so was this the actual motive: TO DOMINATE THE MARTIAL WORLD BY EXPLOITING EXTERNAL FOREIGN DUBIOUS FORCES?
Singapore's shame: ordeal of Chee Soon Juan
Posted: October 21, 2008, 8:00 AM by Diane Francis
Litigation, China, Human Rights Abuse, dysfunction, india, economy
Singapore represents itself as a democracy with the rule of law and a good place to live and do business.
But Singapore is a bully and its strong-arm tactics against critics, domestic or foreign, is unrecognized by the rest of the world, thanks to its carefully crafted public relations strategy designed to show the city-state as a model of government, democracy, economic development and the rule of law.
“The frustrating thing is that people continue to see Singapore as a rules-based society. I want the international community to realize the abuses,” said opposition leader Dr. Chee Soon Juan in an exclusive telephone interview yesterday from his home in Singapore with the National Post. “Fortunately, International organizations are getting involved like Lawyers Rights Watch, the International Bar Association, the International Commission of Jurists. All have criticize Singapore.”
Dr. Chee should know. His saga since 1992 reads like the Book of Job and shows that the reality is the city-state of five million people is an autocracy whose leaders use dafamation lawsuits and other court techniques to harass Chee or any other democratic activists, the media or corporate entities which fall out of favor.
This Thursday, Dr. Chee, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, will be on trial for the eighth time in a handful of years. This time he is accused of the “crime” of holding a meeting with more than five persons without a permit. The Singapore constitution guarantees freedom of opinion, expression and assembly.
“Every time we applied for a permit we have been turned down and the minister said that he would never grant a permit,” said Dr. Chee.
His ordeal began after he joined the opposition party and criticized the cronyism and secrecy of the Singaporean government. Since then, lawsuits have bankrupted him personally, are about to bankrupt his political party, have sent him to jail because he is unable to pay fines anymore, have cost him his university position as a lecturer and denied him basic legal rights such as legal representation or the right to cross-examine or present a defense.
And every time he criticizes such unjust treatment he is sued for defamation, then fined huge amounts or sent to jail.
Singapore also muzzles the press. Local media is government-owned and foreigners have been harassed.
“International newspapers, the Dow Jones, Wall Street Journal, Far Eastern Economic Review, Time, the Economist, International Herald Tribune, Bloomberg have all been sued and/or prosecuted for making statements about these matters,” said Dr. Chee.
International effort underway
Fortunately, a team of lawyers, led by Canadian law firm Amsterdam & Peroff in Toronto, has been set up in order to help Dr. Chee defend himself in court and to embarrass Singapore before the world for its failure to uphold the rule of law. The team is headed by Bob Amsterdam (who defended Mikhail Khodorovsky and other high-profile Russians against the oppressive Putin regime), UK defamation expert Anthony Julius (who represented Lady Di) and American law professor William Burke-White.
"The Singaporean authorities are using the law to repress political rivals and as punishment,” said Amsterdam in a phone interview from his headquarters in London. "It's a myth that Singapore is a democracy, a complete myth.”
The team is going to help Dr. Chee represent himself in court and also intends to bring the injustice to the attention of the United Nations and others. They also intend to register the Singapore Democratic Party in their jurisdictions so that it may continue its work as an exiled entity.
The next ordeal
On Thursday, Dr. Chee will have to represent himself, with help from this team. The Singapore court will not give standing to a foreign lawyer and local lawyers have been frightened away from his case. There is no Legal Aid representation provided either. He knows he probably faces jail because he cannot pay any more fines.
“I survive financially by selling books. I peddle them on the street. I was trained in academia but after I joined the opposition in 1992 I was sacked and since then nobody will want to work with me. They are frightened of guilt by association,” he said.
He was fired by a person who was a Member of Parliament with the ruling party.
“When I said my sacking was politically motivated, he sued me for defamation. I went to court, lost and the court awarded damages of US$350,000. My wife and I sold our house, car and everything to pay this fine,” he said.
Another two defamation lawsuits resulted in US$400,000 in fines after Dr. Chee raised questions about Singapore’s secret financial support for the corrupt Suharto regime in Indonesia.
“The significance of those cases was we didn’t even go to trial. It was a summary judgment, decided by the judge in chambers without any right to cross examine,” he said.
“A third case in 2006 was a defamation lawsuit by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his son, the current Prime Minister, over an article written in our party’s newspaper. Fines were huge [US$610,000] and the judgment was delivered in the judge’s chambers again.”
When Dr. Chee criticized this, the judge said this constituted contempt of court and jailed him this June for 12 days. And his failure to pay fines will also result in more contempt convictions and imprisonment.
