Monday, July 31, 2006

Singapore, Unused to Protests, Girds for World Bank Meetings

July 28 (Bloomberg) — Singapore police last week clashed with about 30 Molotov cocktail-wielding demonstrators, dispersing the crowd with a water cannon and a charge by baton-wielding officers clad in body armor.

U.K.-based “security experts'’ and local police officers played the role of rioters in the battle, a dress rehearsal for International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings here in September which are expected to attract protests from anti- globalization and other groups.

The meetings, to be attended by European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and more than 16,000 other officials, will be a key test for Singapore police, who are scheduled to announce their public order policy today. After race riots in the 1960s, the government imposed curbs on public assembly, and large-scale protests are almost unknown in the city-state.

“The Singapore government has activated very considerable resources to deal with this event,'’ said Steven Vickers, chief executive of Hong Kong-based International Risk Ltd. Groups ranging from South Korean farmers to Taiwan rice growers are expected to protest at the meetings, Vickers said.

At the World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong in December, police used tear gas and batons in clashes with demonstrators and arrested more than 1,000 people. At the 2000 IMF meetings in Prague, 600 people were hurt when protesters pulled cobblestones from the streets and flung them at police.

“Our level of force will be proportionate to the level of violence,'’ Soh Wai Wah, chief-of-staff at the Singapore Police Force, said after the mock battle on July 19.

Showcase

For Singapore, the Sept. 12-20 meetings are an opportunity to showcase itself as a financial center and base for doing business in Asia.

The city is ranked second, after Hong Kong, in terms of economic freedom by the Heritage Foundation, and was named the best place in the world for Asians to live in a survey released April by human resource consultancy ECA International.

“People here believe Singapore is safe,'’ said Bruce Gale, an independent consultant to businesses in the region on political risk, in an interview in the city on June 23. “Foreign businesses, large numbers of them, have their regional headquarters in Singapore. This is what they intend to protect and I think they’re doing a pretty good job of it.'’

Fine Balance

Still, Singapore is known as a “fine city'’ where instant penalties are meted out for misdemeanors ranging from spitting to littering. Amnesty International says the government curbs freedom of expression. In a 2005 report on human rights in the city, the U.S. Department of State cited “restriction of freedom of assembly and freedom of association'’ as a problem.

“Singapore has our own sets of laws, and we appeal to everyone to respect them,'’ Soh said. “If these laws are broken, we will have to enforce them firmly, but also fairly and reasonably.'’

Under Singapore law, any public protest of more than four people without a police permit is deemed illegal and permission must be sought before public assemblies and speeches are held. The government says the rules help maintain harmony in the city, where 36 people were killed in 1964 riots between the Chinese and Malay communities.

Peaceful Protests

The IMF and World Bank meetings are being held at Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre, in the center of the city. Civic groups are hoping that local authorities will allow peaceful protests to be staged near the meeting venue.

“Our position is that any group should be able to participate without being excluded from decisions based on the whims and fancies of the IMF or the World Bank,'’ said Ruki Fernando, a spokesman for the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, a Bangkok-based human rights advocacy group.

“Decisions and policies drafted at this particular meeting are going to affect millions of people in over 200 countries, and those people have the right to be heard,'’ he said.

Singapore police have been studying the way other countries handle protests, Soh said, adding that the city deployed riot police during general elections in 2001.

“Our officers do have some experience, and definitely adequate training, to deal with various contingencies we can foresee in the coming event,'’ Soh said. Police and immigration authorities will also prevent groups or individuals who could pose a security threat from entering Singapore, he said.

The July 19 rehearsal included anti-riot vehicles and a helicopter, with the “rioters'’ hurling bottles and a real Molotov cocktail.

The meeting will be the largest international gathering ever held in Singapore. Some S$110 million ($69 million) of business for local companies and S$50 million of tourism may be generated during the event, the government said.

“We are trying all means to hope to have a peaceful event, but if disorder should indeed break out, we will be ready,'’ said police spokesman Tan Puay Kern.

