Tuesday, September 30, 2008

JBJ's indomitable spirit lives on

Think Centre, 30 Sept 2008

Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (JBJ) has passed away. His heart failed him but he did not fail till his final breath to perform his democratic duty to fight for the weak, the downtrodden and the poor.

He was the champion spokesperson for those that did not have a voice in parliament or the political process. He stood up to the PAP and its system. In doing so, he suffered great personal loss in terms of status, prestige and property. Yet the man was never bitter.

After being discharged as a bankrupt, his mission was not to seek revenge but to spearhead reform. His legacy would be the crusade of reforming a society bereft of true democratic values and of seeking justice for the common people. His victory was that in his resistance he never lost his dignity, his faith in democracy and the love of his people.

In an age where a million dollars are demanded to serve the nation, JBJ parted with a million dollars to serve his people.

Political pundits, columnists, armchair critics and academics from the mainstream media projected JBJ as a broken tape recorder repeating socialist slogans from a bygone era. They were wrong in their assessment especially so today when capitalist markets worldwide collapse under the strains of unbridled greed. These so-called learned journalists also knew that they could say whatever about JBJ without giving him the right of reply.

JBJ constantly harangued the government about the quality of life for Singaporeans. He repeated his points because the problems were never fixed. His critics from the mainstream media were benefactors of the system. Hence, it was obvious self-preservation for them meant casting JBJ as angry, irrational and out-of-touch. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Think Centre had the honour of working with and for JBJ in 2001. In holding the “Save JBJ” rally, several members then and now former members saw the real JBJ.

In discussing politics, he was combative, passionate and unrelenting to compromise his beliefs. However, he never was rude and he never made any one of us feel small. In those few days of personal engagement, he would ask whether we had our meals, how our family members were doing and how we were handling the pressure from family and peers in doing something politically outrageous at that time. We felt his benign fatherly presence and we were more intimidated by his sincerity and caring attitude than his roaring voice. JBJ’s heart was always in the right place.

Despite his middle class background, British training in law and crisp Queen’s English, JBJ connected with the heartlander. He was above race, language and religion. His two electoral victories against PAP Chinese opponents showed that. It also signified that his message resonated with the people.

In parliament his exchanges with Lee Kuan Yew were not for the faint hearted. Parliament then was a packed Roman coliseum of white-shirted PAP senators harking for the opposition intruder’s blood. JBJ survived and on national television he symbolised the courageous Gladiator. It is not a coincidence that coverage of speeches in parliament today is not like what it used to be in the 1980s.

His quest for entering parliament to reform Singapore has been cut short by his sudden passing away. Even though we are sad, we should not be crestfallen. JBJ once said, “I have taken the view always, that nothing outside the person can destroy the person. That no force outside can destroy a person. That the human spirit is indomitable.”

His indomitable spirit lives on and for future generations to see a genuine and decent politician who cared and loved his country. His will serves to remind us to serve our country without fear and favour.

JBJ, we salute you! We love you and we will miss you. You have fought the good fight and God bless you.

Rest in peace, JBJ.

Details of JBJ's wake and funeral

Oct 1 update: I've updated this blopost with this photo i took while i was at the wake. Click to enlarge.

The wake for J B Jeyaretnam, who passed away today, will be held at Mount Vernon, Upper Aljunied Road, Funeral Parlour 1 from 7pm onwards today. Funeral is scheduled for 4 Oct, Saturday, 3pm.

This blogpost will be updated as and when I receive any updates or changes with regards to the wake and funeral.

In Memoriam: Photos of JBJ

This is for a great man, and a friend, for whom i have tremendous respect for. JBJ passed away early today morning. I will miss you JB sir. (Note: First two photos from here and here. Rest from this report)























Singapore's veteran opposition leader dead at 82

SINGAPORE, Sept 30, 2008 (AFP) - The grand old man of Singapore's tiny political opposition, J. B. Jeyaretnam, died early Tuesday just days before a constitutional challenge he hoped would propel him back into parliament, his family said.

Jeyaretnam, 82, suffered a heart attack in Singapore, a relative told AFP from the family home in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

His funeral is to be held Saturday.

Singapore's pro-government media flashed news of the veteran politician's death but there was no immediate reaction from government leaders.

Jeyaretnam, one of the rare few to speak out against the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), made political history in 1981 when he became the first opposition politician elected to parliament, dominated by the PAP since 1959.

He was declared bankrupt in 2001 after failing to pay libel damages to members of the PAP, including a former prime minister.

Last year Jeyaretnam, a lawyer, cleared the bankruptcy status which had prevented him from running for political office, and formed the Reform Party, saying Singapore had been "enslaved" by its rulers.

The opposition plays only a marginal role in Singapore, where it complains of limited access to the pro-government mainstream media and restrictions on public assemblies.

Jeyaretnam was to appear in the High Court on October 15 to seek an order that a by-election be held for a vacant seat.

G. K. Pamela, another of Jeyaretnam's relatives, said the court challenge was related to Jeyaretnam's desire to enter parliament again.

"That was his wish," she told AFP in tears. "Such a good man. Why did God take him?"

Jeyaretnam's long-time ally and Reform Party executive, Ng Teck Siong, said it would be "very hard to find another man to fill his shoes".

He was the country's "venerable lion", said Sinapan Samydorai, president of local non-governmental organisation the Think Centre.

"In his strong beliefs, stubborn resilience and heart for the people of Singapore we shall find the beacon and courage to continue working for a more caring and sharing society," Samydorai wrote on his group's website.

Besides Jeyaretnam, the most vocal opposition to the PAP has come from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

SDP activist Chee Siok Chin said she was shocked at his death.

"There's no doubt about it. Mr. Jeyaretnam has been the icon of the opposition here and it's a great loss," she said.

Jeyaretnam's niece, who gave her name only as Kavinia, said he had not been feeling well for the past three weeks.

But as recently as July, when he hosted a dinner to launch his new party, Jeyaretnam still appeared strong.

Sporting his usual lamb-chop style sideburns, Jeyaretnam stood before the crowd and, in typical style, spoke for almost an hour.

"Come, walk with me, let us walk together... for peace, justice, truth... fearing no one except God," he urged the gathering.



Veteran Singapore opposition politician dies

By Koh Gui Qing

SINGAPORE, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Singapore veteran opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam died early on Tuesday after a heart failure, removing one of the most colourful and dogged characters from the country's often staid politics.

In 1981, Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, popularly known as JBJ, was the first opposition politician to break Singapore's ruling party's monopoly in parliament.

He died at a local hospital, aged 82, his son Kenneth Jeyaretnam said.

Jeyaretnam, an acerbic critic of the ruling People's Action Party , was repeatedly sued by senior PAP members over his 37-year career for making comments the PAP said were libelous.

He was sporadically bankrupted, a status that barred him from standing for parliament.

In June this year, he won approval to set up the Reform Party after paying off S$265,000 in defamation damages.

Jeyaretnam said he was "over the moon" with the new party, which would "reform the system of government, all sectors of society".

"He believed what was right and wrong for Singapore and he wanted to bring change. He never gave up," said Ng Peck Siong, chairman of the Reform Party, who has known JBJ for over a decade.

The PAP has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965.

