Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thai PM Rejects Singapore's One-Party Rule



In other news: Press Freedom in Singapore: Allowing space or just making promises? (South East Asian Press Alliance)

And a wonderful quote from James Chin from the Kuala Lumpur campus of Australia's Monash University:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Tamil Nadu journalist burns himself to death condemning Indian inaction

Source: TamilNet, 29 January 2009

A young Tamil activist burnt himself to death in front of the Shastri Bhavan, the Indian Central Government's Chennai Head office Thursday, reports from Chennai said.

The activist, Mr. Muthukumar, from Thooththukkudi, who works for Pe'n'nea Nee feminist magazine as typist and also writes articles, doused himself with petrol and set himself afire, condemning the futile visit by Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who failed to stop the war in Sri Lanka and save Eezham Tamils.

With 95% burn injuries, the victim was rushed to the Kilpauk Medical College in a critical condition, with slim chances of survival. He succumbed within a short span of time, according to medical sources.

Tension prevails in the capital city of Chennai following the news of the young Tamil activist burning himself to death in front of Shastri Bhavan office.

Sky Duet

By Seelan Palay

Originally published in ARTicle: The Singapore Biennale Review
Republished on yoursdp.org

After walking through a metal detector and having my bag scanned, I made my way to the one thing I once vowed never to step into: the Singapore Flyer. If I weren't familiar with the incisively critical nature of spell#7's body of work, I might have thought that these were artists trying to take advantage of the state's desire to feature "some art for cultural credibility" in its new $240 million tourist attraction. Experiencing the work itself, however, definitely disproves any such speculation; this work is both cunning and complex.

Sky Duet is a site specific audio artwork produced by the aforementioned Singapore-based performance company and sound artist, Evan Tan; it was newly commissioned for this year's Biennale. Presented to the listener through a pair of earphones connected to a minuscule mp3 player, the work's most tangible form is in stark contrast to its installation site: the world's largest observation wheel. After being ushered into one of the twenty-eight capsules of the massive machine and told to "enjoy my flight", I pressed the play button to listen to my audio companions for the thirty-minute revolution.

A husky male voice followed by a melancholic tune set the mood, making me realise that I was going to have quite a different experience compared to the family sharing my capsule, who were by now taking photographs and engaging in casual chatter. As I started to get an actual sense of the escalation, a dialogue began between a man and a woman -- one which would continue for most of the ride. As the Flyer crept up and out of the boarding bay, I was bombarded by a heap of visual information, faced with a panoramic view of the city that apparently stretched up to parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.

Confronted with my first real look at what has been and is being done to this part of Singapore, I struggled to bring my attention back to the sounds being played. The couple's conversation carried on, sharing their thoughts on various experiences and observations in a way that seemed both attached and detached, leaving me a helpless listener trying to make sense of them and the estranged cityscape around me. The sprawling of massive construction sites, the various "places of interest" and the richer sectors of Singapore society, when paired with the reciprocal weaving of noises, made for a slow and painful but tragically beautiful ascent.

Unlike spell#7's previous audio works, which involve more movement from the audience, the siting of this work keeps the listener stuck in place -- listening, watching, pondering. Especially at certain points of the soundtrack's over twenty-minute duration when there was a sudden, complete silence, and I was left alone for moments confronting the view, I came to realise how far above I was, and could let the experience really sink in.

Upon reaching the highest point of elevation, the mp3 audio stream overlapped with an announcement made through the capsule's loudspeakers. "You are now on top of the world", said the machine. It's a statement which inadvertently reveals where the Singapore state wants to be as well -- on top of the world, a global city, a hub for anything and anyone (including perhaps even members of the widely despised Myanmar junta). The mp3 audio track then burst into a wall of intense sounds, one strong enough to make me imagine that I was surrounded by a raging storm in the sky, the entire facade around me crashing down.

With the work opening to the public on September the 11th and with a title like Sky Duet, one might assume the work is making some sort of reference to the collapse of the World Trade Centre Twin Towers seven years ago. But according to the artists, the ideas that inform this soundtrack are of "machine and the body, the body and the landscape, of fading memories in a fading body, of life cycles and the elements". These ideas surface at various points in the work, where the listener could can easily find a relation between the spoken and reproduced sounds to the surrounding physical space.

Taking many research rides, the three artists involved -- Kaylene Tan, Paul Rae and Evan Tan -- approached the project with individual perspectives and formed distinguishable responses that successfully amalgamate Evan Tan's synthesised melodies. A sense of acute observation and active engagement with the environment is evident throughout this collaboration.

Sky Duet is being presented at a time when the Singapore state has made obvious its desires to promote the financial prospects of contemporary art and the F1 Grand Prix race (I'm surprised they didn't coincide these events with the Great Singapore Sale as well). In spite of the risk of being co-opted within the state's designs to exploit the confluences of art and wealth, one leaves the experience of Sky Duet with an appreciation of its artistic integrity intact. The art work makes full use of its situated space and cultural context, and engages both space and context critically and sensitively.

The recording and its relations to the multifarious barrage of sights gives the work the capability to notably alter one's journey to the "top of the world and back". This is not quite the complimentary and "wonderful" image that Singapore is trying, quite literally, to carve out for itself. Sky Duet nudges the listener to address the reality of their experience and question where they, and the city around them, are really going.

Mr Seelan Palay is a local visual artist and activist. He has written for the previous issue of Article and FOCAS 6 and writes his own blog: http://seelanpalay.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 29, 2009

And it's not even February yet.

Singapore: We just sent off Moe, our Burmese activist friend, at the airport. He is in Indonesia now under a refugee status after being expelled from Singapore.

Malaysia: 22 year-old Kugan Ananthan dies in police custody. Malaysian Indian community infuriated because this has not been the first time, and may not be the last.

Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka in humanitarian crisis. More than 300 civilians feared killed in the last 24 hours.


Zimbabwe: When Africa's heads of state meet this Sunday, they will be greeted by a crowd of hunger strikers, calling for justice and democracy in Zimbabwe. Join the fast this Sunday.

