Chee Soon Juan, Chee Siok Chin and the Singapore Democratic Party, after the trio had been found by a court to have defamed Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

According to Today newspaper, at one point, John Tan uttered the words "This is a kangaroo court" as Lee Kuan Yew walked past him in the building.

What good do such prosecutions do? Woon argued that it was to protect the rule of law. But is it necessary to shield courts and judges from criticism to achieve this?

Is it totally inconceivable that judges can be biased, that executive interference can occur? Just look at some countries, say, China, India, Malaysia or Turkey. If it can happen there, it can happen here.

And when someone believes it is happening, should it not be said? How do you cure an ill if you're not even allowed to draw attention to it? Do we put our judges in the same class as God, the Prophet and the Koran, infallible, beyond question or demurral?

If we are so concerned about safeguarding the integrity of our justice system, then make sure our courts act with the utmost impartiality and never even give the appearance of susceptibility to undue influence.

Penalising people for saying that our courts do not meet expected standards does not improve justice. It's just a conversation stopper. A silencer. Some might say that resorting to it is an admission that one cannot win the debate on evidence alone, in other words, it just gives people more reason to believe what one is trying to deny.

Drop the charges before we make an even bigger joke of the system.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

United Nations vote shows growing support of death penalty ban

UN vote shows growing support of death penalty ban
Associated Press, 21 Nov 08

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee voted Thursday for the second year in a row to urge a global moratorium on the death penalty.

The United States sided with countries such as Iran, China and Syria in opposing the resolution.

The 105-48 vote marked a slight change from the 104-54 vote in the full General Assembly last December. About 30 nations abstained.

Supporters of the ban argue there's no conclusive evidence that the death penalty serves as a meaningful deterrent to crime and the risk of injustice is too high. Nations opposing the ban say the death penalty is effective in discouraging most serious crimes and remains legal under international law.

The vote in the human rights committee, though it includes all U.N. members, is not the final vote. Next month, the General Assembly will hold a final vote on the measure and the committee's vote is almost certain to be closely replicated there.

Though not legally binding, the voting does carry moral weight coming from the 192-nation world body that serves as a unique forum for debate and barometer of international opinion.

Amnesty International, which has been campaigning for the resolution, noted rising acceptance of a moratorium. In the 1990s, it was voted on twice in the General Assembly and failed.

On Thursday, the committee vote picked up one more nation than last year and six fewer opponents.

As of November, some 137 nations had abolished the death penalty in law or practice, compared with about 80 in 1988, according to Amnesty International figures.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been encouraged by the trend in many areas of the world toward ultimately abolishing the death penalty, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

Last year there were at least 1,252 people put to death by 24 nations and 3,347 others sentenced to death in 51 countries, according to Amnesty International.

Terlingen (Yvonne Terlingen heads Amnesty International's United Nations office in New York) urged nations such as Japan that increased the rate of executions in the past year to "take immediate steps to implement the resolution."

The resolution has been spearheaded by Italy and supported by the Vatican, a leading opponent of capital punishment. Also leading the campaign has been the European Union, which requires its 27 members to outlaw capital punishment.

Countries renew commitment to ending death penalty worldwide
DPA, 21 Nov 08

In a step to renewing the United Nation's moratorium on the death penalty, a UN panel Thursday voted 105-48 to once again submit a resolution to the General Assembly, dpa reported.

Last year, the General Assembly for the first time ever voted to adopt a moratorium on the death penalty, acting on an initiative in the human rights committee that was headed by Italy.

The vote appears headed to becoming an annual event as Italy and other opponents of the death penalty try to increase the margin of passage and convince holdouts like the United States and Arab and Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Yemen, Pakistan and Egypt.

Asian countries voting against the moratorium included China, Japan, North Korea and Singapore.

In Thursday's vote in the human rights committee, the US was one of 48 countries voting against the measure. The moratorium passed the committee with 105 votes this year, better than last year's committee vote of 99-52.