Read also In Singapore, World Bank seeks street protests

Experimentation....

I've been wanting to try this for quite sometime but never got around to doing it...till a few days ago. I'm experimenting using the free blog service provided by Wordpress. If all goes well, i'll stick with Wordpress.

For now, future posts will be over at my Wordpress Blog. For those who need the specific URL, its http://pseudonymity.wordpress.com/.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

No Outrage for Nigerians in Singapore

No Outrage for Nigerians in Singapore
Sam Olukoya

LAGOS, Jul 27 (IPS) - -When Uzonna Tochi picked up the phone last week he heard the most chilling words of his life. "Please do something fast to save my life; they might execute me anytime now," Uzonna's older brother, Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, pleaded from Singapore.

Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, 19, is sitting on death row in Singapore with Okele Nelson Malachy, 31, condemned in March after being found guilty of transporting 727.03 grams of heroin into Singapore.

Singapore's Misuse of Drugs Act carries a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin. The two men will be executed this year if they are not granted clemency from Singapore's president.

Uzonna and human rights organisations from around the world have not given up hope. Still, they say it is hard to garner international outrage to save the life of a poor Nigerian.

M. Ravi, a human rights lawyer and a member of the opposition party, Singapore Democratic Party, wrote in an online appeal that Iwuchukwu and Malachy, as Africans, stand in danger of being executed if nothing urgent is done to save their lives.

Unlike Iwuchukwu, Malachy is classified as stateless and no country has the direct responsibility of pleading for him. He carried a South African passport, but officials believe he is Nigerian.

"There has been a spate of executions of African nationals across Asia, which had gone unnoticed. The Australian and Western counterparts get different treatment in the media," Ravi wrote on the web site.

For instance, German national Julia Bohl, who was convicted for drug trafficking in 2002, escaped the gallows in Singapore when she was released from prison and exiled in 2005.

This year Ravi has embarked on a tour of European countries, holding press conferences and meeting parliamentarians in an effort to seek support for Iwuchukwu and Malachy.

Groups like the Amnesty International also have launched campaigns to save the lives of the condemned men. In Lagos, the country's largest human rights group, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) has started a drive to force the Nigerian government to intervene on behalf of the condemned men.

"Since he lost the appeal, I always fear that the next moment might be his last," a ruffled Uzonna told IPS..

He has every reason to be concerned about his brother, who he described as the bread winner of the family. Once a football player, Iwuchukwu first took to trading before leaving Nigeria for Pakistan four years ago.

He was on a trip from Pakistan to Singapore when he was arrested at the Changi Airport 27 November 2004 on allegations of transporting heroin into Singapore. His lawyer told the court Iwuchukwu did not know the pills he was shipping contained heroin. He thought he was bringing in medicines.

The arrest and conviction of his brother is kept secret from his parents, Uzonna said. "My poor parents will die if they hear that a child who has worked so hard to sustain them is facing a death sentence," he said.

Uzonna has visited Nigeria's Ministry of External Affairs twice and that officials promised they would write letters in support of his brother's life. He added he was unsure if the promise was kept.

Officials of the Ministry of External Affairs could not give a definite answer when IPS enquired as to whether they are doing anything to save Iwuchukwu's life.

"The Nigerian government has not done anything public to show it is interested in saving Iwuchukwu's life," says Princewill Akpakpan, head of the penal reform project at CLO.

"The government is hardly bothered about Iwuchukwu because Nigeria, just like Singapore, has the death penalty," Akpakpan told IPS.

If the two had been convicted for the same offence in Nigeria, they would have earned a lighter sentence of between three years and life imprisonment, Jonah Achema, Assistant Director Public Affairs of the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency, told IPS.

"It would depend on the discretion of the judge and other factors like whether he is a first offender or not," Achema said.

A Nigerian law scrapped the death penalty for drug offenders in 1986. "This is an indication of the evolving nature of our laws," Achema told IPS.

