On March 17th, 2006, Dr. Chee Soon Juan was charged with contempt of court after criticizing the country’s judicial system, calling it unfair and biased. He said Singapore’s judges lacked independence, especially in cases involving opposition politicians. He was sentenced to one day in jail and had to pay a fine of S$6,000, or else face seven further days in prison. Dr. Chee was already bankrupt from trying to pay S$500,000 in libel damages to former Prime Ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. He was thus unable to pay this new fine, and was imprisoned for seven days.
Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which has dominated parliament since independence in 1965, often uses civil defamation laws to silence its critics. Actions have even brought against international publications such as “Newsweek” and “The Economist”. These suits place unreasonable restrictions on the right of Singaporeans to peacefully express their opinions and to participate freely in public life. A conviction of defamation usually leads to bankruptcy and disqualification from participation in elections and public office.
Dr. Chee lost his teaching job at the National University of Singapore in 1993 after joining the SDP. After contesting his dismissal, a suit for defamation was brought against him by university officials. He later faced another suit after failing to apologise for an SDP newspaper article linking the PAP to a scandal at the National Kidney Foundation, Singapore’s largest charity. Dr. Chee cannot seek election, reports being constantly followed, watched an threatened by police and has been barred from making public speeches. Even online political discussions have been restricted. On November 23rd, 2006, Dr. Chee was jailed for five weeks for failing to pay a fine for speaking in public. Dr. Chee became sick while in prison, and claims his food was tampered with. He was released on December 16th, 2006.
Letter written December 4, 2006 by Gail Davidson