The outcome was greeted by Italy's UN Ambassador Guilio Terzi, who said the vote confirmed the global trend toward the abolition of the death penalty.

"This year's increase in the number of votes cast in favour of the resolution reaching the unprecendented figure of 105 shows the growing support among the membership on an issue to which Italy and its European partners attach a great deal of importance," Terzi said.

The resolution adopted by the human rights committee, known also as the Third Committee, welcomed the increasing number of countries that decided "to apply the moratorium on executions and the global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty."

The moratorium resolution will be sent to the 192-nation assembly for a final vote. In December 2007, the Assembly backed the moratorium in a 104-54 vote.

The moratorium has received strong support from the EU and many human rights groups, which gathered a petition with some 5 million signatures that was handed over to the president of the UN General Assembly in October.

According to Amnesty International, 133 countries have abolished the death penalty or stopped carrying out executions, and only 64 countries and territories use the death penalty.

During 2007, 24 countries executed 1,252 people compared to 1,591 in 2006.

UN reinforces call to end executions
Amnesty International, 20 Nov 08

A record number of countries have given their support to the campaign to end capital punishment.

On Thursday, a large majority of states from all regions adopted a second United Nations resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

Amnesty International has welcomed the breakthrough for the resolution, which was adopted in the UN General Assembly (Third Committee). The number of co-sponsors has risen to 89, two more than last year.

The increased support for this resolution is yet further evidence of the worldwide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty.

105 countries voted in favour of the draft resolution, 48 voted against and 31 abstained. A range of amendments proposed by a small minority of pro-death penalty countries were overwhelmingly defeated.
“We urge all states that still carry out executions to take immediate steps to implement the resolution and establish a moratorium on executions," says Amnesty International's Yvonne Terlingen,

137 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, as of November 2008. During 2007, at least 1,252 people were executed in 24 countries. At least 3,347 people were sentenced to death in 51 countries.

The decrease in countries carrying out executions is dramatic. In 1989, executions were carried out in 100 states. In 2007, Amnesty International recorded executions in 24 countries.

The draft resolution adopted on Thursday by the Third Committee of the General Assembly has still to be adopted by the General Assembly sitting in plenary in December.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gopalan Nair released from prison today morning; Banned from returning to Singapore

According to UncleYap's latest blogpost today (see here for my posts on Gopalan Nair),
I went to Queenstown Remand Prison this morning to await for him but I didn't know that famiLEE LEEgime took him out on a mata van to ICA to return him pass port and process his stay until 26.Nov.2008. He is banned to return to Singapore after that. I spoke to him on telephone just few minutes ago. He is OK and happy.

Singapore bloggers setting up community moderation panel

By Elizabeth Looi
The Nut Graph, 18 Nov 08

PETALING JAYA, 14 Nov 2008: While Malaysia has been debating for the past 30 years about whether or not to form a media or press council, Singaporean bloggers are planning to start their very own community moderation panel.

According to Assistant Professor Cherian George, one of the 13 bloggers who initiated the idea, the panel is to allow Singaporeans to have self-regulation when dealing with offensive or other controversial internet content.

The panel will be independent and will not include government officials, he told The Nut Graph in a telephone interview.

"The panel's role would be to assess content that some regard as unacceptable. It would have based its judgements on clear principles, and not necessarily on feedback from the majority because the majority could be wrong.

"If the panel finds that someone has gone too far with his comments, it can come out strongly to criticise and condemn the statement," said George, who heads the Journalism and Publishing Division at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University.

George believes that extremists who always make hateful statements on the internet would slowly learn that such comments are not acceptable in a moderate society. The panel might not stop extremists, but it would at least marginalise them, he said, adding that such bottom-up influence could be more effective in the long run, since censoring the internet would not stop people from making offensive remarks.

"There are so many laws in Singapore such as [the] Defamation Act and Sedition Act, and people have been thrown into jail before, but did [these laws] stop others from doing the same thing?" he pointed out.

