Thursday, July 29, 2010

Human Rights Watch: Legal charges threat to freedom of expression

29 July 2010, Human Rights Watch.

British author’s critique of death penalty leads to arrest

(New York, July 28, 2010) – Singapore officials should cease using criminal defamation and contempt laws to silence government critics, Human Rights Watch said today. The arrest of Alan Shadrake, the 75-year-old British author of Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock, a critical review of Singapore’s death penalty law and its administration, further narrows the space for reporting and analysis of issues the government prefers to keep under tight control, Human Rights Watch said.

On July 16, 2010, the day before the book launch, the Media Development Authority, responsible for regulation of Singapore’s media and publishing industry, filed a police complaint against Shadrake for criminal defamation and contempt of court. The defamation charge is still under investigation. On the same day, Singapore’s attorney general submitted an affidavit saying that Shadrake should be “committed to prison or receive such other punishment … for his contempt of court … for bringing into existence, publication and distribution of the Book which contains passages that scandalize the Singapore Judiciary.” Supporting documents add that passages “undermine the authority of the Singapore courts and public confidence in the administration of justice…” If convicted, Shadrake faces a potential two-year sentence and fines.

“Free speech is an endangered species in Singapore,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s sadly predictable that the government did not hesitate to threaten prosecution, fines, and imprisonment against an author whose views run contrary to its own.”

Authorities arrested Shadrake, a death penalty opponent, on July 18, seized his passport, and released him on bail the following day. The court hearing on the contempt charge is set for July 30, but in the interim the 75-year-old author has been subjected to several days of police interrogation without benefit of counsel. Shadrake stated that the lengthy interrogation sessions left him exhausted, and his lawyer reported that he had been placed on a heart monitor.

Once a Jolly Hangman is based on interviews with a longtime executioner at Changi Prison who has now retired and with dozens of lawyers and death penalty opponents. Shadrake also reviewed years of court case files. He is outspoken in his suggestion that Singapore death penalty sentencing decisions are not always made through impartial and independent examination of the alleged crimes.

Human Rights Watch considers criminal penalties for defamation to be disproportionate and unduly harmful to freedom of expression. Many states have abandoned such laws, recognizing that civil defamation is generally adequate to protect the reputation of others.

Scandalizing the court, the contempt charge applied in Shadrake’s case, is a relic of British colonial law no longer in use in the UK or in other commonwealth countries such as Brunei, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Canada, but retained in Singapore. And although Singapore’s constitution protects free expression, it also specifically protects against contempt of court.

Another well known case was that of the academic Christopher Lingle and the International Herald Tribune, who were fined for contempt when Singapore’s High Court deemed that a reference in an October 7, 1994 op-ed article to “intolerant regimes” and a “compliant judiciary” could only refer to Singapore. In the 2009 case of Attorney-General v. Hertzberg, the High Court rejected the proposition that contempt had to pose a “real risk” to the administration of justice and affirmed that conviction could be based merely on the “inherent tendency” of words to suggest bias, impropriety, or other judicial wrongdoing.

“All the government’s action will do is jail yet another author, while ensuring that Shadrake’s book will be a best seller outside Singapore, most likely in Southeast Asia’s airport bookstores” Robertson said.

Although media reports state the book is not banned in Singapore, it is apparently hard to purchase because the government has advised bookstores not to stock it.

The death penalty is a touchy issue for Singapore officials, who rigorously defend the state’s mandatory death penalty for murder, treason, and some 20 drug-related offenses. The latest high-profile case on Singapore’s death row involves a Malaysian, Yong Vui Kong, due to be executed in August for a drug-related offense committed when he was 19. Singapore refuses to make public statistics on executions in the city-state, but is believed to have one of the highest per capita execution rates in the world. Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because of its cruel, inhumane, and irreversible nature.

Singapore’s drug law, which carries a mandatory death penalty for some offenses, also fails to meet international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said. The mandatory nature of this penalty effectively obstructs judges from considering the circumstances of a case or handing down lighter sentences. The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has stated that the death penalty should under no circumstances be mandatory by law, regardless of the charges involved.

