Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Singapore prepares for APEC with tougher protest laws

Source: Robert Amsterdam

Robert AmsterdamThe civic act of non-violent demonstration and public assembly, taken for granted as a constitutional right even in less-than-free countries (China experienced record levels of "civil disturbances" in 2008), has been legislated to the point of outright criminalization in Singapore. Just ask Dr Chee Soon Juan, leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, who will stand trial for a barrage of trumped up charges, including protesting without permit.

The state police also recently arrested just two people who were demonstrating in support of Burmese nationals, later releasing them on $2,000 bails.

Now with the approach of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, the world's eyes will be on the shining city state - and the authorities are determined to make sure there will be practically no public demonstrations whatsoever.

Once again, the law will serve as their primary weapon. This weekend the state media reported that the government is meeting to make revisions to a series of laws on public assembly, granting the police even greater power and discretion to crack down on dissent.

It's an outrageous and slightly absurd development. For one, Singapore already has one of the most repressive sets of laws in this area, making these changes more symbolic than expeditious.

Second, the prosecutors and attorney general's office have shown themselves perfectly able to ignore the limitations of any law, as proven by the Chee Soon Juan persecution as well as the defamation suits against Dow Jones Asia.

Lastly, we find ourselves in an absurd situation, as we have a government that is clearly carrying out a premeditated attack on the rights of its own people right before the eyes of all APEC members, yet will expect to hear next to nothing in the way of criticism or pressure from the visiting delegates.

Let's hope that some of these visitors become aware of the mask worn by this brutally authoritarian city state, rather than buy into the illusion of order and economic success.

Photo: Police officers escort an arrested activist during a two-man-protest in Singapore. (Reuters Pictures)

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