Figures of those executed for drug-related offences around the world are not readily available. But Ryan Schlief, who works on the Singapore desk at Amnesty International in London, told IPS that Asian and Middle Eastern countries that retain the death penalty are doing so to crack down on drugs.

Singapore, in particular, has come under special criticism for its harsh death penalty laws. More than 420 persons have been executed there since 1991, the majority for drug trafficking. Singapore is believed to have the highest per capita execution rate in the world.

Critics question the justification for executing drug offenders. Instead, they say, the best way to deter crime is to increase the certainty of detection, arrest and conviction.

"Drug offenders should in effect not be made to pay with their lives," Akpakpan said.

Moreover, no study has proven that the death penalty reduces crime. In Iran, nearly 2,000 people were reportedly executed for drug offences between 1988 and 1999; a report by the country's official news agency IRNA observes that in spite of the executions, the problem of drug trafficking had not been resolved.

In 1995, 26 governments adopted laws making drug-related offences punishable by death. The countries see the death penalty as an effective and cheap way of removing criminally minded individuals from the society.

Growing pressure from civil society groups for a total abolition of the death penalty forced the Nigerian government to initiate a national debate on whether or not to retain the death sentence.

Singapore has no room for such debates, human rights workers said.

"There is usually little public debate in Singapore about the death penalty, partly as a result of tight government controls on the press and civil society organisations," Amnesty International said in a report.

Amnesty International was a victim of this government control in April 2005, when Singapore denied an AI member permission to speak at a conference on the death penalty organised by political opposition leaders and human rights activists.

Moreover, the Singaporean government rarely grants clemency for drug traffickers, Ravi and Amnesty said, making more urgent the need to keep up international pressure to save the lives of Malachy and Iwuchukwu Tochi.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A global centre for parking ill-gotten gains & haven for rich crooks on the run

Singapore none too fussy about the source of wealth in its financial sector
By Michael Backman
The Age
July 26, 2006

YOU are an Indonesian businessman. You've bribed a state bank official to give you a $US200 million ($A265 million) loan without sufficient collateral, or a risk assessment, for a business venture you know won't get off the ground.

The authorities have found out and you're facing arrest. You need somewhere to go where authorities can't touch you. So where do you go? The answer is Singapore . Why? Because it is a half-hour flight from Jakarta , or 45 minutes by ferry from the Indonesian island of Batam , and, most importantly, it does not have an extradition treaty with Indonesia .

It is largely ethnically Chinese, just like many of Indonesia 's white-collar criminals, if only because Indonesians of Chinese ancestry dominate that country's business sector.

Singapore finally agreed to negotiate an extradition treaty last year after years of Indonesia begging for one. The process has been ridiculously drawn out. At least six rounds of talks have been held. Indonesia is angry and feels that Singapore is being obstructionist. But why should Singapore be slow? Probably because it is a haven for Indonesian crooks on the run, and they bring their money with them. Billions of dollars in corruptly obtained funds have flowed into Singapore 's property market and its banks.

It's a sensitive matter because financial services account for 22 per cent of Singapore 's economy. You can imagine the situation from Jakarta 's point of view. Singapore lectures Indonesia about the importance of the rule of law while giving its criminals a haven. Despite the billions it gets from Indonesia , it gives back only a fraction in foreign assistance but then decries Indonesia for being insufficiently grateful.

Among the Indonesian crooks and suspects believed to be on the run in Singapore are Bambang Sutrisno and Adrian Kiki Ariawan, who were found guilty of embezzling the equivalent of $US162 million from Bank Surya; Sudjiono Timan, who was convicted of improperly diverting $US120 million from a state-owned investment company; Lidia Mochtar, who is wanted over the embezzlement of $US20 million from Bank Tamara; Agus Anwar, a suspect over $US214 million that's unaccounted for from Bank Pelita; and Pauline Maria Lumowa, who is wanted over $US184 million that's missing from Bank BNI. Others whose whereabouts are unknown are able to safely visit Singapore .