George said the panel would be an alternative platform for the people to turn to before taking legal action. "We think many Singaporeans will be satisfied if a credible panel stands up against offensive speech, and so they would feel less of a need to lodge police reports.

"Currently, the people have no choice but to resort to legal action if they find something offensive on the internet."

He said people would have to judge the panel based on its decisions. "Therefore, the panel will have to continue showing the public that its decisions are reasonable and reflective of Singaporeans' views," he said, adding that the bloggers hope to set up the panel in 2009.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Spirit of Asia's Mandela and the (mis)use of the Internal Security Act

While uploading this post at my other blog, i was also thinking about the use of the Internal Security Act, or ISA, in Singapore especially an article about Chia Thye Poh I read quite sometime ago when it was published in 2000.

One must also not forget that he was not the only one who was detained without trial in those days or even since then.

Click here for information about the use of the ISA in Singapore.

Another source of information would be Martyn See's blog. For instance his posts here, here, here, here and here.

These are but only two sources and there's more out there on the web if only one cares enough to look for it.
Spirit of Asia's Mandela

Photos of Chia Thye Poh's arrest in 1966. I got these photos, and there are others of him, here when i did a search. See also my earlier post.

Chia Thye Poh is a man of principle with an unbreakable spirit of upholding truth, peace, justice and democracy

"THE world's second longest serving prisoner of conscience" is a title that no one wants to be honoured with. Yet, it goes to show the unrelenting spirit of Singaporean Chia Thye Poh. Chia, a willowy and soft-spoken man of disarming politeness, is hardly the sort one imagines as a fiery revolutionary. Yet, he possesses qualities that left his jailers looking ridiculous, in despair and even envious. He is a man of principle with an unbreakable spirit of upholding truth, peace, justice and democracy.

Chia finally obtained his freedom on Nov 27, 1998, after 32 years of unjust detention and cruel restrictions. He spent more than 22 years in jail, mostly in solitary confinement. He was later exiled to Singapore's Sentosa Island for about three years. He was the island's only resident living in a one-room guardhouse.

The rest of the years, he was allowed to visit his parent's home on Singapore's main island. Nevertheless, he continued to be subject to restriction orders, curtailing his freedom of expression, association and movement.

I was attracted by the idea of visiting The Hague, the Netherlands, when my long-standing friend mentioned I could meet Chia - a man I came to know of while studying at the University of Manchester.

It was the student society that educated me about the ISA (Internal Security Act) - an inhumane and cruel weapon that has been used for decades by both the Singaporean and Malaysian ruling elite to silence, stifle and wipe out their political opponents and dissidents.

In no time, I was drawn into campaigning for the release of all prisoners of conscience, including Chia, under both Singapore's and Malaysia's ISA.

The campaign underlined the principle that no one should be detained without trial, irrespective of their political, religious or ideological beliefs. Everyone has the right to a fair trial. I share this view.

My friend invited Chia to his house for lunch. We picked him up at Central Station. It was my first time meeting Chia. He was very approachable. We introduced ourselves and began chatting in the car.

Freedom snatched at 25

Chia has been longing for a just and democratic society since his student days. He read Physics in Nanyang University. After graduation, he worked for a short time as a secondary teacher. He then joined the university as a graduate assistant. His ambition then was to travel abroad to read for his Master's degree in physics.

In 1963, just before the general election was to be held, Lee Kuan Yew ordered a mass arrest of political activists. It was designed to prevent opposition leaders from taking part in the elections. At that juncture, Chia came forward to replace one of the detained candidates.

He was subsequently elected a member of parliament on a Barisan Sosialis (Socialist Front) ticket.

Chia was detained on Oct 28, 1966 for protesting against the PAP (People's Action Party) government. He and a number of other MPs staged a boycott of parliament over the issue of Singapore's secession from Malaysia in 1965. This crucial issue was never discussed in the Singaporean parliament. Nor were Singaporeans given the right to voice their opinion or decide the issue through a referendum.