Over the years, Jeyaretnam paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in defamation damages to PAP leaders. Critics say PAP politicians use legal action to crush opposition, but party leaders say libel suits are necessary to protect their reputations.

Jeyaretnam jousted with the PAP's founder and Singapore's most powerful politician Lee Kuan Yew in parliament in the 1980s.

"Aren't you a bit annoyed because I don't crawl to you?" he asked Lee during a parliamentary committee meeting in 1985.

Lee in turn in his memoirs called Jeyaretnam a "sparring partner" who was "all sound and fury".

Born in Sri Lanka and trained as a lawyer in London, Jeyaretnam championed more freedom for ordinary Singaporeans, and wanted the Southeast Asian country to have a Western-style democracy.

His repeated run-ins with the government alienated him from many Singaporeans, but he still pursued his cause and in recent years was regularly seen at the entrances of shopping malls selling his books to raise funds.

"The PAP would like to let it be known that Jeyaretnam wants to destroy everything we've got here," he told the Straits Times newspaper in January.

"All I want to do is to give the people a chance to live their own lives ... and not have everything dictated to them." (Reporting by Koh Gui Qing and Saeed Azhar; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Jerry Norton)

J B Jeyaretnam has passed away

Jan 5, 1926 - Sept 30, 2008

See my blogposts In Memoriam: Photos of JBJ & JBJ's indomitable spirit lives on

I first received an sms today morning from a friend about the passing of JBJ. I couldn't believe it. I was praying it was not true. Confirmation came via SDP's website,
J B Jeyaretnam has passed away

The SDP has received information that Mr Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam has died. He passed away in the hospital this morning apparently of a heart attack.

Mr Jeyaretnam was in court arguing a case up until yesterday. After a week of cross-examining a witness, he said that he was tired and wanted to rest. He passed away this morning. His body is at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

We will update readers as and when we receive more information. The Singapore Democrats mourn the heartbreaking loss.
I've known JBJ since my Think Centre days. Worked with him and been with him on many occasions over the years. The last i spoke to him was about a month or two ago.

I had called to arrange a to see him 'cos it had been quite awhile since i visited him. When he answered the phone, the usual booming voice greeted me cheerfully. That visit never materialised 'cos i ended up being tied down with other things. Thinking of that now brings tears to my eyes.

From a CNA report,
Former opposition MP and former Secretary-General of the Workers' Party, Mr JB Jeyaretnam died of heart failure early Tuesday.

He was 82-years-old.

His son Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam told Channel NewsAsia that Mr Jeyaretnam, who had a pre-existing heart condition, had complained of breathing difficulties at about 1.30am on Tuesday.

He was rushed to Tan Tock Seng Hospital but doctors were unable to revive him.

He died of heart failure with both his sons, Kenneth and Philip, by his side.

The family later said in a statement that the family is overwhelmed with grief and will make further announcements after the necessary arrangements have been made.

According to the statment from both his sons, Mr Jeyaretnam had spent his last hours at the Evelyn Road apartment of his son Kenneth.

"Earlier this evening he and I had enjoyed a light dinner and chatted and then he sat out on the balcony for a while before retiring."

The statement went on to say that the family was woken up at about 1:30am by Mr Jeyaretnam who was "obviously in distress" and was rushed to hospital.

"But unfortunately the medical team working on him were unable to revive him despite their lengthy and strenuous attempts. My brother Philip joined me at the hospital and we were then informed by the doctor in charge of his care that he had passed away" said the family in their statment which also gave thanks the medical team.

Monday, September 29, 2008

We might as well live in darkness

Singapore households will see a rise of 21% in their electricity bills from Oct 1. According to another report its the highest one-time increase in seven to eight years.

The latest in a very long list of price increases that has pushed up the cost of living in Singapore.

Bloody salaries either stay the same or see a slight increase which, in turn, gets eaten up by the ever increasing prices. The only thing that sees an increase is the damn workload.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dow Jones seen to appeal Singapore ruling

By John Burton in Singapore, Financial Times

Published: September 26 2008

Dow Jones is expected to appeal a defamation ruling by a Singapore supreme court judge against the Far Eastern Economic Review that was brought by two of the city-state’s top officials, potentially setting the stage for a legal showdown in Hong Kong, where the monthly magazine is based.

Although the Singapore courts have not yet held a hearing to assess damages, Feer has no assets in Singapore that could be seized. If Lee Hsien Loong, the Singapore prime minister, and Lee Kuan Yew, his father and former prime minister, decide to collect damages, they would have to go to the Hong Kong courts.

If that happens, Feer will seek to prevent enforcement of the Singapore judgment in Hong Kong. One of the arguments they plan to make against enforcement will involve a challenge to the impartiality of the Singapore judicial system.

The looming legal battle comes as the Singapore government this month sued the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal, another Dow Jones publication, for contempt of court after it published editorial comments that “impugn the impartiality, intergrity and independence of the Singapore judiciary,” according to Walter Woon, the city-state’s attorney general.

“Our editorial pages have a history of defending free speech and free markets, while providing a forum for a diverse range of views. We will continue to defend our right to fulfill our mission and fully intend to contest the contempt proceedings brought against us by the Attorney-General of Singapore,” Dow Jones said on Thursday.

Woo Bih Li, a supreme court judge, ruled this week that Feer had defamed the Lees in an 2006 article.

The judge held that the article in which Chee Juan Soon, an opposition politician, compared the government to a local charity that had engaged in mismanagement constituted “defamation by implication.”

Feer argued that the article amounted to fair comment, but the judge dismissed the defence and said it did not apply in Singapore.

“It is notable that court has determined that the public interest privilege that is available in the UK and other commonwealth countries, is not applicable in Singapore,” said Dow Jones. Singapore, a former British colony, bases its legal system on that of the UK.

Mr Woon told Reuters this week that the Journal had previously “accused our judges of being biased” and “this smacks to me of an ideological campaign.”

Singapore’s government and leaders have sued other leading foreign publications for defamation, saying the suits are necessary to protect the country’s reputation for integrity.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Gomez Findings continue to provoke and prod

This is a TNP report of 26 Sept 2008 on The Gomez Findings.

Will Internet have effect on S'pore election?
  • No, says WP man in thesis
  • Yes, says new media panel
By Benson Ang

IT has often been said that the 2006 General Election (GE) gave rise to a new constituency: Cyberspace.

Internet-savvy Singaporeans posted reports, photos and videos of opposition rallies on blogs, forums and YouTube.

The Government has since moved to better engage citizens.

But now, one opposition politician is saying that the Internet has had no effect on voting patterns in Singapore and would not have any influence even in the future.

This was the focus of Workers' Party (WP) member James Gomez, 43, in his recently completed doctoral thesis.

His assertion challenges a key idea by Aims - or Singapore's Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society - in its consultation paper.

Aims argues that the new media will become 'increasingly influential'.

Dr Gomez, who was in Singapore last week to receive his doctorate from Monash University, based his conclusion on his study of the past three GEs.

In 1997, 2001 and 2006, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) won 97.6 per cent of contested seats, Dr Gomez pointed out.

'The evidence shows that the Internet hasn't been able to influence the number of seats won by the PAP.'