Gaza: Reporters Without Borders went to the Israeli embassy in Paris and, in a symbolic gesture, handed a copy of the call signed by 160 international news media to restore media access to the Gaza Strip.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Singapore Opposition Unity? (Public forum)

Opposition - Where To?
Singapore Democrats

In an age of democratic change, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong continues to insist that a one-party system is good for Singapore. This is regardless of what the opposition and Singaporeans at large think and want.

But even as we debate on whether such a one-party state is desirable for this country, what are opposition parties doing to build confidence among the electorate for support? Is greater Opposition unity and cooperation a necessary, or even important, factor in attracting votes? Or is the authoritarian system making elections in Singapore a non-starter?

Also does civil society and the blogging community have a role to play in helping to develop a multi-party system? Given the state of politics here, is it desirable for the political opposition and civil society to work closer together to promote democracy? If so, in what ways?

These are important questions that will be tackled at a public forum organised by the Singapore Democrats entitled Opposition - Where To?:

Date: 7 Feb 09, Saturday
Time
: 2-5 pm
Venue
: Copthorne Orchid Hotel, 214 Dunearn Road
Admission
: Free

We are honoured to have the following party and civil society leaders as panel speakers:

1. Desmond Lim, Secretary-General, Singapore Democratic Alliance

2. Ng Teck Siong, Chairman, Reform Party
3. Sin Kek Tong, Chariman, Singapore People's Party
4. Sebastian Teo, President, National Solidarity Party
5. Gandhi Ambalam, Chairman, Singapore Democratic Party

Representing civil society are:

1. Chia Ti Lik, blogger and activist
2. Mohd Jufrie, activist and former election candidate
3. Ng E-jay, blogger and activist
4. Tan Kin Lian, blogger and financial activist
5. Seelan Palay, blogger and activist

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sri Lanka: State And Conscience

By Chandi Sinnathurai, 23 January 2009
Source: Countercurrents.org

The bombing of hospitals, schools, homes and even whole villages is becoming a common sight in the Tamil territories. Sadly, the life of civilians is at its cheapest. So cheap, that even democratic Governments in the West seem to think, in the context of the so-called 'War on terror' human life plays only a minor roll. The demarcation line between a "Terrorist" and a "Civilian" is blurred.

It is reported on Thursday 22nd that on Wednesday night an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and the Surgical Unit of the Mullaitivu make-shift hospital situated in the "Secure Zone" came under artillery fire from the Sri Lanka state forces. 5 killed and 15 wounded - according to the Regional Director of Health.

Tamilnet correspondent who visited the scene said that 'there are dead bodies of civilians strewn under trees, and side of the road near the hospital. This is one of the worst inhuman scenes' he reported.

It boggles one's mind to understand the psyche of the Sinhala Buddhist state in which the Sangha upholds the doctrine of the sanctity of life including the life of an ant. Even the foetus inside a chicken's egg is so very precious and sacred.

But, when it comes to the life of a Tamil - a "human other" the state terror machine unleashes its lethal force, with the blessing of the Sangha.

Rajapaksha regime in its lust for blood stops at nothing. It plays with the emotions of the masses, evoking the passions in the name of patriotism, dividing communities on ethnic lines, every Tamil is a suspect, a potential 'terrorist' - hence there is no difference between a Tiger and Tamil civilian.

One thing must be said, a true Tamil, at this crucial juncture, must uphold the dignity of a human person at any cost. There is no reason for us to hate the Sinhalas. As Mandela once said, we must refuse to listen to our blood (emotions) even when its hot and rushing to our head. We must listen to our head.

Tamils must refuse to hate. But fight we must, heads held high, for our human right to live as equal citizens in the land of our forbearers. Tamils are not "Late comers" as some one has suggested.

This land is my land and this land is your land. Let us find a way to live without blood shed, but with decency and dignity and respecting one another.

Until such time, the Sinhalas are not free.

Seelan: Also check out our local anti-war group, WorldWithoutWar.Sg's Chinese New Year message here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

My speech at NSP's Budget event

Happy Chinese New Year holidays to all. Below is the speech I made on 23 January 2009 at NSP's Budget event.


Click here for a TOC report which features the speeches of NSP members.

Here is a scan of the Straits Times report on the event (Click for full size):



Sunday, January 25, 2009

Updates on previous posts

1. Added Malaysiakini's video report in Malaysia: 21 charged with illegal assembly.

2. Added full synopsis and censored lines to the post on the play I, Bose.

3. Added video, From MLK to Today, to tribute post on Martin Luther King.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Malaysia: 21 charged with illegal assembly

Seelan: Is the Malaysian government learning from Singapore? I thought we were the ones around this area most famous for abusing repressive laws the British left us.

The Star
: A total of 21 people, including a Member of Parliament (MP), two state assemblymen and a Catholic priest, were charged in the Magistrates Court here with taking part in an illegal assembly and failing to disperse when ordered to do so.

Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua, Selangor executive council member Ronnie Liu, Kampong Tunku state assemblyman Lau Weng San, Reverend Father Paulino Francesco Miranda of the Church of Divine Mercy and the rest all pleaded not guilty.

Read more

Malaysiakini video report


Filming an illegal event is… illegal?

Seelan: Obviously this entire law is to counter Martyn See, Choon Hiong and others like The Online Citizen who have been effective in showing Singaporeans what the government-controlled media does not. Read Martyn See’s & Choon Hiong's takes on the issue.

Source: The Online Citizen

Will recording or filming of events which are considered illegal in law now itself be considered illegal? This is what the Home Affairs Ministry seems to propose to amendments of the Films Act.

Does this mean that no one is allowed or will be allowed to film an illegal protest, for example?

The following is a copy of the report in the Straits Times, January 23 - which was published at the bottom of page C6.



Also read Ganga Sudhan's "My Dear Government, Why Do You Treat Me So?".

Friday, January 23, 2009

BUDGET - NSP takes to Speakers’ Corner on Friday (Today)


A day after Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam delivers the Budget speech, the National Solidarity Party will take to Speakers' Corner to give its views.

