As many regular readers of my blog already know, I am involved in the international legal support of the Singapore dissident Chee Soon Juan. Today he went on trial, and the following press release has been distributed to media. I urge everyone to support his important cause. Human Rights Goes on Trial in Singapore with Chee Soon Juan Case — NEW YORK, Oct. 23, 2008 – Today Singaporean opposition party leader Dr. Chee Soon Juan and others will stand trial for unlawful assembly charges which lawyers believe may result in punitive prison sentences. “This latest trial of Chee Soon Juan represents yet another showcase of fundamental human rights violations and constitutional manipulation that has become Singapore’s darkest secret,” said lawyer Robert Amsterdam, of Amsterdam & Peroff, who provides international legal assistance to Soon Juan. “After suffering so many arbitrary arrests and charges, it’s time for the world to stand up and staunchly defend this courageous man, who has made heroic personal sacrifices in the name of freedom and democracy.”
Today Mr. Amsterdam is announcing the formation of an international legal support committee, which will explore a wide variety of international and human rights law options to assist Soon Juan. So far, the committee includes the participation of law professor William Burke-White of the University of Pennsylvania, Bryan Schwartz, a constitutional law specialist from the University of Manitoba, U.S. appellate lawyer David Rivkin, U.K. lawyer Alan Bates, and many other notable figures.The Oct. 23 trial concerns charges against 18 activists involved with Soon Juan’s political party, the Singapore Social Democrats, for allegedly participating in an assembly without a permit on March 15, 2008 to protest rising housing costs. As a dissident, Soon Juan has been left alone to defend himself without local counsel, and will argue that the charges are unconstitutional given the guaranteed right to freedom of assembly as outline in Singapore’s constitution.A July 2008 report by the International Bar Association comments that “it certainly appears that Dr. Chee has been made a target of the Singapore government, and that their criticism of him has gone far beyond a reasonable standard.”This trial comes on top of several ruinous defamation lawsuits against Soon Juan amounting to almost $1 million, forcing him to sell his home and possessions and serve jail time. Chee Soon Juan has already been imprisoned in Singapore seven times: four times for speaking in public, twice for contempt of court, and once for attempting to leave the country to attend a conference on democracy. He is currently barred from leaving Singapore, and faces six more trials through the next four months.“Like I have seen in cases from Guatemala to Russia, we are witnessing the weaponization of law, whereby courts are used as a tool of repression in certain political cases,” said Amsterdam. “No foreign government, NGO, or business should tolerate such heinous practices.”For more information about the Chee Soon Juan and the Singapore Democratic Party, please visit www.yoursdp.org. For more information about Robert Amsterdam, please consult his blog at www.robertamsterdam.com.