What does he say about the Malaysian general election in March, where the Internet was deemed to have played a crucial role in swinging votes away from the coalition government?

Malaysia is different

You can't compare Singapore to Malaysia, Dr Gomez argued.

'Malaysia has a different civil and political society. Ours is up-and-coming. Theirs has matured a little bit more.'

During the March election, the Malaysian opposition was able to harness the power of the Internet.

But Dr Gomez does not think that the same happened with the Singapore opposition during the 2006 GE.

'The individuals, bloggers and online groups make up the bulk of the people producing alternative content, not the opposition parties,' he noted.

He gave statistics in his thesis to support this idea.

In the past 12 years, the rate of Internet home penetration in Singapore rose from 14 per cent in 1997, to 57 per cent in 2001, to 71 per cent in 2006.

But in each of those years, the PAP won 97.6 per cent of contested seats.

Dr Gomez said: 'Just because we have the technology doesn't mean it will lead to a particular result. The Internet may influence voters, but consumption has not led to action. And even if it leads to the action of voting, there is no impact (on the voting result).'

Dr Gomez is also doubtful that the reach of new media will ever surpass that of traditional media.

'While the number of people who consume online content is growing, it still remains small.

'If you try to organise a public activity, reaching out only through the Internet, the turnout will be very small.'

Dr Gomez's study challenges Aims' idea that new media will have a 'profound' effect on the electoral process.

Mr Cheong Yip Seng, chairman of Aims, had said at a press conference last month: 'It's a very clear acknowledgement that the new media is an important part of the exercise and how you use it can have a big influence on the vote.'

Dr Gomez's study suggests otherwise. He said: 'The Aims report seems to be a bit concerned about opening up too much, because it fears that it will have an impact on voter behaviour and, by extension, maybe the electoral results.

'But the evidence shows that it doesn't. Therefore, one doesn't have to be too coy about making online political expression free.'

Aims' reply

In an e-mail reply, Mr Cheong Yip Seng said in his personal capacity: 'Use of the new media for political purposes is governed by laws which we are now reviewing. So I am not surprised if he (Dr Gomez) found that new media in past elections had little influence on the vote.

'If our research is any guide, the outcome of an election rests on many factors, media being only one. There is no reason to believe it will be otherwise in future elections.

'However, it is reasonable to expect that when the law is liberalised, use of cyberspace for political ends will grow.'

Activist and blogger Alex Au is not totally convinced by Dr Gomez's findings.

He said: 'I think his argument is convincing in the short to medium term, assuming that the key features in Singapore's political situation do not change much.'

'Online alternative news and political discussions represent 'potential' which can, for a long while, not demonstrate its effect. But the moment, say, a major scandal or prolonged economic adversity occurs, that potential can suddenly roar to life.

'Politics is never a smooth extrapolation of current conditions. There will be break points and so, I think Dr Gomez may well be proven wrong in the long term.'

This is from Alex Au aka Yawning Bread's article Is engaging the mainstream media pointless? Part 1. The image (above) of the TNP report is from this article as well.

Email reply to The New Paper,
20 September 2008:

> Dear Alex,

> 1. Do you find Mr Gomez's argument convincing? Will the new media have little impact on elections?

I find his sample size (covering just 3 general elections) small, but I don't believe that his conclusions were based on data alone. I think his argument is convincing in the short to medium term, and assuming the key features of Singapore's political landscape do not change much:

* technocratically competent government,
* generally free of corruption and scandals,
* a justice system that is harsh on government opponents thus keeping them at bay,
* mainstream media that is deferential to the government in power,
* electoral system that is designed to be disproportionate towards the incumbent and popular favourite party,
* generally comfortable economic conditions,
* political apathy among the people
* lack of idealism among the people,
* inability of opposition parties to attract talent.

Alternative news and political discussions in online media represent potential which can for a long while not demonstrate its effect, should the landscape remain unchanged. But the moment one or more of the above factors change drastically (e.g. a major scandal that undermines the legitimacy of the government in power, or prolonged economic adversity) that potential can suddenly roar to life.

Politics is never a smooth extrapolation of current conditions. There will be break points (which is to say, that one or more of the above conditions will be overturned - it's just a matter of time), and so I think in the long term, Gomez may well be proved wrong.

> 2. Is AIMS irrelevant because the new media will not have a significant influence on the vote in future elections?

I don't fully understand this question. You may be reading something in AIMS' proposals which I am not. AIMS is planning to propose allowing vodcasts, podcasts and removing the sword of damocles over non-party websites during election periods (i.e. removing the threat of MDA registration). In doing so, I think they are just asking the government to bow to reality. I don't think AIMS aims to create an environment whereby internet chatter will swing elections.

> 3. Do you agree more with Mr Gomez or with AIMS? Why?

See above, I don't really see AIMS arguing the opposite of Gomez's point.

That said, in the forum of 19 September, I was struck by how obsessed AIMS was over the question of "freak election results", even though they didn't use the term. They seemed to be trying their best to recommend some liberalisation, but at the same time, almost paranoid that no opportunity should be provided for emotional videos that might swing an election. In that sense, you might say that AIMS is seeing a scenario that Gomez did not, but then Gomez's conclusions are not warped by such overblown fears.

Alex.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Singapore's 'Martyr,' Chee Soon Juan

The FEER article from its July/August 2006 edition,

Singapore’s ‘Martyr,’ Chee Soon Juan
by Hugo Restall
Far Eastern Economic Review

Striding into the Chinese restaurant of Singapore’s historic Fullerton Hotel, Chee Soon Juan hardly looks like a dangerous revolutionary. Casually dressed in a blue shirt with a gold pen clipped to the pocket, he could pass as just another mild-mannered, apolitical Singaporean. Smiling, he courteously apologizes for being late—even though it is only two minutes after the appointed time.

Nevertheless, according to prosecutors, this same man is not only a criminal, but a repeat offender. The opposition party leader has just come from a pre-trial conference at the courthouse, where he faces eight counts of speaking in public without a permit. He has already served numerous prison terms for this and other political offenses, including eight days in March for denying the independence of the judiciary. He expects to go to jail again later this year.

Mr. Chee does not seem too perturbed about this, but it drives Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong up the wall. Asked about his government’s persecution of the opposition during a trip to New Zealand last month, Mr. Lee launched into a tirade of abuse against Mr. Chee. “He’s a liar, he’s a cheat, he’s deceitful, he’s confrontational, it’s a destructive form of politics designed not to win elections in Singapore but to impress foreign supporters and make himself out to be a martyr,” Mr. Lee ranted. “He’s deliberately going against the rules because he says, ‘I’m like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. I want to be a martyr.’”

Coming at the end of a trip in which the prime minister essentially got a free ride on human rights from his hosts—New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark didn’t even raise the issue—this outburst showed a lack of self-control and acumen. Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the man who many believe still runs Singapore and who is the current prime minister’s father, has said much the same things about Mr. Chee—“a political gangster, a liar and a cheat”—but that was at home, and in the heat of an election campaign.

Mr. Chee smiles when it’s suggested that he must be doing something right. “Every time he says something stupid like that, I think to myself, the worst thing to happen would be to be ignored. That would mean we’re not making any headway,” he agrees.