Its secretary general, Mr Ken Sunn, says the event is to let Singaporeans "participate, speak and hear various views and opinions on the Singapore Government's 2009 Budget statement, and discuss ways to improve our Singapore Economy."

The Speakers include its president, Mr Sebastian Teo, and former NCMP Steve Chia.

The event begins at 6.30pm and is scheduled to end at 8.30PM this Friday (23 Jan) at Hong Lim Park.

The list of speakers is as follows:

Sebastian Teo

Steve Chia Kiah Hong

Yip Yew Weng

Elvin Ong

Seelan Palay

Ng E Jay

Subhas Chandra Bose (23.01.1897 - Unknown)


Subhas Chandra Bose, popularly known as Netaji ("Respected Leader"), is one of the most respected politicians of modern India. And though some may disagree with his methods, one cannot deny that he was a man of conviction who gave his all in the struggle for a free India.

It might be of interest to readers that he was in Malaysia and Singapore too for a period of time. Some of his travels, views and experiences were portrayed in 2007 in a brilliant theatre production entitled, I, Bose, by local playwright Elangovan and his group, Agni Koothu.

To read and research more about the fascinating Bose in history, visit here, here and here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

BBC News: Obama to receive Singapore plea

Source: BBC News

The leader of a Singapore opposition party has posted a video message asking for US President Obama's support.

Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party, posted his "message to President Obama" on the video sharing website YouTube.

Mr Chee said he hopes that the US "will pay more attention to the human rights abuses of the Singapore government".

Mr Chee has been jailed several times and faces multiple charges of defying local protest laws and other offences.

His Youtube message began with congratulations to Mr Obama, describing his inauguration as "an occasion of great moment".

He reminded the US president of his words on International Human Rights Day in December 2008, when he had aligned the US with "men and women around the world who struggle for the rights to speak their minds, choose their leaders and be treated with dignity and respect".

'Clever repression'

Mr Chee then spoke of the many men and women around Asia suffering in that struggle, notably Burmese opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest.

Mr Chee expressed the hope that with Mr Obama in charge, it could not be "repression as usual" in Burma, and that "urgent change must come" to the country ruled by a military junta.

In Singapore, Mr Chee claimed, repression was exercised through the "clever use" of terms such as rule of law and good governance "to cover up what is effectively a dictatorship".

"How else do we describe a government prohibits public speech and peaceful assembly controls media, detains citizens without trial and manipulates elections?" he said.

He expressed the hope that Mr Obama might "take positive steps to help Singapore join the community of democracies."

"Under your leadership I look forward to a world that is freer, more democratic and more just," said Mr Chee.

Economic concerns


Mr Chee's YouTube message includes pictures apparently of poor Singaporeans living in cardboard boxes - an allusion to growing economic distress in a state that has made impressive economic success a key plank of its appeal at the ballot box.

The Singapore government has announced a new low in the level of economic performance expected this year - a contraction of between 2% and 5%. Singapore President SR Nathan sent his own congratulatory message to Mr Obama in which he expressed the hope that the US would provide new economic leadership.

Mr Nathan noted the close ties between Singapore and the US which he described as longstanding, close, multifaceted and versatile.

The Straits Times newspaper in Singapore carried a brief report about Mr Chee's message without comment on Wednesday. In the past the government has dismissed complaints about restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly as without substance.

A park is designated as a space for free speech in Singapore; outside that area, gatherings of more than five people need official permission.

Mr Chee is one of the few Singaporeans who have publicly spoken against Singapore's People's Action Party, which has ruled since 1959.

Singapore's leaders say tough laws against dissent and other political activity are necessary to ensure the stability which has helped the city-state achieve economic success.

Philip Jeyaretnam: Remove perception of government intervention in legal profession

Source: The Online Citizen

By Choo Zheng Xi

23 year old amendments to the Legal Profession Act curtailing the Law Society’s powers continues to be a hindrance to the perception of the legal profession’s independence.

This was the view put forward yesterday by Ex-Law Society President Philip Jeyaretnam at the Institute of Policy Studies’ (IPS) annual seminar, Singapore Perspectives.

Mr Jeyaretnam recounted the difficulty he had explaining to the China Bar Association why the Minister of Law continued to have the power to appoint members of the Law Society’s executive committee. He noted that “even China has abolished government appointment to the Chinese Bar Association.”

Section 48 (1) (c) of the Legal Profession Act (LPA) allows ‘3 advocates and solicitors appointed by the Minister to sit on the Council’. The full executive committee consists of 21 members.

Another section of the LPA that Mr Jeyaretnam viewed as a “serious misstep” was Section 38 (1) (c), which limits the Law Society to commenting only on legislation ‘submitted to it’.

Both amendments were introduced as part of a group of amendments to the Legal Profession Act in August 1986 as a government reaction against the then President of the Law Society Francis Seow’s criticism of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. The government at that time accused Seow of using the Law Society as a political vehicle.

Mr Jeyaretnam raised these two laws in the context of the panel titled “Can Government Do Less, and Singaporeans Do More?”

He used these as examples of what he identified as an attitude in government that “political competition is not a good thing” and a “fear that citizen groups might evolve into an alternative political entity”. As a result, he said, “citizens become fearful of being associated with such groups.”

Touching on the importance of the need to provide space for contrary views in the legal profession, Mr Jeyaretnam said that “an independent judiciary depends on the independence of the legal profession.”

In relation to the restrictions on the Law Society, he said that “if you don’t provide that space, you’re shortchanging the profession.”

In contrast to the limitations in Singapore, Mr Jeyaretnam cited the Law Council of Australia’s vocal opposition to the Australian government’s detention without trial of Indian doctor Muhammad Haneef on flimsy terrorism charges.

“The LCA was first off the bat in criticizing the detention, and they were vindicated when [Haneef] the Australian courts ruled that his detention was illegal.”

Returning to the broader theme of the balance between state intervention and citizenship participation, Mr Jeyaretnam concluded by urging a paradigm shift in mindsets.

“The mantra that Singapore is too small for us to rock the boat should be changed. Singapore is too small for people not to row their own boats.”