Dr. Chee's motivation
“I’ve been convicted on seven occasions already and have another nine charges outstanding. I can’t afford to pay any fines so I will have to go to prison. The only way out is to leave, but if I leave the government wins and if the government wins the people lose. Singapore is my home and lack of transparency and accountability will simply result in huge problems down the road for my country and for my children.”
“I hope to see democracies like Canada, the U.S. and others in the world pay attention to these matters before it’s too late. Ultimately, their interests are going to be affected as well.”
The interview in full
Q. Do you have a family and are you frightened of violence?
A. “I’ve got three kids, 9, 6 and 4 and a wonderful wife. I do not feel in danger in that way."
Q. How do you survive financially?
A. "I sell books, peddle them on the street. I was trained in academia but after I joined the opposition in 1992 I was sacked and since then I haven’t been nobody will want to work with me. It's guilt by association. I can't a lawyer to represent me for that reason too."
Q. What international organizations are you contacting for help?
A. "Lawyers Rights Watch, the International Bar Association, International Commission to jurists all have criticized and that helps because I want the international community to realize the abuses."
Q. Is the business/financial community also at risk by such court activities in terms of contracts and litigation?
A. “Ironically, there was a case here involving a Canadian co. Enernorth which signed with a Singapore company. There was a dispute over commercial matters, the matter settled in Singapore courts. Enernorth was frustrated and appealed in Canada's courts, saying that Singapore's courts were not impartial. But the Canadian court was not convinced unfortunately. It's diffiult to get other jurisdictions to look into this matter.”
"I want to alert the international business community there are problems with the rule of law. The Singapore government lavishes these companies. They operate tax free, can repatriate all profits and Singapore keeps wages very low. There is suppression of wages because there are no independent labor unions. So companies love Singapore and wouldn’t say anything to jeopardize their situation."
Q. If Singapore drives your party into bankruptcy is there any opposition parties left?
A. "The only opposition party that’s called for a reform of the system is ours. This is an offense against reforms."
Q. What is their strategy against you?
A. Keep levying fines and lawsuits that I cannot pay and put me in jail for contempt.
Q. What about the Singapore Strait Times and local press dissent?
A. "It's all biased. the media is owned by the government. The person in charge of publications is the former deputy Prime Minister himself. The internet is all we've got."
Q. How many people live in Singapore and how would you describe their form of governance?
A. "There are about five million, one-quarter are non-Singaporeans or guest workers. It is a dictatorship. In the last 10 years half the workforce has not gotten an increase in real wages. There are significant layoffs and many homeless living on beaches, on the streets, in government housing blocks. They don’t have a voice. There are free food lines at temples and they are getting very long. This is contrasted with the ministers of the government which are the highest paid politicians in the world. The Prime Minister makes six times' more than the President of the United States. And yet when we bring up these matters -- no transparency which breeds corruption -- we get sued."
Q. Why should the world care?
A. "Singapore is too small to register concern but look at China and Russia. They are emulating and admiring Singapore as a model of an autocracy that doesn't live by the rule of law. The world's democracies should pay attention to the situation because it is catching on in Vietnam, Burma, Latin America, Ukraine, India. Singapore is proposing itself as an alternative to the democratic way of life."
Q. Are NGOs helping?
A. “Now and then. We are really hoping to at least be able to come up with a sustained campaign whereby more information can get out to the international community, try to get a network among the international community. We have had some help from Canadian teachers unions and the Canadian branch of Amnesty International.”
Q. What happened on June 2008 at the trial involving Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Minister?
A. "We cross examined Lee Kwan Yew at that trial. He kept hiding behind his counsel, the judge kept ruling all our questions irrelevant. In the end, we were charged with contempt of court. It got so egregious at one point that Lee brought in all his body guards, eight of them. They barged into the courtroom, right in the middle of the hearing when his son was on the stand. The door flung open. Justice should be blind to the status of all litigants but here was the leader of Singapore. He insisted that his testimony last through lunch and for only two hours because he was busy. Then he left and the judge was fine with that."
“We said that was unforgiveable and then were convicted of contempt of court. The judge came up with a ruling ordering us to pay both Lees (father and son, past and current Prime Ministers) US$610,000. There is no way I can personally or the other executives of the party but they named the party as a defendant so they can move against the party and push it into bankruptcy."
Q. How many members in your party?
A. "About 40 or 50 people dare to walk with us in public."
Q. Is autocracy a cultural matter?
A. "We were very democratic when we first became independent from the British in the 1950s, but since the first prime minister came into power he’s usurped the constitution and clamped down on everything for the better part of the last half a century we’ve been this way. There is no civil society, no opposition, no fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly or media."