But one charge made by the government does stick: Mr. Chee is not terribly concerned about election results. Which is just as well, because his Singapore Democratic Party did not do very well in the May 6 polls. It would be foolish, he suggests, for an opposition party in Singapore to pin its hopes on gaining one, or perhaps two, seats in parliament. He is aiming for a much bigger goal: bringing down the city-state’s one-party system of government. His weapon is a campaign of civil disobedience against laws designed to curtail democratic freedoms.

“You don’t vote out a dictatorship,” he says. “And basically that’s what Singapore is, albeit a very sophisticated one. It’s not possible for us to effect change just through the ballot box. They’ve got control of everything else around us.” Instead what’s needed is a coalition of civil society and political society coming together and demanding change—a color revolution for Singapore.

So far Mr. Chee doesn’t seem to be getting much, if any traction. While many Singaporeans don’t particularly like the PAP’s arrogant style of government, the ruling party has succeeded in depoliticizing the population to the extent that anybody who presses them to take action to make a change is regarded with resentment. And in a climate of fear—Mr. Chee lost his job as a psychology lecturer at the national university soon after entering opposition politics—a reluctance to get involved is hardly surprising.

Why is all this oppression necessary in a peaceful and prosperous country like Singapore where citizens otherwise enjoy so many freedoms? Mr. Chee has his own theory that the answer lies with strongman Lee Kuan Yew himself: “Why is he still so afraid? I honestly think that through the years he has accumulated enough skeletons in his closet that he knows that when he is gone, his son and the generations after him will have a price to pay. If we had parliamentary debates where the opposition could pry and ask questions, I think he is actually afraid of something like that.”

That raises the question of whether Singapore deserves its reputation for squeaky-clean government. A scandal involving the country’s biggest charity, the National Kidney Foundation, erupted in 2004 when it turned out that its Chief Executive T.T. Durai was not only drawing a $357,000 annual salary, but the charity was paying for his first-class flights, maintenance on his Mercedes, and gold-plated fixtures in his private office bathroom.

The scandal was a gift for the opposition, which naturally raised questions about why the government didn’t do a better job of supervising the highly secretive NKF, whose patron was the wife of former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (she called Mr. Durai’s salary “peanuts”). But it had wider implications too. The government controls huge pools of public money in the Central Provident Fund and the Government of Singapore Investment Corp., both of which are highly nontransparent. It also controls spending on the public housing most Singaporeans live in, and openly uses the funds for refurbishing apartment blocks as a bribe for districts that vote for the ruling party. Singaporeans have no way of knowing whether officials are abusing their trust as Mr. Durai did.

It gets worse. Mr. Durai’s abuses only came to light because he sued the Straits Times newspaper for libel over an article detailing some of his perks. Why was Mr. Durai so confident he could win a libel suit when the allegations against him were true? Because he had done it before. The NKF won a libel case in 1998 against defendants who alleged it had paid for first-class flights for Mr. Durai. This time, however, he was up against a major bulwark of the regime, Singapore Press Holdings; its lawyers uncovered the truth.

Singaporean officials have a remarkable record of success in winning libel suits against their critics. The question then is, how many other libel suits have Singapore’s great and good wrongly won, resulting in the cover-up of real misdeeds? And are libel suits deliberately used as a tool to suppress questioning voices?

The bottling up of dissent conceals pressures and prevents conflicts from being resolved. For instance, extreme sensitivity over the issue of race relations means that the persistence of discrimination is a taboo topic. Yet according to Mr. Chee it is a problem that should be debated so that it can be better resolved. “The harder they press now, the stronger will be the reaction when he’s no longer around,” he says of Lee Kuan Yew.

The paternalism of the PAP also rankles, especially since foreigners get more consideration than locals. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund will hold their annual meeting in Singapore this fall, and have been trying to convince the authorities to allow the usual demonstrations to take place. The likely result is that international NGO groups will be given a designated area to scream and shout. “So we have a situation here where locals don’t have the right to protest in their own country, while foreigners are able to do that,” Mr. Chee marvels. Likewise, Singaporeans can’t organize freely into unions to negotiate wages; instead a National Wages Council sets salaries with input from the corporate sector, including foreign chambers of commerce.

All these tensions will erupt when strongman Lee Kuan Yew dies. Mr. Chee notes that the ruling party is so insecure that Singapore’s founder has been unable to step back from front-line politics. The PAP still needs the fear he inspires in order to keep the population in line. Power may have officially passed to his son, Lee Hsien Loong, but even supporters privately admit that the new prime minister doesn’t inspire confidence.

During the election, Prime Minister Lee made what should have been a routine attack on multiparty democracy: “Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I’m going to spend all my time thinking what’s the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters’ votes, how can I solve this week’s problem and forget about next year’s challenges?” But of course the ominous phrases “buy votes” and “fix them” stuck out. That is the kind of mistake, Mr. Chee suggests, Lee Sr. would not make.

“He’s got a kind of intelligence that would serve you very well when you put a problem in front of him,” he says of the prime minister. “But when it comes to administration or political leadership, when you really need to be media savvy and motivate people, I think he is very lacking in that area. And his father senses it as well.”

However, the elder Mr. Lee’s death—he is now 82—is a necessary but not sufficient condition for change. Another big factor is how civil society is able to use new technologies to bypass PAP control over information and free speech. The government has tried to stifle political filmmaking, blogging and podcasting. Singapore Rebel, a 2004 film about Mr. Chee by independent artist Martyn See, was banned but is widely available on the Internet.

Meanwhile, pressure for Singapore to remain competitive in the region has sparked debate about the government’s dominant role in the economy. Can a top-down approach promote creativity and independent thinking? The need for transparency and accountability also means that Singapore will have to change. That is the source of Mr. Chee’s optimism in the face of all his setbacks: “I realize that Singapore is not at that level yet. But we’ve got to start somewhere. And I’m prepared to see this out, in the sense that in the next five, 10, 15 years, time is on our side. We need to continue to organize and educate and encourage. And it will come.”

He doesn’t dwell on his personal tribulations, but mentions in passing selling his self-published books on the street. That is his primary source of income to feed his family, along with the occasional grant. As to the charge of wanting to be a martyr, once he started dissenting, he found it impossible to stop in good conscience. “The more you got involved, the more you found out what they’re capable of, it steels you, so you say, ‘No, I will not back down.’ It makes you more determined.”

Perhaps it’s in his genes. One of Mr. Chee’s daughters is old enough that she had to be told that her father was going to prison. She stood up before her class and announced, “My papa is in jail, but he didn’t do anything wrong. People have just been unfair to him.”

Mr. Restall is editor of the REVIEW

Singapore court rules FEER magazine defamed leaders

SINGAPORE, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Singapore's High Court has ruled that the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) has defamed the city-state's two most powerful leaders, a court document showed on Wednesday.

The publisher and editor of the magazine, owned by Dow Jones & Co, are to pay damages to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, after defaming them in an article published in 2006.

Dow Jones & Co is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

The damages for the lawsuit, the latest in a string of legal action Singapore's political leaders have taken against foreign media, will be decided at a later date, the court judgment said.

The Lees sued the magazine and its editor Hugo Restall last year over an article on Chee Soon Juan, a prominent Singapore opposition politician.