In addition, he was among the peace campaigners calling for an end to the heavy American bombing of Indo-China. Because of his anti-PAP and anti-war activities, his freedom was cruelly snatched away by Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP government, both of whom have long held little respect for democracy and human rights.

'My spirit steeled'

The Singapore government never gave any explanation for Chia's detention for almost two decades. Only in 1985 did the government allege that he was a member of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). The government offered to release him if he agreed to give a public undertaking "disowning the CPM's use of force and terror".

Chia flatly rejected the offer. It would have been against his conscience to admit to something utterly untrue. He insisted that if the authorities had any evidence against him, then they should charge him in court and accord him an open and fair trial.

The authoritarian PAP regime tried very hard to break Chia's spirit and to extract a confession from him. Though he was not physically assaulted, he was subjected to intense mental and psychological torture.

They first put him in solitary confinement, transferring him from one prison cell to another. They even incarcerated him in what was called the "dark cell". It was totally dark and quiet, leaving him without any knowledge of night or day. To intimidate him, he was told that prisoners held in the dark cell would go insane in just a few days.

On one of his first nights in the cell, he could hear someone in the next cell violently kicking the cell door as if s/he had gone insane. He was also subjected to day-long interrogations in a freezing cold room and was deprived of reading material for a long period of time.

To sustain himself through such brutal incarceration, Chia engaged in dialogue with himself. He told himself that what he did was right and for the good of the people. If he were to allow himself go insane, then his life would be wasted. He taught himself to think positively. He constantly reminded himself of the less fortunate and the disabled who were living in worse conditions.

There was also a Chinese poem faintly scribbled on the prison wall by a previous prisoner that gave further encouragement and commitment to Chia. It read: Ten years behind bars Never too late Thousands of ordeals My spirit steeled.

When they failed to break his spirit, they resorted to pressuring his aged father into persuading him to give up. Instead of succumbing, Chia scolded the security agents for taking advantage of an old man.

Then they tried to tempt him into submission by driving him through Singapore, showing off the prosperity the city-state had achieved. They taunted him to sign "his confession paper" so that he could be part of the exciting new life that was Singapore. Otherwise, they told him, he would rot in jail.

Still they were unable to break his spirit.

Released at 57

Exiled to Sentosa Island in 1989, he was made to pay rent for the one-room guardhouse he stayed in, on the pretext that he was a "free" man. He was also made to purchase and prepare his own food. Because he had no money, he was offered a job as assistant curator of Sentosa Fort. He turned down the offer.

As a Grade Two civil servant, he knew he would have been barred from talking to the media without official approval. Instead, he successfully negotiated a position as a freelance translator for the Sentosa Development Corporation.

In 1997, Chia was allowed to accept a fellowship from the German government for politically persecuted persons. He spent a year in Germany studying democratic politics and German.

However, he remained barred from making political statements, addressing meetings, joining any organisation, taking part in political activities or associating with other former political detainees.

The PAP government was under constant international criticism and pressure as long as Chia was unjustifiably incarcerated and restricted. Failing to break his spirit, the PAP government reluctantly eased the restrictions on him. Eventually they gave up and succumbed to the international call for his unconditional release.

As soon as the restrictions were lifted, he issued a stern press statement condemning the ISA and called for its repeal. Being a victim of the notorious ISA, he is fully aware of how such a law can be used to trample human dignity and strike fear into the hearts and minds of people.

Contrary to some people's belief in Asian values, Chia maintains that the ISA is incompatible with these values. After all, the ISA is a creation of Western colonialists who used it to suppress the struggle for independence.

He also told the officer who notified him of the lifting of his restriction orders that he was still interested in politics. If in detention Chia did not break, in freedom Chia refused to be cowed. He refused to kowtow to the authoritarian PAP government.

Chia has paid dearly for his commitment to truth, and his belief in justice and democratic principles. When he was detained, he was only 25 years old. By the time he was freed unconditionally, he was 57. They had virtually taken away the best part of his life without even laying any charges against him, let alone giving him a trial in court.