Read about Philip Jeyaretnam here. http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_453_2005-01-14.html

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dr Chee Soon Juan's message to President Obama

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)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

4000 Indian workers exploited in Singapore, Malaysia

Seelan: If you know of any migrant workers that need help urgently, please contact TWC2 and HOME, 2 local NGOs that focus on transient worker welfare.

Workers (I'd stress on manual labourers) from China are also being ill treated and many have been recently shipped out without proper "closure". A whole series of articles on that entitled "Muddy Singapore swallows China workers" is available at yawningbread.org

4000 Indian workers exploited in Singapore, Malaysia
Source: Express News Service

CHENNAI: About 4,000 Indian domestic workers in Singapore and Malaysia are subjected to abuse and sexual exploitation by their employers, most of whom hail from Tamil Nadu, according to Qudsia Gandhi, chairman and MD, Overseas Manpower Corporation-Tamil Nadu.

The domestic workers are also misled into believing that they will be paid well, she told reporters at a function to mark National Domestic Workers Day, organised by the Tamil Nadu Domestic Workers Movement, on Sunday. “Most often the work promised by the employers is never offered,” she said.

With negligible or no job security in place, the Indian domestic workers, most of whom hail from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, lead a precarious life in those countries.

Asked about the action being taken to alleviate the workers suffering, she said NGOs would soon be taken into confidence and measures to counter the atrocities would be discussed with them. “We will submit a petition to the Chief Minister and, if necessary, approach the Centre to stem the evil.”

Earlier, U Vasuki, State aecretary, All India Democratic Women’s Federation, said it was time for domestic workers to stand up and fight for their rights.

The plight of domestic workers earned public sympathy after initiating various awareness programmes, she said adding it was important for employers who hired the workers to show magnanimity towards them.

A memorandum will be submitted to the Chief Minister and the Labor Secretary by coordinators of the Tamil Nadu Domestic Workers Movement on Monday to highlight their demands including stipulation of fixed wages for domestic workers, besides total abolition of child labour in domestic households in the state.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Human Rights Watch's Report 2009: Singapore remains an authoritarian state

Source: Human Rights Watch

The 19th annual World Report summarizes human rights conditions in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide. It reflects extensive investigative work undertaken in 2008 by Human Rights Watch staff, usually in close partnership with human rights activists in the country in question.

Sixty years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the governments demonstrating the clearest vision on international rights protections, sadly, are those seeking to undermine enforcement. In their foreign policies and in international fora, they invoke sovereignty, non-interference, and Southern solidarity to curb criticism of their human rights abuses and those of their allies and friends. Governments that champion human rights need urgently to wrest back the initiative from these human rights spoilers.

Singapore

Event of 2008


Singapore remains an authoritarian state with strict curbs on freedom of expression, assembly, and association; denial of due process rights; draconian defamation laws; and tight controls on independent political activity. Since 1959 the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has won all elections.

Internal security and criminal laws permit prolonged detention of suspects without trial. Caning is obligatory for certain categories of crimes, as is the death penalty for others. Although reforms have improved employment conditions for some of the country's 180,000 migrant domestic workers, the government still fails to guarantee them basic rights.

Freedom of Expression and Assembly

Singapore's constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and expression, though parliament can and does limit both on security, public order, and morality grounds. Opposition politicians and their supporters are at constant risk of prison and substantial fines for simply expressing their views.

On October 13, 2008, Singapore's High Court ruled that opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Secretary General Dr. Chee Soon Juan and his sister, Chee Siok Chin, must pay Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, US$416,000 in damages for an article in the SDP's newsletter. The article had compared how the government is run to a scandal at a well-known charity. The ruling may bankrupt the SDP and permanently shut it down. Dr. Chee and Ms. Chee are already bankrupt because of previous defamation rulings against them.

In September 2008 the Lees also won a defamation suit against the Far Eastern Economic Review and its editor Hugo Restall for commentary on the same case. Damages had yet to be assessed at this writing. The government is also seeking contempt proceedings against the publisher and two editors of the Asian Wall Street Journal for editorial comments related to the case.

In May Dr. Chee and a colleague were fined for speaking in public without a permit during the 2006 election campaign. They were charged with trying to sell copies of the SDP newsletter on a Singapore street.

Movies, music, and video games are routinely censored in Singapore. The Media Development Authority controls website licensing. In May 2008 the authority interrupted a private screening, sponsored by the SDP, of the video One Nation Under Lee.

The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act requires that locally published newspapers renew their licenses each year, and empowers authorities to limit the circulation of foreign publications deemed to "be engaging in the domestic politics of Singapore."

How far Singapore's leadership will loosen curbs on assembly and expression, as Prime Minister Loong suggested in August 2008, remains to be seen. The only step taken in 2008 was the government's decision in September to rescind the need for police permission for gatherings and rallies of more than four people at a popular park site officially labeled the Speaker's Corner. Race and religion still may not be publicly discussed, police may still intervene on public order grounds, and a permit is still required elsewhere in the city.

In March, on World Consumer Rights Day, police stopped a protest against rising prices outside Parliament House. The organizers, among them Dr. Chee, had been refused a permit; 18 protesters have since been charged with illegal assembly and procession. A day after the attempted rally, the non-political Consumer Association of Singapore was able to hold a public event without incident.

Due Process

Singapore's Internal Security Act (ISA), Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLA), Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), and Undesirable Publications Act permit arrest and detention of suspects without a warrant or judicial review. Both the ISA and the CLA also authorize preventive detention. The MDA permits the Central Narcotics Bureau chief to send suspected drug users for rehabilitation without recourse to trial.

The ISA is used against suspected Islamist militants, many of whom have been detained for long periods without trial. There is no right to challenge detention on substantive grounds. As of April 2008 some 30 suspected Muslim militants were being held, almost all members of Jemaah Islamiah. Another 25-30 former detainees live under restriction orders.

Caning

Singapore's penal code mandates caning combined with imprisonment for some 30 offenses, including drug and immigration felonies. It is discretionary for other offenses. Courts reportedly sentenced 6,404 men and boys to caning in 2007, some 95 percent of whose sentences were carried out.