The US doesn't have an extradition treaty with Indonesia but co-operation by US officials saw the fugitive Indonesian David Nusa Wijaya, wanted in connection with embezzlement of about $US140 million, return to Indonesia from San Francisco earlier this year.

The US embassy in Jakarta said at the time: "The US Government understands that returning fugitives and stolen assets from abroad in corruption cases is a top law-enforcement priority in Indonesia ."

Singapore argues that because its laws are based on English common law and Indonesian law is based on Dutch codes, the two systems are incompatible, making an extradition treaty difficult.

But that didn't stop India from signing such a treaty with the Philippines in 2004, or Australia from signing one with Indonesia . Fugitive Indonesian banker Hendra Rahardja, who embezzled almost $US300 million, was on the verge of being extradited from Australia in early 2003 when he died of cancer in Sydney . His funds in Australia were frozen and returned to Indonesia .

A corollary of Singapore 's reluctance to sign an extradition treaty with Indonesia is its apparent lack of fussiness about the sources of the funds attracted to its banking sector.

Singaporean officials make all the right noises when it comes to monitoring illicit funds. But there is a perception that in practice Singapore is not fully meeting international expectations and obligations. One person involved in monitoring international money flows for a Western government told me last week that the results of Singapore 's efforts to date were disappointing.

And a senior fund manager in the region had this to say: " Singapore has truly become the global centre for parking ill-gotten gains. The private banking teams are huge and in practice ask almost no questions (compared with the branches elsewhere, including Switzerland ).

"An acquaintance of mine who made $US13 million through a corrupt deal (in Indonesia) was not asked about how he got the money despite obviously having a job that would not have allowed such amounts to have been accumulated. Russians, mainland Chinese and Indonesians are pouring money into Singapore . High-end property has risen 30-50 per cent in the last 18 months or so."

Singapore, he argues, is out of step internationally. He cites a recent case in which even a Swiss bank co-operated with the Indonesian Government in tracking down $US5.2 million in allegedly improper funds deposited by the former head of Bank Mandiri, Indonesia's largest state-owned bank.

Attention is now being turned to China . Singapore is working hard at making itself more attractive to Chinese mainlanders, be they tourists or individuals, with funds to park. Singaporean Government representatives are trawling through China , promoting Singapore over Hong Kong as a safe destination for funds and property investment. Direct flights are being established with regional centres across China . Casinos are being set up. There has even been an influx of mainland Chinese prostitutes into Singapore 's quasi-legal sex industry. And there's no extradition treaty, or little chance of one.

Of course, Singapore will argue that it takes money laundering seriously and has all types of detection methods in place. But that is not the point. It's what happens in practice that counts. After all, even Chinese laundries can have window dressing.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Singapore lawyer's fight for human rights

M Ravi and his fight for human rights
by Holger Weyhmüller
Gaeubote
Gaeufelden, Germany
20 Jul 06


In Singapore it is considered a crime to ask “Why” but this doesn't faze 37-year-old M Ravi. He is defending clients that face the death penalty, as well as the political opposition of the government in court and asks this important question: “Why?” At the moment, the lawyer is touring the world to look for supporters and has included Germany, where his campaign started in Gaeufelden. The Gaeubote is the first newspaper to talk to him.

One gram can decide about life or death. Whoever is caught in Singapore with 500 grams or more of Cannabis faces the gallows. One gram less and an accused will escape the noose. This is the law in Singapore. At least the law in most of the cases, because M Ravi is aware of 6 cases where the accused – even carrying a significant amount over the 500-gram limit didn't end their lives at the gallows.

Why is this not the case for everybody, the Singaporean asks. He doesn't only ask this question to himself. He asks this question to the judges, to the state attorneys and to the government. And he asks this question to the public in the world.