As a consequence of his 23-year imprisonment, he is in poor health. His eyesight is impaired from many years spent in the dark cell. His lung problems recur from the same time. He has also undergone a prostate operation and has a weak bladder. And yet, though failing in health and haunted by nightmarish memories, he is determined to rebuild his life.

He is currently pursuing a Master's degree in development studies at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.

'One day, we'll all get there'

At The Hague, Chia and I chatted over lunch. I also noticed that Chia was very fond of my friend's three children, in particular the youngest one, who is barely three years old. He has missed a lot in life.

And yet, he harbours no personal grudge against anybody, including Lee Kuan Yew. He sees his struggle as not against individuals but against unjust policies and an unjust system.

"This is not about a personal battle. The struggle for democracy is much more than personal battles. I don't feel bitter towards anyone. Democracy is not about violence. They can jail me, but how are they going to jail democracy? One day, I'll get there - we'll all get there," he told me.

Keeping constant faith with his innocence, he proclaimed that he would not choose otherwise if he had to do it all over again. Deep down in his heart, he knows he cannot betray his conscience. He would rather sacrifice his life honourably for a just cause than to confess to a falsehood.

In pursuit of prosperity, the PAP regime has managed to cow a large section of Singaporeans into not valuing democracy and human rights. Today, few people in Singapore seem to care about Chia and what has happened to him. He is virtually unknown to young Singaporeans and those who do know him are too indifferent or too timid to say anything.

Nevertheless, outside Singapore, Chia is remembered and looked up to by many as an excellent example of the struggle for justice and democracy in Southeast Asia. He is a simple and humble man who possesses a great spirit. And those who long for reformasi will emulate his spirit. Political scientist Andrew Aeria has aptly described Chia as "a shining icon to the struggle for human rights and democracy".

ANG HIOK GAI is deputy secretary-general of Parti Rakyat Malaysia. This article, published in Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and English, is written in commemoration of Human Rights' Month (November 2000).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Videos & photos of Vigil for Peace in Sri Lanka

See here for my earlier post about this vigil. This photo is from a report by about the Nov 15 event.

The first video is from this blogpost followed by TOC's video in a report about the event,

Friday, November 14, 2008

Death sentence for Malaysian trafficker in Singapore

This is a report from AFP,
Death sentence for Malaysian trafficker in Singapore

SINGAPORE, Nov 14, 2008 - A Malaysian drug trafficker has been sentenced to death in Singapore for a crime he committed as a teenager, a report and court official said Friday.

Yong Vui Kong was convicted of trafficking 47 grams (1.65 ounces) of heroin, The Straits Times website reported.

"Apparently he has been sentenced to death," a High Court official told AFP shortly after the sentence was issued. The official was unable to provide further details.

Yong was 19 when he became a drug courier last year, driving into Singapore from neighbouring Malaysia with the contraband, The Straits Times reported.

He wiped away tears after the sentence was delivered, the report said.

Under Singapore's tough anti-drug laws, the death penalty is mandatory for anyone caught trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin, 30 grams of cocaine or 500 grams of cannabis.

In December 2004 the city-state hanged 25-year-old Australian drug runner Nguyen Tuong Van, despite appeals for clemency by Prime Minister John Howard.

Two convicted African drug traffickers were put to death last year after their appeals for clemency were turned down and despite protests from the United Nations and rights activists.

Despite harsh criticism from rights groups, Singapore says the death penalty plays a key role in keeping crime rates low and is a strong deterrent to crime syndicates.
Here are four articles/reports on the death penalty in Singapore:
The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: A Violation of International Human Rights Law - 2007 report by the International Drug Policy Consortium

Singapore's stand at UN leaves many angered - 2007 news article from IPS

The Mandatory Death Sentence by K S Rajah, SC - 2005 essay for the Law Society of Singapore's Law Gazette

Singapore: The death penalty - A hidden toll of executions - 2004 Amnesty International report
These are two of the reports, mentioned above, which i've uploaded to my scribd,

Death Penalty for Drug Offences: A Violation of International Human Rights Law
Get your own at Scribd or explore others: Law International

Singapore Death Penalty - A hidden toll of executions
Get your own at Scribd or explore others: Business Law life human

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gopalan Nair makes "unreserved apology"; will not be jailed for "contempt of court" charge

See my earlier post about this case.
Former S'pore lawyer Gopalan Nair let off with warning after pleading contempt of court
Posted: 13 November 2008, 1046 hrs

SINGAPORE: Former Singapore lawyer Gopalan Nair will not be jailed for contempt of court but has been given a telling-off and warning against making attacks against the Singapore Judiciary in future.