Death Penalty

Although death penalty statistics are secret in Singapore, available information indicates that it has one of the world's highest per capita execution rates. In December 2007 Singapore joined with 53 other states in voting against a nonbinding UN General Assembly resolution calling for "a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty." Earlier, Singapore's home affairs minister, referring to the law's deterrent effects, commented that "there is no room to go soft."

Migrant Domestic Workers

Singapore's labor laws exclude some 180,000 migrant domestic workers from key protections guaranteed to other workers, such as a weekly day off, limits on working hours, annual leave, paid holidays, and caps on salary deductions. In May 2008 acting Minister for Manpower Gan Kim Yong said it was unnecessary to mandate a weekly rest day. He instead supported the current standard contract provision that provides for at least one day off a month or compensatory pay. However, many employers forbid domestic workers to take a rest day; their isolation and employers' power to have them deported at will make it difficult if not impossible for them to bargain effectively for their due.

The government has prosecuted some employers who physically abuse domestic workers and imposed penalties on labor recruitment agencies for unethical practices. However it has failed to regulate exploitative recruitment charges that can consume a third or more of workers' two-year wage total.

Privacy

In October 2007 Singapore's parliament rejected a proposal to repeal law 377A, which bans private and consensual sexual relations between men. Although prosecutions are rare, those found in violation can be jailed for up to two years on charges of "gross indecency."

In April 2008 the Media Development Authority fined a local television station for featuring a gay couple and their baby under regulations that prohibit promotion of gay lifestyles. It also fined a cable network for airing a commercial that showed two women kissing.

Human Rights Defenders

State laws and political repression effectively prevent the establishment of human rights organizations and deter individuals from speaking out publicly against government policies.

Unless they are registered as political parties, associations may not engage in any activities the government deems political. Trade unions are under the same restrictions and are banned from contributing to political parties or using their funds for political purposes. Most unions are affiliated with the umbrella National Trade Union Congress, which does not allow members supportive of opposition parties to hold office.

Key International Actors

Singapore is a key member of the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism, along with the US, Malaysia, and others, and is an active participant in regional and sub-regional security issues. It is also an important financial and banking center for Southeast Asia.

In February 2008 Singapore Foreign Minister George Yong-Boon Yeo, then chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), expressed ASEAN's concern about the conditions under which Burma's constitutional referendum took place. Since July 2008, after Singapore's term as chair of ASEAN ended, the government has shown more support for Burma's government, even refusing to renew residency permits for Burmese citizens who appear to have taken part in peaceful activities critical of Burmese government policies.

http://www.hrw.org/en/node/79247

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Letter from the Grave - Lasantha Wickramatunga

Letter from the Grave
Source: The New Yorker

Last Thursday, Lasantha Wickramatunga, who was fifty-two years old and the editor of a Sri Lankan newspaper called the Sunday Leader, was assassinated on his way to work by two gunmen riding motorcycles. The Leader’s investigative reporting had been fiercely critical of the government and of the conduct of its war against Tamil separatists; Wickramatunga had been attacked before. He knew that he was likely to be murdered and so he wrote an essay with instructions that it be published only after his own death. Some mutual friends in the region sent a copy to me today. Read it in full below. It is like nothing else you will read today, that I promise.

A very brief bit of context: Sri Lanka’s government, drawing support from the island’s Sinhalese ethnic majority, has been at war since the nineteen-eighties with various militant separatist groups representing the country’s Tamil ethnic minority. In recent years, the war has narrowed to a contest between government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and others. The L.T.T.E. purports to speak for the aspirations of Tamil civilians, but it has conducted its campaign with child soldiers, suicide bombers, and other horrors. For its part, the Sri Lankan government has arranged for the disappearance and murder of uncounted numbers of Tamils, just as it “disappeared” and murdered thousands of its own Sinhalese citizens during an earlier period of counterinsurgency.

The country’s current president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is referred to in Wickramatunga’s essay, came to power emphasizing human rights and reform but has more recently pursued a military solution to his L.T.T.E. problem. Sri Lankan troops have lately marched deep into Tamil territory under a heavy veil of media censorship. Local journalists have been accused of disloyalty to the war, which has inspired or created a pretext for attacks against them and their offices. Wickramatunga believed that he would be killed, and the Sri Lankan government would be responsible for his murder.

According to media reports from Sri Lanka, the government has condemned Wickramatunga’s murder and ordered an investigation. Sri Lankan journalists and others today staged a silent march in Colombo, the capital, to protest his killing. Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group devoted to protecting journalists, issued a statement about Wickramatunga’s murder that said, “President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his associates and the government media are directly to blame because they incited hatred against him and allowed an outrageous level of impunity to develop as regards violence against the press.”

Here is his essay:

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honor to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The Sunday Leader’s 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.

Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognizing the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries. Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.

But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning. Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognize that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic… well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you’d best stop buying this paper.

The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by unquestioningly articulating the majority view. Let’s face it, that is the way to sell newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we often voice ideas that many people find distasteful. For example, we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urged government to view Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens. For these views we have been labeled traitors, and if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly.

Many people suspect that The Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition it is only because we believe that - pray excuse cricketing argot - there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the UNP was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred. Indeed, the steady stream of embarrassing exposes we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.

Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organizations ever to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship.

What is more, a military occupation of the country’s north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering “development” and “reconstruction” on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen - and all of the government - cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.

It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government’s sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.

The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, Mahinda and I have been friends for more than a quarter century. Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few people remaining who routinely addresses him by his first name and uses the familiar Sinhala address oya when talking to him. Although I do not attend the meetings he periodically holds for newspaper editors, hardly a month passes when we do not meet, privately or with a few close friends present, late at night at President’s House. There we swap yarns, discuss politics and joke about the good old days. A few remarks to him would therefore be in order here.

Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to the SLFP presidential nomination in 2005, nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than in this column. Indeed, we broke with a decade of tradition by referring to you throughout by your first name. So well known were your commitments to human rights and liberal values that we ushered you in like a breath of fresh air. Then, through an act of folly, you got yourself involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, at the same time urging you to return the money. By the time you did so several weeks later, a great blow had been struck to your reputation. It is one you are still trying to live down.

You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well that my sons and daughter do not themselves have a father.

In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.

Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you. Indeed, your conduct has been like a small child suddenly let loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps inapt because no child could have caused so much blood to be spilled on this land as you have, or trampled on the rights of its citizens as you do. Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish.

As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. And I have not travelled this journey alone. Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most of them are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the shadow of death that your Presidency has cast on the freedoms for which you once fought so hard. You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice. I feel sorry for you, and Shiranthi will have a long time to spend on her knees when next she goes for Confession for it is not just her owns sins which she must confess, but those of her extended family that keeps you in office.

As for the readers of The Sunday Leader, what can I say but Thank You for supporting our mission. We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty so swollen with power that they have forgotten their roots, exposed corruption and the waste of your hard-earned tax rupees, and made sure that whatever the propaganda of the day, you were allowed to hear a contrary view. For this I - and my family - have now paid the price that I have long known I will one day have to pay. I am - and have always been - ready for that. I have done nothing to prevent this outcome: no security, no precautions. I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remains to be written is when.

That The Sunday Leader will continue fighting the good fight, too, is written. For I did not fight this fight alone. Many more of us have to be - and will be - killed before The Leader is laid to rest. I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your President to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish. Not all the Rajapakses combined can kill that.

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niemoller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niemoller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niem0ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: The Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Report: Anti-War Protest In JB

Source: WorldWithoutWar.SG

On 10 January 2009, Gabungan Anti-Perang Johor (GAPJ), a coalition of civil society groups in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, organised a protest against the wars in Palestine and Sri Lanka. Khalis and Shafi’ie of WorldWithoutWar.SG were in attendance, and the following is their report on the event.

At 5:15pm, about 10 activists initiated a march from the Pejabat Pos Besar opposite the City Square. They were holding 5 banners with messages such as, “Support peace for the Palestinians”, ” War kills more women and kids than soldiers” and placards stating “McD, Pepsi and Coke funds Israel” and “Stop Funding Israeli Army”.

The group proceeded on the pavement along Jalan Wong Ah Fook towards the bridge near Jalan Suleiman and continued towards City Square Shopping Centre, stopping in front of McDonald’s and Starbucks restaurants to distribute leaflets to publicise the issue. Anti-war songs were also sung to help communicate that companies like these have been financing the Israeli army, directly or indirectly. Motorists slowed down and honked while passers-bys joined in to support.

Later on, the banners were placed on the pavement near Plaza Seni, for the public to pen down their sentiments against the violence in Palestine and Sri Lanka. It was evident from the opinions and emotional messages left by the public that they understand and are affected by the crisis that has struck both these regions.

The vigil proper, organised by Gabungan Anti-Perang Johor (GAPJ) / Anti-War Coalition Johor, started at around 7:00pm. Some of the 30 activists gathered performed songs for peace as others arranged candles in the shape of the Peace symbol. Some among the crowd of 100 public supporters joined in the singing as more people came streaming towards to the event. The singing was followed by a reading of the declaration of GAPJ in Malay, Tamil and Chinese by Ms Nina, Ms Shantha and Ms Leong respectively.

Mr Choo, one prominent activist, said in his closing address ” The struggle has not ceased because conflicts still exist. That’s why we have to carry on until there is peace throughout the world”. The event ended with the organisers thanking the public for their support and exclamations of “Bebas! Bebas! Bebas Palestine! Bebas! Bebas! Bebas Eelam!” (Free! Free! Free Palestine! Free! Free! Free Eelam!).

Addenda : Despite the PM Abdullah’s comment that people can demonstrate for peace and against Israeli aggression, 21 activists were arrested in KL at about 9pm. Activists in JB were puzzled as to why the arrest had taken place.

Declaration of Gabungan Anti-Perang Johor (GAPJ)

Anti-War Coalition Johor Against Israeli Aggression Towards Gaza

Israel has launched fresh attacks on Gaza on 27 Dec 2008, with air strikes followed be land assaults. The death toll in Gaza had exceeded 500 and thousands more injured in the Israeli aggression.

The Israeli army’s assault on Gaza is an act of mass murder. The following actions are intended to topple the democratically elected Hamas government.

Since June 2007, Gaza has become the biggest refugee camp in the world with 1.5 million people living in bad conditions, caused by Israel’s economic blockade on essentials such as food, water, fuel and medical equipments.

The latest aggression by Israel have worsened the humanitarian crisis. It is a serious war crime.

The US has to take responsibility on the massacre in Gaza, for supplying Israel with advanced weaponry. The US government had decided to continue military aid to Israel. Support for Israel is an imperialist agenda to dominate the Middle East region.

At the same time, in Sri Lanka, confrontation between the Sri Lanka Army and the LTTE have intensified since the end of the ceasefire agreement by the Sri Lanka government on Nov 2005. More than 4000 lives have been lost since and about 70 000 more lives officially reported dead since the civil war began in 1983. Many victims are Tamil civilians.

The current actions by the Sri Lanka government in closing the ‘trunk-live’ road, disrupting food and medicine distribution and constant attacks on public places have worsened civilian life.

GAPJ supports Palestinians in resisting Israeli aggression that practise apartheid and imperialism.

We demand that:

1) Israeli army retreat from Gaza at once and stop the blockade

2) USA must stop all military aid to Israel

3) US cease “War on Terror” by pulling out troops from Iraq and Afghanistan

4) Sri Lanka government must end attacks on civilians in Sri Lanka

Demand for peace by Palestinians and Sri Lankans is a demand by all!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Singapore is my second home

Story by Ching Ann Jie for The Online Citizen

When Mr Moe Kyaw Thu took part in a protest to support the Burmese people’s struggle for freedom in November 2007, he did not realise that he was putting his own future in Singapore at stake.

