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(New York) - Singapore opposition leader Dr. Chee Soon Juan is being arbitrarily detained for exercising his right to free expression and should be immediately and unconditionally released, Human Rights Watch said today. In the meantime, Chee should be transferred from the prison ward in Singapore’s Changi General Hospital to the hospital’s regular in-patient facilities to ensure he receives appropriate medical care and is released home to complete his recuperation.

Chee was arrested on November 23, 2006 for speaking publicly without a permit on April 22, 2006 in opposition to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). Singaporean authorities for years have relied on repressive laws to jail and bankrupt Chee, secretary-general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Since 1999, the authorities have jailed Chee on three other occasions for violating the city-state’s laws restricting public speech and assembly.

“Once again, the Singaporean government has reacted to public criticism by jailing the critic,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “Dr. Chee should be released immediately, before his health deteriorates further.”

After the Subordinate Court mandated a Singapore $5,000 (US$3,200) fine or a five-week prison term for Chee’s speaking publicly without a permit, he chose prison. Two days after he entered Queenstown Remand Prison, Chee complained of nausea and lightheadedness after he ate. He cut back his food intake and reported his symptoms to prison authorities and to his family when they visited on November 28. According to family members, prison officials responded indifferently. A family spokesperson reported that he remained untreated for more than a week after his first complaint. It was not until December 3, when Chee’s blood pressure dropped precipitously, blood was noted in his urine, and he was complaining of abdominal pain, that prison authorities finally transferred him to the hospital’s prison ward.

Prison officials informed family members they would be allowed only one visit to Chee, and that they would be notified when he was discharged back to prison. Since then, family members have had no contact with Chee, the prison doctor or any other prison official, the hospital doctor in charge of the prison ward, or a member of the nursing staff. Questions about medical tests or results have gone unanswered.

“It’s as if Singapore’s draconian restrictions on free speech apply to Dr. Chee’s doctors,” said Adams. “The government seems to think that the less that anyone other than the relevant authorities know, the easier it would be to contain public attention to the message he carried. But a vibrant outspoken civil society is just what the doctor should order for Singapore.”

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