Open letter from Amnesty International to Prime Minister Stephen Harper

We have just received a copy of an open letter from Amnesty International Canada to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in advance of his upcoming trip to the forthcoming APEC meeting in Singapore, followed by a visit to India. The letter urges Prime Minister Harper to uphold Canada’s well-known reputation as a staunch human rights supporter by raising concerns with and presenting recommendations to Singapore authorities regarding the case of Dr. Chee Soon Juan and other civil society representatives and to address ongoing human rights challenges in India. Below is an excerpt from the letter, followed by a link that will allow you access to the letter in full.

Singapore has two realities: its appearance as a progressive country with regular elections and economic success; and its record of human rights violations designed to maintain the political status quo of the People’s Action Party (PAP) during its virtual one-party rule over the past half-century. Lee Kuan Yew, now Minister Mentor, has led Singapore in a number of government positions since independence in 1959. Amnesty International’s concerns are: the misuse of the law to punish critics, who face ruinous defamation and other suits; and the shockingly high per capita rate of executions – possibly highest in the world – often after unfair trials.

Restrictive laws and civil defamation suits brought for political motives against opponents of the PAP are ruinous to the victims and have a ‘chilling’ effect on potential critics and the population at large. While government leaders claim they have a right to defend their reputations, there are serious concerns that the real motive is to silence selected opposition figures and remove them from public life. The result is a climate of political intimidation and self-censorship that deters the expression of views alternative to those of the ruling party and dissuades many Singaporeans from exercising their right to take part in public affairs.

The recently enacted Public Order Act (POA), which restricts cause-related public assemblies, is seen as designed to target Dr. Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of the small opposition Singapore Democratic Party, prior to the APEC meeting. Under the POA, even a sole demonstrator needs a permit. Dr. Chee points out, however, that the authorities state that no permits will be issued for outside “political” assemblies. He has been fired from his university position, made bankrupt, imprisoned some seven times and banned from contesting a parliamentary seat of leaving the country without permission. Dr. Chee is a recipient of the Defender of Democracy Award by Parliamentarians for Global Action, a leading member of international human rights bodies and author of several books related to his belief in non-violent change. With respect to his continuing legal harassment, he is currently represented by a Canadian lawyer. Also significant to Canada is the case of former President C V Devan Nair, who became a government critic, went into exile and settled in Hamilton, Ontario, where he expressed his criticisms in an interview article in the Globe and Mail. The outcome was a defamation suit filed by Lee Kuan Yew against both newspaper and former President.

Full letter accessible here:

2009-Nov-10.AmnestyInternational.Open LettertoStephenHarper-Singapore-India.pdf