In Singapore, an Uphill Battle for Justice and Basic Rights

cheesoonjuan.jpgMany readers of this blog are already familiar with the Singaporean pro-democracy activist and opposition politician Dr. Chee Soon Juan, who has published a number of essays on this blog. His organization’s tireless struggle to assert basic constitutional rights has direct parallels to the struggle for justice in Russia, and the similarities between these two illiberal authoritarian capitalist systems are clear and abundant. Like many in Russia, Dr. Chee’s efforts have brought about a severe and unjust crackdown from the state, who appear to be seeking to jail him once again following an upcoming trial on Oct. 22nd. I’m pleased to announce that my law firm has agreed to represent Chee Soon Juan and his party on a pro bono basis, to assist him in every way possible to continue his good work to bring democracy to Singapore. I first had the privilege of meeting this impressive young man on the sidelines of the International Bar Association conference two years ago, where he was staging a one-man protest to draw attention to the country’s democratic shortcomings. He made a very memorable first impression, and clearly took great personal risks to stand up for his beliefs by himself before dozens of jackboot secret service agents, security cameras, and the distinct intimidation of a government enjoying impunity. His bravery in the face of this onslaught deserves international recognition, and I am pleased to be part of the effort to assist him. After the cut, there is more information on the current situation.

Latest developments for Singapore’s leading opposition party, the SDP:Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, sued the Singapore Democratic Party and its executive members in 2006 over an article published in the party’s newspaper The New Democrat which discussed a scandal in the National Kidney Foundation and the Government’s handling of the matter.Judge Ang had awarded the case to the Lees in a summary judgment that meant that the defendants could not bring the matter to an open trial despite the defence being filed. This left the Lees to proceed to assessing the amount of damages to be paid to them.At the hearing to assess damages, the defendants comprising of the party, Dr Chee Soon Juan, and Ms Chee Siok Chin (the rest of the executive members apologised and did not contest the case) pressed the point that the Lees were not worth the damages they claimed because their reputations were forced upon society through dictatorial means.In her judgement released on 12 Oct 08, Judge Belinda Ang ordered the defendants to pay Mr Lee Kuan Yew $280,000 and Mr Lee Hsien Loong $330,000 in damages.Dr Chee has already been made a bankrupt from a previous lawsuit taken by Messrs Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. He was also sued in 1993 by PAP MP Dr S Vasoo and two other university officials after he was dismissed from the National University of Singapore where he lectured.Ms Chee Siok Chin was also made bankrupt after she was unable to meet payments demanded by the AG’s Chambers over a case which she and other activists took against the Minister for Home Affairs and Police Commissioner over a protest in 2005. The police threatened to arrest the protesters even though there were only four of them. The law says that only five or more persons constituted an illegal assembly.The Lees will now have to apply for a bankruptcy petition against the defendants and can then make SDP bankrupt and de-register the party. (Read Reuters report here.)Chee Soon Juan has been imprisoned 7 times: Four for speaking in public, 2 for contempt of court and 1 for attempting to leave the country to attend a democracy conference. He has 9 outstanding trials to go through. He is barred from leaving the country.