In contempt of court proceedings brought against Nair by the Attorney-General on Wednesday, Nair admitted in open court that he had made statements that were punishable as contempt of court.

He then went on to offer an unreserved apology to the court and to District Judge James Leong for offending comments that he had made.

The Attorney-General brought Nair to court for remarks made in the course of a trial in the Subordinate Courts between July and September this year, attacking the Singapore Judiciary and District Judge James Leong by stating that the courts were being abused for political ends.

He later repeated comments on the independence and impartiality of the Singapore Judiciary and District Judge James Leong in two blog postings about the trial.

On Wednesday however, Nair admitted in the Subordinate Courts that he had made utterances and statements that were punishable as contempt of court and went on to offer an unreserved apology to the court and to District Judge James Leong.

Nair also stated in public and on record, that he unconditionally withdrew the allegations made against the District Judge and any statements imputing that the Singapore courts are beholden to the government.

The former lawyer also undertook in public not to make such statements in future and to remove the offending blog posts as soon as possible.

In view of Nair's unreserved apologies and undertakings which were made in public and on record, the Deputy Solicitor-General told the court that the Attorney-General would not be pressing for a jail sentence.

Considering that Nair had purged his contempt and had shown remorse, District Judge Leslie Chew admonished Nair, warning him against launching attacks against the Singapore Judiciary in future.

Nair was also ordered to pay legal costs to the Attorney-General.

- CNA/sf

Nair apologises, warned
In view of his remorse, judge admonished him in open court
By Goh Chin Lian, ST ONline, 13 Nov 2008

FORMER Singaporean lawyer Gopalan Nair has made an unreserved apology to the court and a district judge for offending statements he made during a recent trial and on his blog.

Nair, now an American citizen, also unconditionally withdrew the allegations he made against District Judge James Leong and any statements imputing that the Singapore courts are beholden to the Government.

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said in an statement on Thursday that in view of Nair's apology and undertaking not to make such statements in the future and to remove the offending blog posts, the Attorney-General will not be pressing for the 58-year-old to be sent to jail.

The statement was released a day after a hearing in the Subordinate Court in an application by the Attorney-General to start contempt of court proceedings against Nair.

That hearing came two months after Nair began serving a three-month jail term on Sept 20 for insulting a High Court judge.

The latest hearing, on Wednesday, was over comments that Nair made during a trial in the Subordinate Courts presided over by District Judge James Leong. This was for offences under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act.

During that trial, held on various dates between July 24 and Sept 5, Nair 'attacked the independence and impartiality of the Singapore Judiciary and District Judge James Leong by stating, inter alia, that the courts were being abused for political ends', the AGC said.

He also 'attacked the independence and impartiality of the Singapore Judiciary and District Judge James Leong in his blog 'Singapore Dissident'.'

Nair's comments were made in two blog postings - on Sept 1 titled 'Another classic case of trying to use the courts to silence dissent'; and on Sept 6 titled 'Convicted'.

The AGC said that at Wednesday's hearing, Nair 'admitted in open court that he had made the utterances and statements that were punishable as contempt of court'.

'He then went on to offer an unreserved apology to the court and to District Judge James Leong for the offending utterances and statements made by him'.

The statement added that Nair 'also proceeded to state, in public and on record, that he unconditionally withdrew the allegations made against District Judge James Leong and any statements imputing that the Singapore courts are beholden to the government'.