He is supported by Rodny Scherzer, who works in the management of Hewlett-Packard and has become aware about the work of the human rights lawyer through the Internet. In the year 2002, German girl Julia Bohl faced trial in Singapore – a touching experience says Rodny Scherzer. Then 20-year-old Bohl was carrying nearly 700 grams of Cannabis in her luggage. Under normal circumstances she would have been hanged for this but through a strong involvement of the German government she escaped the death sentence and was sentenced to a five-year prison term instead. She was released on July 15, 2005 for good behavior. Her defense was done by Singapore’s best lawyer, says M Ravi.

It is not only the fact that Ravi is spreading the word across the world about the Singaporean government's death penalty rule that makes things dangerous for him. It is also the energetic and convincing way in which M Ravi follows his path and the way he handles the pressure from the government – he just ignores it. For a long time, he has been facing the threat of suspension from his legal practice, he says. Furthermore, he has been the victim of an attack-campaign in Singapore's media where the subject of the suicide of his mother has been repeatedly raised.

Since he first decided to take on a death penalty case three years ago when no other lawyer wanted the job because of the very low possibility of success, many of his clients have left him. They were worried that his fight against the death penalty and his support for the opposition would negatively impact on their own cases, Ravi says in the Hotel Aramis in Nebringen and smiles. The political and legal system of the small country at the border to Malaysia cannot be compared to a democracy, Ravi (who did part of his studies in Cardiff, Wales) explains.

The political system is more comparable to a dictatorship and provides very serious penalties for rather small crimes. Who, for example, gets a $1,000 fine for spitting chewing gum on the street? But this is not what catches Ravi´s attention. It is the mandatory death sentence given to anyone caught in possession of 500 grams or more of Cannabis that concerns him as well as how convicted people are treated prior to their execution.

For example, photos of the convicted wearing nice cloths are taken 24 hours prior to their execution. These photos are taken in several faked situations, for example, posing whilst seated behind a desk like a manager of a large company. Ravi says he is aware of a particular case where these photos were given to the mother after the execution, as if to tell her that this is what your son could have been, a procedure that draws rage and anger in Ravi. Execution and death penalty is one thing but doing it in this particular way is incredibly cruel and inhumane. The case is well documented in his book Hung at Dawn. The English version of this book is being translated by Rodny Scherzer into German and will be released in Germany in the near future.

Ravi is also fighting another cruel aspect of death penalty. Once the death penalty has been imposed, there is no way back. The present President of Singapore has never granted presidential clemency. “An innocent man can be hanged due to procedure” even if new evidence turns up at the last minute. Clemency will not be granted. Why must it be like this, asks Ravi.

At the moment, M Ravi is working on his third defense case of a convicted drug smuggler who has received the ultimate sentence. It is a Nigerian man named Amara Totchi. Ravi doesn't have much hope of saving him from execution. Regardless, the Singaporean lawyer, whose forefathers came from India, is taking up the challenge and spreading the message globally to help this man, and he is starting his campaign in Germany.

Why Germany? Germany has taken a strong stand against capital punishment in the case of Julia Bohl and has taken concrete action in that case. The result of this action saved Julia Bohl's life, even though she initially faced the mandatory death sentence. Germany was successful in putting pressure on the Singaporean government.

The result was different in the case of Nguyen Tuong Van, an Australia. The pressure of the Australian government in that case was not sufficient, says Ravi. The Australian government had protested but also stated that the execution would not have any consequence in the relationship between the countries. The Australian was executed in December 2005. Now M Ravi hopes for support out of Germany and hopes for the start of a fruitful relationship that ends in the abolition of the mandatory death penalty in Singapore.

Link to the report originally posted at SDP's website

Songs for Sam

Collision of politics & the spiritual - Falungong & the PAP government

I've seen the print version of the Epoch Times being sold in some shops here. I've also noticed people selling them outside MRT stations. But the ones in print are usually the chinese version. Its a good thing they have the website. Here are two reports from the Epoch Times published on July 23, 2006.