The August 2006 story, entitled "Singapore's Martyr: Chee Soon Juan", criticised the government's handling of a pay-and-perks scandal at the country's largest charity, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). The charity's former head T.T. Durai has since been jailed.

"We are disappointed with the decision," Restall told Reuters, adding the magazine is considering an appeal.

"It is notable that the court has determined that the public interest privilege that is available in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries, is not applicable in Singapore," he said.

The magazine had cited fair comment in its defence, saying the article was of public interest, and that the media had a duty to publish it because the public had a right to know.

But the judge said in the judgment that if such a defence holds, "a person could continue to make defamatory remarks about a person who enjoys the highest of reputations without being liable" in Singapore.

Dow Jones is also facing contempt proceedings brought against it by Singapore's attorney general for printing editorials that "impugn the impartiality, integrity and independence of the Singapore judiciary" in the Asian edition of its Wall Street Journal.

Singapore leaders have sued and won damages in the past from foreign media groups including the Economist, International Herald Tribune and Bloomberg. They say the lawsuits are necessary to protect their reputations, but critics say they are used to crush opposition.

(Reporting by Koh Gui Qing and Neil Chatterjee; Editing by Louise Heavens)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Singapore Court rules FEER defamed PM and MM...oh, wow, really huh

Read my earlier blogposts here and here for more about this case. A word to the IBA as well about this latest "surprise" judgment.
Sep 23, 2008

FEER defamed PM, MM

It will have to pay damages, which will be assessed later.

By Zakir Hussain

THE High Court has ruled that the publisher and editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review (Feer) defamed Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a July 2006 article in the magazine.

The Lees were awarded damages, which will be assessed at a later date.

Review Publishing and Mr Hugo Restall are also restrained from publishing, selling or disseminating the libellous allegations in Singapore.

The judgment, released on Tuesday by Justice Woo Bih Li, comes four months after he heard an application by the Lees' lawyers for a summary judgment.

This is an application made for a court ruling without the need for the case to go to trial because the applicants are of the view that the defence arguments are baseless.

The lawyers for the Lees said, among other things, that the article was calculated to disparage both leaders. They argued that it suggested that they were corrupt and unfit for office, and would sue and suppress those who question them as the questions would expose their corruption.

In its defence, the Hong Kong-based magazine argued that the article - titled 'Singapore's 'Martyr', Chee Soon Juan' - was based on facts and fair comment, concerned matters of public interest and was a neutral report.

But Justice Woo said Feer's defences failed or did not apply in Singapore.

In a 234-paragraph written judgment, he said there was no doubt that the defamatory words in the article referred to both the Lees.

Singapore establishment's love affair with PERC

The Singapore Democrats' article on the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy or PERC got me referring to a book I read titled Singapore Miracle - Myth and Reality. This is from chapter 26, pg. 378,
The 2003 recession strikingly revealed the Government's readiness to sacrifice workers' interests rather than government reserves to meet MNC demands. The Government decided that workers' wages must not only be held down but actually cut to prevent Singapore becoming “uncompetitive” for foreign capital. Employers' CPF contributions for their employees were reduced from 16 per cent to 13 percent. The Government justified this by claiming that wages (which include employers' CPF payments) made up 40 per cent of business costs in Singapore. Wages were too high and had to be cut to retain the MNCs.

To support claims that Singapore workers were overpaid, misleading PERC statistics were cited by PAP minister Tony Tan. Normally one of the more reasonable PAP ministers, Tan quoted a PERC global study which claimed Singapore workers were more expensive than those in the US and Australia as well as in eight other developing countries surveyed. On a zero to ten labour cost scale, Singapore was ranked 5.5 compared to 5.07 for the US and 4.8 for Australia, claimed PERC. This was an “alarming” situation, blustered Tan:

To me this is a profoundly important statistic. It's a simple one but it gets to the nub of the problem. We have priced our labour out of the market.

Excessive wages rather than such “transitory factors” as the SARS crisis had caused the increased retrenchments in Singapore. PERC had crystallised the problem, he claimed. It was a structural one: high wages costs. Cutting wages would keep companies viable and save jobs. “We have no choice but to reduce our CPF rates substantially and quickly if we want to save our jobs,” Tan lectured. And this came from a cabinet minister on about S$800,000 a year. He was echoing similar calls made by Prime Minister Goh and Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Hypocritical posturing aside, their claims were based on dubious PERC statistics and questionable assumptions that CPF cuts would save jobs.

A mountain of evidence refutes PERC's absurd assertions that Singaporean workers are better paid than those in the US and Australia. Even such pro-Singapore bodies as the IMD and WEF have demonstrated that pay rates for Singapore's manufacturing workers lag well behind those of other industrialised countries. For example, the basic adult wage in Australia is about S$2500 a month for unskilled workers. In Singapore, factory production workers are paid about S$800 to S$1000 a month, while wages can be as low as $S600 a month for cleaners and road sweepers.
There's much more in this very interesting book. Do get it. This is the article from the Singapore Democrats,
What is PERC?

The Political and Economic Risk Consultancy or PERC, as it is commonly referred to, is held in high praise by Singapore's establishment.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself placed the organisation in the same esteemed group with global institutions like the International Bar Association (IBA). That is, until IBA criticised the Judiciary, which then made it a Western liberal NGO out to do this island in.

The Minister Mentor is not the only one, Ministers Mentee also cite the company whenever they get the chance.

The Straits Times regularly carries prominent reports written by it.

"Non-government" think-tanks like the Singapore Institute of International Affairs cannot resist citing it

Even our Supreme Court proudly refers to it.

So who or what is this group that is so admired by Singapore's establishment? Who runs this outfit and what does it do?

PERC's website tells us that it is a "consulting firm specializing in strategic business information and analysis for companies" doing business in East and Southeast Asia. It also produces a range of risk reports on the strengths and weaknesses of individual countries in the region. So far so solid.

But when it comes to information about who runs the organisation, the website is rather diffident. For example under "Senior Management", there is only one name -- a Robert Broadfoot who is described as an economics graduate “directly responsible for managing PERC's research and consulting.”

Is there a governing board? If yes, who is on it? If no, is PERC a sole-proprietorship? Does anyone else run the organisation with Mr Broadfoot?

Based in Hong Kong, PERC says it “coordinates a team of researchers and analysts” but doesn't tell us who they are, how many there are, and what their areas of expertise are. Do they work full-time for the Consultancy or on an ad hoc project basis? If part-time, what are their main occupations and what companies do they work for?

The organisation also avers its "complete independence from any vested interest groups." Several lines below, however, it says that it engages in "retainer work and specific projects" and "in-house briefings" for international business associations. Who these groups and associations are is not revealed.

Such information is important as it allows the reader a gauge of just how independent the organisation is and, by extension, how reliable its reports are. This is especially salient when the reports are cited by governments for political purposes. Simply asserting that the company is completely independent does not make it so.

For example one of its analysts, Mr Bruce Gale, is also a senior writer with the Straits Times. Whether he continues to work for PERC is unclear as the website has no information on him.

Given the nature of the state-media arrangement in Singapore, it is more than fair to ask what an employee of an organisation that is supposed to have "complete independence" is doing writing for a newspaper owned and run by a government. It is imperative that PERC makes clear the status of Mr Gale.