“If the government is truly concerned with protecting its reputation, it could do better than to jail authors and execute drug offenders,” Robertson said. “Abandoning criminal punishment for defamation and prosecutions for criticizing the judiciary would be a good start.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Singapore, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/asia/singapore

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let Me Decide: Video of Singaporeans on censorship

27 July 2010


A society's "competitive edge" is marked by its ability to think for itself, not by a censor's arbitrary scissors.

From the Let Me Decide website: I am responsible for my morals and values, not the censor.

If I'm not the best judge of what is "appropriate" for me, what makes the censors think they are better?

And why do they claim they are "protecting" us, when they are harming Singapore's development into a global city - and assaulting my right to judge for myself?

It's time to say thanks but no thanks to censorship. It's time to LET ME DECIDE.

Make yourself heard by 'like'-ing this on Facebook here:
http://let-me-decide.tumblr.com/

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

US ban on libel tourists, Singapore cited

21 July 2010

Source: AFP

The US Senate has passed a bill to shield American journalists, authors, and publishers from "libel tourists" who file suit in countries -- including Australia -- where they expect to get the most favourable ruling.

The popular bill headed to the House of Representatives last night, which was expected to approve it and send the measure to President Barack Obama to sign into law, despite misgivings from key US allies.

Backers of the bill have cited England, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia and Singapore as places where weak libel safeguards attract lawsuits that unfairly harm US journalists, writers and publishers.

The Senate approved the measure in a "unanimous consent" voice vote.

The measure would prevent US federal courts from recognising a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with the first amendment of the US constitution.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Did I just "distribute" the banned video of Dr Lim on my blog?

18 July 2010

The cowards have done it again. Martyn See's video recording of a speech by 20-year ISA detainee Dr Lim Hock Siew was banned last week by the Singapore Government.

They've taken it a leap further this time though, because they even asked the filmmaker to remove the video from YouTube, which is an internationally accessed site.

But the PAP is not bigger than the Internet, so you can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nEyfVOKrPo. And why not I just embed the video (in 3 parts) on my blog for the benefit of all my International readers?







The ban of the above video comes just one week after the Government made local bookstores take down "Once A Jolly Hangman", a book on the death penalty in Singapore. The Media Development Authority (MDA) even have the cheek to come out and say that the book is "not banned".

Only cowards ban harmless material that give the public the other side of social and political stories. But perhaps the PAP are worse than cowards, because not only do they ban material like the book, they don't enough have the spine to say that they've banned it.

I hear that "Once A Jolly Hangman" is available in the reference section of the National Library and not available for loan. But as far as I'm concerned, if local bookstores have been compelled to take the book off their shelves, then its banned.

On my end, I made a new video documentary on Francis Seow and have submitted it to the MDA for rating. They have sent me a series of questions and I will answer them this week, so let's see how that turns out.

For more info on the video visit Martyn's Blog and for the book visit Yawning Bread and The Online Citizen.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

15,000 Singaporeans join Facebook group slamming YOG song

Front page news on The New Paper yesterday.

Here's the Facebook page titled 'No offence, but the YOG song sounds retarded'.

Singer JJ Lin says, "I only wrote the melody."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Future generations will pay for the sins of PAP

By Ng E-Jay, July 5 2010
Source: The Online Citizen

I wish I could come up with a more optimistic pronouncement. But this is the most honest assessment I can make: Future generations of Singaporeans will have to pay for the sins of the PAP if something is not done about the present situation.

Let me state quite frankly that I do not deny that Singapore has made huge economic progress over the decades under the PAP’s watch. As some of my friends would point out, however, much of the growth could have come about not because of, but in spite of, PAP’s policies.

Singapore is situated in a very favourable geographical location, and even though advancements in transportation technology over the decades have eroded our geographical advantage slightly, it cannot be denied that our prime location at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula has afforded us enormous leverage as far as trade is concerned.

When the PAP came into power in 1959, Singapore was already a bustling metropolis, not a sleepy fishing village like National Education textbooks like to put it.