Mr Moe is now racing against time. His work permit expires on 20th January and all his earlier three appeals to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for extension have been rejected. He has appealed to the President and the Prime Minister of Singapore in a last ditch attempt at trying to avoid being deported.

In November 2007, Mr Moe had taken part in the Orchard Road protest by about 40 Burmese nationals. The protest was held at the same time that Singapore, the chair of ASEAN then, was hosting the ASEAN Summit at the Shangri-la hotel. The protesters had marched down Orchard Road, wearing red t-shirts and holding placards calling for ASEAN and the UN special envoy Professor Ibrahim Gambari to take a harder stance towards the Burmese military junta. (See here.)

More than one year on, Mr Moe, who has not been warned or called up by the police for any investigation with regards to the protest, is being asked to leave Singapore. In all his appeals to the MOM, he was not given any reasons why his work permit was not being renewed. The only answers he has received from the ministry were terse, such as the one given to him on 16 December last year. It said simply:

We have reviewed your appeal but regret that it is not successful. Our decision to reject your appeal still stands.

Rejection after rejection – but no reason given

Mr Moe, 35, has been working in Singapore since 1997 with Sembawang Engineers and Constructors Pte Ltd. He is currently involved as a site supervisor (purchasing and administration) with the LTA’s Circle Line (Stage 5) project.

Mr Moe’s problems started in November 2008, when his applications for a S-pass and a renewal of his work permit were rejected. No reason was given for this rejection, even though his employer was willing to extend the term of his employment.

He appealed to MOM in an email dated 25 November 2008, stating that he felt that he was “being punished under a generalised misunderstanding” with the Overseas Burmese Patriots (OBP) – of which he is not a member. Neither is he a member of any Burmese organization. Unlike the members of the OBP, Mr Moe did not have his particulars taken down by the police, and has never been called to the police station for an interview. (Members of the OBP have encountered problems in having their permits renewed, as documented in yawningbread.org)

This appeal was rejected.

Still determined, Mr Moe sent another email on 16th December, asking for “compassionate support to rescue my life from ending in a Burma jail” as his picture and name had been prominently featured in newspapers and video clips about the May 2008 referendum, where more than a thousand Burmese visited their embassy in Singapore to cast their votes. Mr Moe wrote that he feared he would be charged by the military junta for disrupting the referendum and public tranquility, or violating the press law if he returns to Burma.

This appeal was rejected, and again, no reason was given.

Together with his friend, Mr Moe headed down to the Ministry of Manpower on the 2nd of January 2009 to personally appeal to the authorities. They met an officer there and spoke for 45 minutes about the problems he would face by leaving Singapore. Mr Moe says the officer confided that she could not share the reason why his pass could not be renewed. She then told him to send another appeal, saying that MOM would reply accordingly.

In his last appeal to MOM dated 3rd January, Mr Moe asked to be allowed to stay in Singapore for a period of 6 months to a year so that he could arrange for relocation to another country.

This appeal was rejected once more without explanation.

“Contempt for the law” but no prosecution?

The authorities’ press release on 12 January about the arrest of the two activists (see here and here) who protested in support of the two Burmese finally gave some concrete reason for the non-renewal of work permits for Mr Moe and his friend, Mr Win Kyaw, who is also being asked to leave Singapore. (Read MHA and MOM’s press release here.) It stated,

“They have shown in their actions and attitude a wilful disregard and contempt for the law and the Singapore authorities.”

Mr Moe does not deny his involvement in the Orchard Road protest, the candlelight vigil outside the Myanmar Embassy (both in 2007), and other events. But he questioned the authorities’ press statement, saying, “If we broke the law, why don’t they bring us to court?” he asked. “It’s not fair. If they mention the law, they should charge us.”

“In September 2007, after the PM and foreign minister’s announcement, we thought the Singapore government was helping us to support [the] pro-democracy [movement],” he says of the public statements by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo, who had said:

… we could not stay silent when the Government violently cracked down on peaceful demonstrators including Buddhist monks. ASEAN would have lost all credibility otherwise. Developments in Myanmar cast a pall on the entire region and have been raised at the UN Security Council. ASEAN’s policy of non-interference cannot be rigidly applied when internal developments in a member country affect the rest of us. (Source)

What Mr Moe cannot understand is why the government renewed the work permit of his friend, Mr Win, in January of 2008 if, as the MOM and MHA said in its latest press release, that they had shown “contempt for the law.”

Mr Moe asks why it has taken one year for the authorities to take action. He also questions whether such actions were arbitrary and selective. He pointed out that of the 40 who took part in the 2007 protest, some were called up for police interviews, others were not called up at all, while now some are having their work permits not renewed for taking part in the protest. But none have been charged under the law. “Why don’t they charge all 40 who took part in the protest?” he asks. “Why not treat everyone equally?”

The Ministry of Home Affairs, in August 2008, had said that some Burmese had “persistently ignored police warnings in the past year”.

Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Wong Kan Seng, had cited the “persistent defiance of the laws”, in September 2008, by the Burmese as one of the reasons why the work permits of some Burmese had not been renewed.

“If we broke the law, why not charge us in 2007?” Mr Moe asks. “Their words and actions are different.”

“I want to respect the law,” Mr Moe says. “If I break the law. I still want to go under the law. If they really want to do it by law, they charge us and our lives can go on.”

He stressed that the 2007 protest was a peaceful one and that the protesters had obeyed police instructions when approached. (See Straits Times report.)

All he is hoping for now is for the President and the Prime Minister to grant him his request – to remain in Singapore for 6 to 12 months so that he has time to look for another country to go to. “My return to Burma is of great concern affecting my life, my family, friends… prison for decades would be the severe result,” he said in his letter to the President and the PM.

Mr Moe has already booked an air ticket while he awaits an answer from the Istana. He is unsure of his future plans.

“Singapore is my second home,” he says, having lived here for 11 years. “You can say we are part of Singapore.”

He hopes to return to Burma one day under different circumstances. “I love my country. My dream is to live in my country,” he tells me. “A fully democratic country.”