Ironically, Mr Gale himself notes that "most political risk assessment remains both superficial and subjective. Typically, such analysis is very informal, consisting of little more than a few brief visits to the country..."

Even the information about the surveys that PERC conducts such as the kinds of questions asked, the variables used, the sample characteristics, etc are not readily available. One assumes that they are contained in the reports which cost US$645 to subscribe annually. Analysis of the reliability and validity of such surveys is lacking. This is a problem. Yet, the results are held next to biblical truth by those who benefit from it.

The next and obvious question is: Who pays for PERC's services? One will not be surprised to find Singapore's establishment a ready customer. For example, the Nanyang Technological University and the National Institute of Education are online subscribers to the organisation's Monthly Risk reports.

And what do these reports contain? The page tells us that the topics covered are "Politics, Economics, Business." Politics? The Singapore Democrats can confirm that PERC has never attempted to seek our views on matters political in Singapore. We're unsure if the Consultancy has interviewed any other opposition party or civil society group. We could easily find out by doing a search on its website. The only problem is the website doesn't have a Search button.

Given that the organisation is so oft-quoted by the Singapore establishment, it is time that more questions are asked of PERC which must do a better job of providing background information about itself. A consultancy that assesses the political and economic risk of countries must surely understand the importance of transparency.

This article was sent to PERC at info@asiarisk.com and it was invited to respond. If and when it does, we will publish it here.

Video: U.S. Blogger Gopalan Nair's message before imprisonment in a Singapore jail

Refer here for more about this case. Thanks to Seelan for letting me know about this video.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Singapore Court jails U.S. Blogger, Gopalan Nair aka Singapore Dissident, for 3 months; Sentence begins Sat, 20 Sept

This video was made sometime late-August 2008. Read here about a petition, which I signed, with regards to Gopalan Nair.

Gopalan Nair jailed 3 mths

By Zakir Hussain, Correspondent, Straits Times, 17 Sept 08

FORMER Singaporean lawyer Gopalan Nair was sentenced to three months jail on Wednesday after he was found guilty of insulting a High Court judge in a posting on his blog.

Justice Kan Ting Chiu delivered his verdict after a seven-day hearing at the High court.

Nair, 58, now an American citizen, asked for and was given three days to settle his affairs.

He will present himself at the High Court at noon on Saturday to begin his sentence.

He was charged with insulting Justice Belinda Ang in a blog posting on May 29. It was posted online shortly after he attended a three-day court hearing over which she had presided.

That hearing was to assess damages in a defamation suit that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew won against the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), its chief Chee Soon Juan and his sister Chee Siok Chin.

Nair had, in his blog posting, written that 'the judge Belinda Ang was throughout prostituting herself during the entire proceedings, by being nothing more than an employee of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his son and carrying out their orders.'

Nair, who represented himself at the hearing and was charged under Section 228 of the Penal Code, declined to comment after the sentencing. He told reporters outside the court: 'I don't have anything to say.'

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The "Gomez Findings" should serve as a rallying wake-up call

James Gomez, who was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Political Science and International Relations) at a Monash University graduation ceremony on Sept 12, presented his research findings from his PhD thesis during a media doorstop at the sidelines of the ceremony. That is a mouthful isn't it!

The thesis is titled Democracy and elections: The impact of online politics in Singapore. I call the research findings he presented at the media doorstop The Gomez Findings.

According to the findings,
Alternative online political content has had no impact on voting patterns and electoral results.

The evidence shows that the political structure, and in particular, the electoral system, rather than the availability of alternative online political content, accounts for the electoral outcomes in Singapore.

The current electoral system in Singapore is impervious to the impact of the internet. Hence, the freedom and ability to distribute alternative political content as a manifestation of voter sentiment will not lead to a change in electoral results.

The study points to a need for electoral system reform to more accurately translate voter sentiment into parliamentary seats.
I see the Gomez Findings as a rallying wake-up call for wider action to effectively combine alternative online politics with offline "boots-on-the-ground" activities and initiatives to bring about real reforms and change in Singapore.

The Gomez Findings

Gomez, James “Democracy and Elections: The Impact of Online Politics in Singapore.” PhD thesis, Monash University, Melbourne, 2008.

Aim of study

The main goal of this study was to evaluate the impact of alternative online political content on Singaporean multi-party democracy. Ever since the internet became publicly available in Singapore in 1995, different activist groups have sought to use the medium in a bid to overcome the neglect, bias and censorship of the local mainstream media’s coverage of opposition parties. These groups believed that if they used the internet to provide alternative political content, it might mitigate the censorship and bias in local mainstream media coverage of opposition parties especially during elections. This study is the first detailed analysis of the internet’s influence on voting patterns and electoral results in Singapore over a period of 12 years and three general elections (1997,2001, 2006).

Main findings of study

1. The internet is a niche platform for distributing alternative political content

The internet has emerged as a platform for civil society, opposition parties, international organizations and individual activists to produce and distribute alternative political content about the PAP government and politics in Singapore that would otherwise not be available on local mainstream media because of omission, bias or censorship.

The volume of such information and the innovation surrounding its production and distribution is mirrored by the rise in internet home penetration in Singapore during each election year. In 1997 it was 14%, in 2001 it was 57% and in 2006 it was 71% (See Table 1). The projections for 2011 is 86.66% and 2015 is 91.38% (See Table 2). The rising level of internet penetration projected for the coming years, further establishes that the internet will continue to be a significant medium through which alternative political content will be disseminated during and in-between elections.

Various statistical studies show that the internet as a source of political information remains low and predominantly confined to the young and educated. Thus far it has not been able to rival the local mainstream media’s domination position in the delivery of content. Hence, it remains a niche media, which is growing and will grow further in the next 10 years, but it will not be large enough to have mass outreach under the present circumstances in Singapore.

2. Alternative online political content has had no impact on voting patterns and electoral results

An analysis of elections results over 12 years covering the last three general elections (1997, 2001 and 2006) shows that there has been no change in the nett electoral results for opposition parties. Although the major opposition parties claim that the internet has helped boost membership and supporters and on occasions forced the local media to cover opposition party activities and statements, the findings of the research show that these have not translated in term of gains in parliamentary seats (See Tables 3-5).

Further, in terms of the number of parliamentary seats contested (both single and group seats) and the number of candidates fielded by opposition parties (see Table 6) there is no correlation between these numbers, use of internet by opposition parties and the availability of alternative online political content during and in-between elections. Similarly, there is no correlation between use of the internet by opposition parties and the availability of alternative online content and the percentage of votes cast for opposition parties (see Tables 7-9).

Voter statistics show that since Singapore’s independence, the number of eligible voters has risen from 756,367 fro the 1968 elections to 2,158,704 in 2006 (see Table 10). However, voters that have cast their ballots in contested electoral wards throughout all elections remain roughly around 55.7 percent. If we look specifically at the elections years 1997, 2001, and 2007, voter participation was 40.7%, 33.2% and 56.6% respectively (see Table 10). There is no correlation to the level of voter participation at each election in Singapore and the level of internet home penetration. Rather, the actual number of voters who cast their ballot at each election is directly linked to the total volume of voters registered in the wards that are contested during an election (see Table 11).