When we achieved complete independence and sovereignty in 1965, the foundations for our future economic success had already been laid. Investments were already pouring in and our industries were already being rapidly developed, despite the racial turmoil and the communist threat that existed at that time. All this was happening at a time when the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was occupied in a power struggle with the Tunku.

I do not know whether the PAP made things significantly better after 1965, but I do know the PAP managed to make things significantly worse at some point in its reign.

The PAP’s first major policy blunder was its “Stop At 2″ policy which it introduced in 1969 in an attempt to curb Singapore’s rapidly expanding population, which was then seen as a serious threat to Singapore’s long term growth potential. Sterilization policies were progressively liberalized from 1969 to 1974. By 1977, 21 per cent of women of child-bearing age in Singapore had been sterilized. [1]

The PAP’s error in this policy was in going overboard with it. The repercussions would later come back to haunt future generations of Singaporeans.

The pro-eugenics policies of the PAP culminated in the Graduate Mother Scheme which was implemented in 1984. Graduate couples were provided with considerable financial incentives to have more children, the rationale being that children from graduate couples were more likely to be intelligent and would grow up to be more economically productive. However the scheme was scrapped after a few years when the horribly discriminatory implications of the policy gradually dawned on the electorate.

By then, of course, the damage had been done.

All developed economies eventually enter a phase when their birth rates start to decline due to evolving social attitudes and a higher standard of living.

In Singapore’s case however, the policies of the PAP greatly accelerated the process and made the inevitable come much sooner than would have been the case had the PAP not gone overboard.

A decade after the demise of the Graduate Mother Scheme, Singapore’s Total Fertility Rate had plunged to a mere 1.3, far below the replacement level of 2.1 that demographers insist is needed for a population to sustain itself.

This prompted the PAP Government to open the floodgates to foreigners to shore up our population base. Of course, a sustainable population base was not the only reason given by the PAP for doing so. The PAP told the electorate that foreigners were needed because they brought skills and expertise that Singaporeans lack, and their numbers were needed for continued economic growth. For every job which went to them, we were told, more jobs would be created for us citizens.

In more recent times, the electorate was told that Singapore would go the way of the dodo if foreigners were not imported in large numbers, and that Singaporeans should accept this because we are less hard-driving and hard-striving than foreigners. [2]

However, because PAP’s policies have led to an indiscriminate and uncontrolled import of foreigners, some of whom do not seem to bring in new expertise or skill sets over and above what we already have, wages at the lower end of the spectrum have been suppressed, bringing hardship to the lower income. This indirectly leads to suppression of aggregate demand from one segment of the population, which in turn depresses overall economic activity.

It should be noted that unlike countries like Hong Kong and Taiwan, Singapore did not quite have a roaring comeback after the previous two recessions. Perhaps part of the reason lies therein.

The rapid import of foreigners has also created strain on the fabric of our society, with more than a few openly voicing their concern whether the newcomers will make a serious effort at integrating into our society and embracing local social norms.

The larger malaise confronting us, however, is not just the rapid influx of foreigners, which the government has realized only this year must be more tightly controlled.

The economy is being systematically hollowed out, milked for what it is worth. The economic path we have embarked on is unsustainable. Our future growth potential is rapidly being drawn down in a misguided attempt at boosting our GDP figures and justifying ever increasing public sector and Ministerial salaries.

How is the economy being hollowed out?

  • By the entrenchment of unproductive Government-Linked Corporations (GLCs) and the crowding out of smaller players that could have made the economic landscape more competitive and vibrant had they been given a fair chance at the economic pie.
  • By the overly liberal import of foreigners which is causing an artificial population expansion and which is putting an enormous strain on our nation’s resources and infrastructure.
  • By the government “picking favorites” amongst industry players and in so doing, creating mis-allocation and wastage of resources.
  • By the government micro-managing and interfering excessively with the free market economy.
  • By the government trying to attract foreign capital at all costs, which leads to very volatile liquidity flows and periodic asset bubbles.

Singapore will probably see several years more of good growth and perhaps even rising incomes in the middle and upper classes.

But the distortions in the economy created by PAP’s policies will also lead to periodic asset bubbles, especially in housing. Asset bubbles are very bad for a country, and even worse for a small country like Singapore.

