Recent Convictions of Democracy Activists Show Intolerance Towards Pluralism
January 20, 2010
Singapore remains the textbook example of a politically repressive state. Individuals who want to criticize or challenge the ruling party’s hold on power can expect to face a life of harassment, lawsuits, and even prison.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director

(New York) - As Singapore begins to emerge from the international financial crisis and focuses on elections that are likely to be held later this year, the government should act to improve its poor human rights record, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2010, released today.

The 612-page report, the organization's 20th annual review of human rights practices around the globe, summarizes major human rights trends in more than 90 nations and territories worldwide. Its chapter on Singapore says the government fails to meet human rights standards in a number of critical areas, including freedom of expression, association, and assembly. While Singapore has touted its prowess as a leading economic nation in Southeast Asia, it continues to falter in respecting the rights of its own population, Human Rights Watch said

"Singapore remains the textbook example of a politically repressive state," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Individuals who want to criticize or challenge the ruling party's hold on power can expect to face a life of harassment, lawsuits, and even prison."

Freedom to express views publicly continues to be largely limited to the tiny Speaker's Corner in the city-state, while any procession or assembly for a "cause-related activity" must have prior police approval under the Public Order Act of 2009.

Draconian laws such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLA), Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), and Undesirable Publications Act remain available to the government to muzzle peaceful critics. In December 2009, three long-time government critics-Dr. Chee Soon Juan, Chee Siok Chin, and Gandhi Ambalam-were convicted of distributing flyers critical of the government. After refusing to pay fines, all three were sentenced to short prison terms.

But appearance-conscious Singapore sometimes forgoes criminal prosecution in favor of other forms of harassment, such as defamation suits seeking punitive damages that snagged the Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review, restrictions on publication licenses under the longstanding Newspaper and Printing Presses Acts, and enforcement actions limiting rights.

Human Rights Watch called for the repeal of laws allowing corporal and capital punishment, noting that the penal code authorizes caning for about 30 offenses, and sets out more than 20 drug-related offenses for which capital punishment is mandatory. Singapore resists all calls to rescind arbitrary detention without trial, refuses to recognize that caning constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, and insists on maintaining mandatory death penalties for offenses such as drug trafficking that are contrary to international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch criticized Singapore's continued legal ban on private and consensual sexual relations between men and called for it to be overturned.

"As Singapore looks to its future and new elections, the time is long overdue for it to abandon its stubborn defiance of international human rights standards," Robertson said. "Singapore should have the confidence to trust its people with full freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and recognize that their participation is critical for the country's continued prosperity."

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