Conclusion

The evaluation of the reach of alternative online political content and its impact on election results and voter statistics show that the primary shortcoming of Singapore’s present electoral system is the tendency to yield disproportionate representation in favour of the PAP. Over the last 12 years and through three general elections, when alternative online content was available during and in-between elections, it has had no effect on the PAP’s overall electoral results. While support for the PAP has fluctuated in the last four general elections (1991, 1997, 2001 and 2006) by 14.3 percentage points, the variation in percentage of seats was by 2.5 percentage points (see Table 12).

The evidence shows that the political structure, and in particular, the electoral system, rather than the availability of alternative online political content, accounts for the electoral outcomes in Singapore.

The current electoral system in Singapore is impervious to the impact of the internet. Hence, the freedom and ability to distribute alternative political content as a manifestation of voter sentiment will not lead to a change in electoral results. The study points to a need for electoral system reform to more accurately translate voter sentiment into parliamentary seats.

Tables - Gomez Findings

Read this document on Scribd: Tables - The Gomez Findings

Friday, September 12, 2008

Singapore government's two-pronged assault on Dow Jones & Company

Dow Jones & Co. owns both the Far Eastern Economic Review, which is banned in Singapore and being sued for defamation by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong & Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, and Wall Street Journal Asia. The Attorney-General of Singapore has "applied to the court for contempt proceedings to be instituted against" the latter according to this media briefer from the AG.
Singapore Proceedings Target Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal
September 12, 2008


HONG KONG -- Singapore's attorney general applied to the country's court for contempt proceedings against the company that publishes The Wall Street Journal's Asian edition and two senior editors.

The application relates to two editorials and a letter to the editor that ran in The Wall Street Journal Asia in June and July that the attorney general says "impugned the impartiality, integrity and independence of the Singapore Judiciary."

The first of the editorials, titled "Democracy in Singapore," concerned comments made in a Singapore court as damages were being assessed against Chee Soon Juan, head of the Singapore Democratic Party, and his sister and colleague, Chee Siok Chin. In 2006, the two lost a defamation suit brought by Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, over an article the Chees published in their party newsletter that was interpreted by the court to imply corruption on the part of the government.

The application to the court also refers to a letter to the editor written by Mr. Chee and a Journal editorial that cites a report by the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute on "human rights, democracy and the rule of law" in Singapore.

"We are aware of the statement issued by the Singapore Attorney General's office regarding the application for contempt proceedings against The Wall Street Journal Asia," a Dow Jones spokesman said. "While we are reserving comment on the application until we receive official notification, we do not believe the articles were contemptuous of the Singapore courts."

The Wall Street Journal Asia is owned by Dow Jones & Co., a subsidiary of News Corp. Another Dow Jones publication, The Far Eastern Economic Review, which is banned in Singapore, is defending defamation charges in Singapore brought by the elder Mr. Lee and his son, the prime minister, in relation to an article concerning Mr. Chee.

Singapore's political leaders have previously won damages against several foreign news publications for defamation.

If the application is successful, a hearing date will be set and the respondents will have the opportunity to make their arguments in open court, the attorney general's office said on its Web site.
Here are the two editorials and the letter,

Democracy in Singapore
FROM TODAY'S WALL STREET JOURNAL ASIA
June 26, 2008


Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore can rightly be proud of many achievements, but full democracy is not one of them. The city-state he founded in 1965 and led as Prime Minister until 1990 is economically prosperous and its citizens enjoy a range of freedoms. Political dissent is not among them.

Which makes a recent David-vs.-Goliath exchange between one of the country's few opposition politicians and Mr. Lee worth noting. The dialogue took place in a courtroom and is therefore privileged -- which means we can report on it without risking a lawsuit, which Mr. Lee often files against critics.

Audio files are available on the Singapore Democratic Party's Web site, and a partial transcript is available at www.singaporerebel.blogspot.com, an independent blog. The Straits Times reported last Thursday that the Supreme Court is "investigating the facts" of how the transcripts and audio recordings were released. A Court spokeswoman, in an emailed statement, said "in general, transcripts are provided only to parties of the case."

The setting was a hearing to assess damages against Chee Soon Juan, head of the Singapore Democratic Party, and his sister and colleague, Chee Siok Chin. In 2006, the Chees lost a defamation suit brought by Mr. Lee and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, over an article they published in their party newsletter that was interpreted by the court to imply corruption on the part of the government. In last month's hearing, the elder Mr. Lee, who holds the title of Minister Mentor, was cross-examined by Mr. Chee, who was representing himself.

Mr. Chee is no orator, and on one level the dissident was no match for the eloquent Mr. Lee. But when the subject turned to the moral underpinnings of democracy -- freedoms of speech, assembly and association -- the debate went game, set and match to Mr. Chee.

Mr. Chee set out his philosophy while questioning Mr. Lee: "What I'm interested in is justice, the rule of law, because ultimately it is not about you, Mr Lee. It is not about me. It's about the people of Singapore, it is about this country and everything we stand for. You and I will pass on, but I can tell you, the practice of the rule of law, the entire concept of justice, democracy -- that is going to last for all eternity."

Mr. Lee didn't respond directly to those assertions, choosing instead to cite the International Bar Association's decision to "honor" Singapore by holding its annual conference there last year and noted a letter from the association's president saying "how impressed they were by the standards they found to obtain in the judiciary."

Elsewhere in the hearing, Mr. Lee defended his string of defamation suits against opposition politicians and the press: "They know me by now," Mr. Lee said, referring to the people of Singapore, "that if anybody impugns the integrity of the government, of which I was the prime minister, I must sue."

He went on: "There are various parts of this government which do not comply with Western practices, including the law of libel. But it is a system that has worked." Mr. Lee has never lost a libel suit. He and his son are currently suing the Far Eastern Economic Review, a sister publication of this newspaper, and its editor, Hugo Restall.

Our own reading of the Chee-Lee transcript is that the Minister Mentor sounded more than a tad defensive -- no less so than in his characterization of Mr. Chee, who has been bankrupted as a result of lawsuits by Mr. Lee and other politicians. He called Mr. Chee, a "liar, a cheat and altogether an unscrupulous man." Not to mention "a near-psychopath." Mr. Chee, for his part, referred to Mr. Lee as a "pitiable figure."

It's hard to know what Singaporeans make of all this. Mr. Lee is widely revered as the father of their country, and Mr. Chee is often scorned for his aggressive tactics. But at least, thanks to the Internet, they are able to read the exchange and make up their own minds.

So, too, in the case of Gopalan Nair, which is making its way through the courts now. Mr. Nair is a former Workers' Party candidate. He is now a U.S. citizen and online advocate for media freedom in Singapore. He traveled to the city-state to attend Mr. Chee's hearing last month and recorded his thoughts on his blog, where he expressed his contempt for the court proceedings and challenged Mr. Lee to sue him.

On May 31, he was arrested and interrogated. On June 2, he was charged with insulting Judge Belinda Ang, who presided over the Chee hearing, by email. He was released on June 5, six days after his initial arrest, and charged on June 12 with insulting another judge in a separate, 2006 email. Last week, the court changed the first charge and specified that the offending remarks about Judge Ang were made on a blog, not by email. Mr. Nair says the police have also threatened him with charges under the Sedition Act.