————

Win Kyaw

Mr Win Kyaw, 39, has been in Singapore for 13 years and worked as an aircon technical officer at Nanyang Polytechnic. He too had taken part in the November 2007 protest but his application to renew his one-year work permit was approved in January 2008. Like Mr Moe, he had taken part in the protest as an individual and not as a member of any organization. In the wake of the destruction of cyclone Nagis which struck Burma in May 2008, Mr Win donated 10 per cent of his monthly salary to the victims.

His work permit expired on January 14.

He has left for Cambodia with his wife, who is a Singapore permanent resident.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. (15.01.1929 – 04.04.1968)

Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an African American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the American civil rights movement. His main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the United States and he is frequently referenced as a human rights icon today. Read more about him here.

From MLK to Today by Director Antoine Fuqua



The King of peace - Martin Luther King earns the Nobel Prize

"I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

This week (Dec. 10) in 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded what is arguably the world's most important and prestigious honor, the Nobel Peace Prize.

No recipient in the long history of Nobel prizes has deserved the award more than King deserved his. After all, he made America and the world a better place -- and at the cost of his life.

Almost from the moment King assumed the leadership of the civil rights movement during the boycott of the public transit system of Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, he found himself walking a very fine line.

As he put it, how could he lead a civil rights movement that was radical enough to arouse his followers into action, yet was moderate enough to stay true to Christian beliefs? "How do I keep them (his followers) courageous, yet devoid of hate and resentment?" he asked.

His answer was "radical moderation." He would pursue radical ends through moderate means. The ends were a transformation of American society.

The means were massive, non-violent protests against unjust, and therefore un-American, laws and practices at all government levels.

Speaking of fine lines, King also had to walk one between the entrenched white power establishment he was trying to convert and the more radical black leaders who thought non-violence was impractical, cumbersome and demeaning.

But King understood what Black Panther leaders such as Huey Newton did not -- that a widespread, disciplined and non-violent movement such as his was far more threatening to the white status quo than radical black leaders with guns.

After all, sporadic violence played right into the hands of the much-better-armed local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and had no chance of winning over the general public.

By contrast, peaceful protests, in which masses of people willingly submitted to beatings and jailings (all while the cameras were rolling), would make a huge impression on millions of fair-minded Americans.

Then there was the finest line of all that King walked -- the line between life and death. Between the countless threats and the many attempts on his life, King understood that he would probably not live to an old age. Yet that knowledge, combined with his deep religious faith, empowered him and gave him renewed courage.

"You may take my life," King once said. "But you can never take my right to life."

After all, a man unafraid to die truly is free. And one who dies for a great cause truly is deserving of great honor.

Kauffmann's e-mail address is bruce@historylessons.net.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Report on our arrest & joint response by MHA and MOM

2 arrested for protest
12 Jan 2009

ST photo, AFP report

POLICE on Monday arrested two Singaporean activists for staging a protest in support of Myanmar nationals allegedly being forced to leave the city-state for involvement in political activities.

Seelan Palay and Chong Kai Xiong stood outside the Ministry of Manpower's building in the city's business district for about an hour before they were handcuffed by police without showing any resistance.

They wore red T-shirts and held a banner that read 'Stop ill-treatment of Burmese activists'.

The protest was in support of two Myanmar nationals, Moe Kyaw Thu and Win Kyaw, whose work permits have not been renewed by Singapore, effectively forcing them to leave, Palay said.

He said the two men were among 40 Myanmar nationals who took part in a protest against their country's ruling junta during a summit of Southeast Asian leaders hosted by Singapore in November 2007.

'We can't just stand by as Singaporeans, as personal friends, and watch them being expelled one by one,' he said.

Moe Kyaw Thu told AFP that he was required to leave Singapore by January 27. Win Kyaw could not be contacted for comment on Monday.

The Ministry of Home Affairs did not immediately reply to emailed queries from AFP on the case of the Myanmar nationals. A few others who took part in the same protest in 2007 have also had their work permit renewals turned down.

Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng in September defended the government's decision not to renew the visas of some Myanmar nationals working or studying in the city-state, saying they were 'undesirable' people.

Singapore has eased rules governing protests in a designated public park but it remains illegal elsewhere to hold a public gathering of five or more people without a police permit.

Singapore is home to an estimated 30,000 Myanmar nationals, many of them drawn by jobs as labourers that pay far above what they could earn in their poverty-stricken homeland. - AFP.

Response to Media Queries on Arrests of Two Singaporeans who Staged a Protest in MOM


The following statement is jointly issued by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

12 January 2009

In response to media queries, Police confirm the arrests of two Singapore citizens, Seelan Palay and Chong Kai Xiong. At about 12 pm, the two entered the premises of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to stage a protest against the non-renewal of the work permits of some Myanmar nationals. They repeatedly defied orders from MOM’s security personnel to leave the premises. The Police were then called in for assistance against their trespass. The Police arrested them and are investigating them for the offence of criminal trespass. The two have since been released on bail.

2. The media has also inquired about MOM’s decision not to renew the work permits of a few Myanmar nationals. The many Myanmar nationals who work, study or reside in Singapore are welcomed. They are also free to organise and express their political views so long as these are pursued within the framework of our laws. This position applies to all foreigners living in Singapore. We similarly expect no less of Singaporeans when they go overseas and live in other countries.

3. A handful of Myanmar nationals here however has decided not to observe this basic obligation of respecting the laws of the land and the local sensitivities of its people. They have shown in their actions and attitude a wilful disregard and contempt for the law and the Singapore authorities. In fact, some of them who have acted in this manner, notwithstanding their having benefited from education subsidies and the hospitality of Singaporeans, even demand the right to stay in Singapore as if it is a matter of their personal entitlement. They threaten to lobby political pressure through the media and agitate foreign public opinion against the authorities so as to compel them to concede to their demands. These persons are not welcomed in Singapore. They should leave Singapore once their existing passes expire. They are free to leave for any country of their choice or any country which will have them.

4. Our laws apply equally to every person. No one is allowed to break the law with impunity regardless of how morally superior he thinks his cause is.

Source: Ministry of Manpower