Nair 'further undertook in public not to make such statements in future and to remove the offending blog posts as soon as practicable'.

The case was heard in by District Judge Leslie Chew.

The AGC statement said District Judge Chew found that Nair 'had purged his contempt' and in view of his remorse, the judge admonished him in open court.

Nair was also 'warned against launching attacks against the Singapore Judiciary in future', and ordered to pay legal costs to the Attorney-General.

The next General Election guessing game is on

I've never had the opportunity to vote. Its been walkovers in the places that I've lived. I did have the opportunity to be a counting agent but that's the closest I got. Obviously it can't compare to actually casting a vote yourself. It'll be unfair to squarely put the blame on the opposition political parties for these walkovers or their performance generally.

One cannot see the General Election in isolation but as part of a system here which makes sure the ruling party stays in power. This system includes such things as the local media infected with bias; the Courts because defamation lawsuits (and whatever else the ruling party can come up with) are used to silence (or terribly mute) current and future opposition candidates and citizens alike (not all but most); government departments & agencies and generally a system which follows the saying he who pays the piper calls the tune, a still very real climate of fear, etc, etc.

With such seemingly insurmountable obstacles, its easy to just give up and say aiyah! f***lah its always been like that and will always be like that!. It doesn't have to be so. We have to do what we can however little it may be. Here are two links to articles which provide food for thought but most importantly templates for real action: Online politicization: Singapore’s source of new activists and What will you do when the elections come?.

Meanwhile, let the guessing games begin. For those political junkies, i recommend paying a visit to Singapore Elections as a start for a good fix.
PAP calling snap elections?
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Singapore Democrats

There are rumours floating around that the PAP may call for a snap election. A few of SDP's friends have told us that some of their civil service friends have received letters asking them to undergo training as election officials.

There are also whispers that there is heightened activity at the Elections Department. In addition, some schools have been identified as nomination and polling stations.

Of course, these are unconfirmed stories. We have not been able to verify their accuracy.

We would not be surprised, however, if the PAP junked their five-year term and go for early polls. Given the economic situation which is going to get worse – much worse – in the coming few years, the PAP may be tempted to go for elections sooner rather than later.

Of course, Mr Lee Kuan Yew's age is a major factor. Without him, PAP would be without its ballast. The octogenarian PAP-founder is still at the front, back and centre of everything the Government does, even outperforming his prime minister son.

Groundwork for GE starts
By Aaron Low
Nov 12, 2008, ST Online

THE Elections Department has started preparations for the next general election, which is due at the latest by Feb 2, 2012.

It has identified 28,000 civil servants to become election officials, and has begun sending letters out to them.

Replying to queries from the Straits Times, a spokesman for the Elections Department confirmed that it started sending out the letters last month. These letters notify the public officers of their selection as election officials and the training they will undergo.

Officials will be given one of seven roles, ranging from the highest position of returning officer, who is overall in charge of organisation at a polling station, to counting assistants who tally up votes.

Training covers election laws, the electoral and voting procedures, and the handling of voting queues and issues on Polling Day, such as voters who turn up without proper identification.

Although 28,000 public servants are being called up, the actual number deployed will depend on the number of contested constituencies.

The spokesman added that prior to 2004, election officials were called up for training only after the writ to dissolve Parliament was issued by the President.

By law, Nomination Day has to be at be least five working days after the writ is issued.

In 2004, the Elections Department decided to call up civil servants for training much earlier.

In November that year - three years after the 2001 election - it sent notices to 20,000 civil servants to call them up for training.

The General Election was held eventually in May 2006.

The Elections Department spokesman told The Straits Times yesterday that some schools have been designated as polling stations for the next election.

'Such routine activities are part of our efforts to enhance service delivery,' she added.

Asked if the plans were an indicator of an early election, the spokesman said no.

Nevertheless, the moves by the Elections Department have sparked speculation that a snap election may be on the cards.

At a dialogue with young Singaporeans two weeks ago, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in response to a question whether polls could be held ahead of the 2012 deadline, said it was possible.