Not only do asset bubbles lead to mis-allocation of capital, when they inevitably come crashing down, many people get hurt badly in the process.

We see this each and every time the property market here takes off and goes to the stratosphere, only to come down to reality several years later, leaving in its wake hordes of homeless citizens who have been chased out of their flats because they are unable to service their mortgages.

After the PAP has milked the Singapore system for what it is worth, I fear that future generations of Singaporeans will be faced with a hollowed out economy and slow growth rates that will not match their expectations. I fear that many people, especially those just embarking on their careers, will not be able to afford to retire peacefully when they grow old. They will be faced with an overcrowded city, lack of job opportunities, rising inflation, and poor economic prospects.

I am very tempted to try to alter my prognosis so that it does not sound so pessimistic. But to do so would not be honest. In my sincere assessment, if Singapore citizens do not stand up and take charge of the situation now, future generations will have to pay a heavy price for the sins of the PAP.

__________________________________

References:

[1] SG Democrats, “Creating a ’superior’ race in Singapore“, 12 June 2005 (first posted on Sg Review).

[2] The Online Citizen’s transcript of MM Lee Kuan Yew’s interview with Mark Jacobson from National Geographic Magazine on 6 July 2009.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Singapore led by Chinese immigrants in 50 or 100 years?

The Singapore quandary
By LIM SUE GOAN, Sin Chew Daily

A friend from China jokingly said that Singapore would be led by Chinese immigrants 50 or 100 years from now.

Such a scenario may actually be possible. Chinese immigrants can now be found everywhere in Singapore and over a third of its five million population are said to be foreigners.

Singapore is facing a population ageing problem. Its fertility rate is lower than its population replacement rate. Hence, the Singapore government has to bring in immigrants and foreign workers to support its economic development. The Singapore government has always adopted the pragmatic approach in the interest of the country.

According to Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, Singaporeans have become less hard-driving and hard-striving.

He said that if native Singaporeans are falling behind because the spurs are not stuck into the hide, that is their problem.

Chinese immigrate to Singapore to look for a better life and they will sure work hard even in a discriminated environment, so that their children can receive a better education.

Together with the low fertility rate of Singaporeans, a child of Chinese immigrants could possibily become the country's prime minister within two or three generations.

The increasing number of Chinese immigrants has caused unhappiness among some native Singaporeans.

It was reported that when a Singaporean young woman was complaining tearfully to her daughter in a train about her husband who had a secret affair with a Chinese immigrant woman, she called her "a Chinese bitch". But a Chinese immigrant woman sitting next to her thought she was referring to her. As a result, they had a shouting match for 30 minutes.

The serious contradictions between Singaporean citizens and foreign immigrants were a result of the country's policies. The people have to bear the consequences of their choice to accept Chinese immigrants. Similar to its liberal economic, conservative politics system, it brings both positive and negative impact.

Although Singapore enjoys a prosperous economy, it is not a perfect country. A Singaporean who received the Malaysian Association of Chinese Newspaper Editors representatives said: "You (Malaysian Chinese Newspapers) always praise Singapore but we don't think our country is so good." He cited the flood in Orchard Road and the escape of a terrorist as shameful events to have happened in the country.

It is a justified view. The Singapore government is too pragmatic, causing people to think that there is too much of intervention in their life. Thus, many Singaporeans think they have everything and the country is safe, but life is boring.

Take the casinos as an example, Singapore has a good control mechanism as even small cards are placed at toilets in the casinos to remind the people to stay away from gambling.

But allowing the operation of casinos is actually a test for human nature. It may not bring any social problem in a few months time but the society will have to pay the price a few years later, or when Kuan Yew is no longer around.

Similarly, the society is very open to allow topless shows, but its politics is being tightly controlled. An overly controlled country will face difficulties in finding qualified political successors. Kuan Yew's set of political thinking may be a disaster to the country once he is no longer around to make correct judgments.

Any system will have its advantages and disadvantages. Singaporeans must bear the consequences of their choices. It applies to Malaysia that pursues racial politics.