Mr. Nair's case is scheduled to go to court in mid-July. Meanwhile, Mr. Chee was just released from jail, where he served 11 days for "scandalizing" the court during his questioning of the Minister Mentor. His sister served 10 days. The court has yet to set the amount of monetary damages in the defamation case. When it does, we'll know the going price of political dissent these days in Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore.

Let the Court Produce the Transcript, Show the Truth
July 5, 2008; Page A10


I refer to the letter by Lee Kuan Yew's press secretary, Yeong Yoon Ying, "Two Views of Freedom of Speech and Law in Singapore" (June 30), in which she quoted me as calling, in open court, Singapore leaders " 'murderers, robbers, child molesters' and 'rapists'."

Mr. Lee, or his counsel, is in possession of court transcripts and audio recordings that would show whether I had uttered those words. He must now produce the part of the transcript that quotes me saying those words or he risks destroying his own credibility.

Mr. Lee and his prime minister son, Lee Hsien Loong, sued the Singapore Democratic Party and its executive members for defamation over an article we published in our party newsletter criticizing the nontransparent and nonaccountable manner in which Singapore was run.

The Lees obtained summary judgment from the courts despite our defense, in which we cited disputes of fact and law. In other words, there were triable issues. The summary judgment meant that we were found guilty without being given the chance to call witnesses and cross-examine the plaintiffs.

Ms. Yeong also says that "Singapore upholds free speech." Yes, and Robert Mugabe has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Your readers might care to know that I have been repeatedly convicted and imprisoned for speaking in public and I face several more such charges. Seventeen of my associates have been charged for conducting a protest against the raising of prices by the Singapore government.

It is also noteworthy that Freedom House stated: "Singapore citizens cannot change their government democratically."

We are not advocating a Western- or Asian-style of democracy. We want a democracy based on universal principles as enshrined in the Singapore Constitution and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

By the way, Mr Lee sued us in his personal capacity. Why is Ms. Yeong, a civil servant, writing the letter on his behalf?

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party
Singapore


Judging Singapore's Judiciary
FROM TODAY'S WALL STREET JOURNAL ASIA
July 15, 2008


Lee Kuan Yew recently noted the International Bar Association's decision to "honor" Singapore by holding its annual conference there last year. We hope the former Prime Minister, now Minister Mentor, takes equal note of the IBA's latest assessment of the judiciary in Singapore.

The IBA's human-rights institute issued a report last week on "human rights, democracy and the rule of law" in the city-state. Like numerous past observers, the IBA finds that Singapore limits political speech and assembly and exercises strict controls on the media.

The 72-page report also describes "concerns about the objective and subjective independence and impartiality" of the judiciary. In cases involving litigants from the ruling People's Action Party or PAP interests, the IBA finds "concerns about an actual or apparent lack of impartiality and/or independence, which casts doubt on the decisions made in such cases."

The IBA report is a good primer on Singapore's use of defamation cases against opposition politicians and the foreign press. It summarizes high-profile cases over the past 25 years against J. B. Jeyaretnam, Tang Liang Hong and Chee Soon Juan. And it reviews defamation cases against foreign publications, including this newspaper and our sister publication, the Far Eastern Economic Review, which currently is fighting defamation charges brought by Mr. Lee and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In a statement last week in response to the IBA report, the Law Ministry defended Singapore's legal system. "The cases brought by PAP members usually relate to scurrilous and completely untrue allegations of corruption made against them," it said. And, "It is also absurd to suggest that honorable and upright judges in commercial cases become compliant and dishonorable when dealing with defamation cases involving government ministers."

The IBA report concludes with 18 recommendations, including abolishing defamation as a criminal offense and urging government officials to "stop initiating defamation claims for criticisms made in the course of political debate." It also calls for "security of tenure" for all judges and an end to the transfer of judges between executive and judicial roles.

Singapore is unlikely to reform its political or judicial system anytime soon. But when the country is ready to join the ranks of modern democracies, the IBA's recommendations provide a good checklist of how to do so.

James Gomez to speak at TOC event tomorrow, Sept 13, at Hong Lim Park (selection of videos included)

James Gomez will be a guest speaker at TOC's World Class Service or World Class Profits? event tomorrow Sept 13, 5pm-7pm at Hong Lim Park aka Speakers Corner.

James will be awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at a Monash University graduation ceremony later today. The degree is awarded for his thesis Democracy and elections: The impact of online politics in Singapore.

During the sidelines of the graduation ceremony, he will hold a media doorstop to release the findings of this research. He will take questions on the findings and its relation to the recent announcements on emerging new media guidelines and its impact on Singapore's electoral system.

He will also outline his plans to return to Singapore.

These are a selection of videos featuring James. The first was during the 2006 General Elections; second, an interview given to TOC in May 2008; and finally at a tak boleh tahan event at Toa Payoh in May 2008.





Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seizure of One Nation Under Lee to be raised at 9th session of UN Human Rights Council


One Nation Under Lee seizure to be raised at UN meeting

Singapore Democrats

The seizure of the video One Nation Under Lee by the Government will be raised in Geneva this Friday, 12 Sep 08, during the 9th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Forum-Asia, a regional human rights group, will cite the case along with other human rights violations in the region when it is called to make representation before the UN Council. Apart from the matter of the video seizure, Forum-Asia will also bring up the prosecution of activists for taking part in peaceful protests in Singapore. (Jacob: See here and here)

In May this year officials of the Media Development Authority gate-crashed a private screening of the video and demanded that the film be handed over. They said that the video did not have a certificate of approval.

Despite the seizure, the video has since been uploaded on YouTube as well as Google. The YouTube account alone has received 27,300 views.

The Forum-Asia's representation will also include the situation in Laos and Mongolia. The following is the text on Singapore that will be read to the Council:
...although the [Singapore] government has announced its rules to allow outdoor demonstrations (restricted to the Speaker's Corner), there have been events this year that nevertheless underline a restrictive environment in which human rights defenders are not able to enjoy the freedom of expression and opinion and the freedom to be informed.

In May 2008, a private film screening of One Nation Under Lee was interrupted by representatives from the Media Development Authority who demanded that organisers of the screening hand over the film.

They cited the Films Act which states that it is an offence to have in your possession or to exhibit or distribute any film without a valid certificate. This provision therefore makes almost all Singaporeans hosting private screenings of private events violators of the said Act.

The government has also charged more than 20 activists for taking part in various activities such as peaceful protests and distributing flyers.
Readers can follow the live webcast of events at the session at http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp.

One Nation Under Lee is also the subject at the Freedom Film Fest 2008 in Malaysia. It was screened in Penang last weekend and will be screened in Johor Baru this Saturday, 13 Sep, at 4:30 pm.

Malaysia's premier showcase of human rights films will travel to Johor Bahru this weekend. It will be the closest location by which Singaporeans can watch One Nation Under Lee in a public space. Director Seelan Palay will be present at the post-screening Q&A session.

Venue: Tropical Inn
Address: 15 Jalan Gereja, Johor Bahru
Dates: 12 to 14 Sept 2008
Time: 11am till 10pm
Admission is FREE