Singapore Has Different Laws for Different People
By Huang Hui
Epoch Times Staff

SINGAPORE – On July 21, two individuals were charged by the Singapore police for hanging a banner with slanderous words across from the Chinese Embassy. The day before on July 20, Ms. Ng Chye Huay and Mr. Erh Boon Tiong were protesting at the Chinese Embassy against the persecution of Falun Gong in China for the past seven years and calling for an end to the persecution. An officer told Ng that Singapore has different laws for different people.

The words on the banner displayed that day were "Stop Persecution of Falun Gong in China" in English and Chinese. Police said the contents of the banner were slanderous to the Chinese Embassy and might obstruct and disturb passersby.

Ng also faces another charge. On July 6, Li Lanqing, former vice premier of China and former head of the 610 office, arrived in Singapore to receive an honorary doctorate from the National University of Singapore upon invitation by Lee Kuan Yew, senior minister of Singapore. On July 12, Ng went to the Chinese Embassy to protest against Li's visit and was charged by police for displaying a banner defaming Li Lanqing. The words on the banner read "Li Lanqing Persecutes Falun Gong, Heavenly Principles Will Not Tolerate This".

Ng is shocked by the charges brought against her. She said, "I have been holding a silent protest outside the Chinese Embassy for over a year. Why did the police suddenly say that I have violated the laws when Li Lanqing visits Singapore?" She revealed to a reporter that an officer had told her Singapore has different laws for different people.

The Singapore police have filed a lawsuit against nine local Falun Gong practitioners on July 14 for participating in an "illegal assembly" on Orchard Road last October. Falun Gong practitioners claim that they were only distributing flyers to the public in small groups and did not have a gathering.

The president of the Singapore Falun Dafa Association Professor William Huang said, "We urge the Singapore police to withdraw all charges against the Falun Gong practitioners. Don't bow to the Chinese communist regime for short term benefits.

"The regime puts out materials defaming Falun Gong in the Chinese Embassy. Till now, their websites contain information attacking Falun Gong. The Chinese Embassy even held an exhibition defaming Falun Gong in Singapore to deceive the Singapore public. When we hired venues to hold our activities, staff from the Chinese Embassy would exert pressure on the owner of the venue not to lend it to us. Besides, Singapore has a close trading relationship with China. We believe that the Singapore government has bowed to China for economic benefits, suppressing kindhearted and peaceful Falun Gong practitioners. Recently, former vice premier of China and head of the 610 office Li Lanqing came to Singapore for a visit. The lawsuits were brought up against Falun Gong practitioners just after he left," Huang stated.

Li Lanqing is the former head of the 610 office in China, a Gestapo like agency, and has been sued for crimes against humanity and torture by Falun Gong practitioners in the US, France, Belgium, Taiwan, Germany, Canada, New Zealand, Chile, Holland, Japan and Sweden. His name has been added to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police watch list, along with Jiang Zemin, Luo Gan, Li Jing and Bo Xilai. If anyone on the list attempts to enter Canada, an investigation would take place and he would potentially face charges from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Timeline of events:

On May 28, the Singapore media published news of Lee Kuan Yew's invitation to Li Lanqing to bestow on him an honorary doctorate degree from the National University of Singapore. Subsequently, a series of incidents targeted at Falun Gong practitioners took place in Singapore.

On June 2, Falun Gong practitioner Nie Ge holding both a legal working permit and social visit pass was suddenly informed that her permits were cancelled for no reason. She was detained for eight hours by the police for being an illegal immigrant.

On June 14, the Singapore immigration department informed a student holding a Chinese passport Yang Yongli that he must leave Singapore within three days. On June 15, his departure was postponed with the aid of international human rights organization.

On July 10, the Singapore Immigration department demanded that Yang Yongli leave Singapore the next day; on the same day, nine practitioners received a subpoena from the police informing them that they were charged for participating in an illegal assembly in Orchard Road last October. The court hearing was scheduled on July 4 (the first day of Li Lanqing's seal cutting exhibition). This was later postponed to July 14.

On July 12, Ng Chye Huay was arrested by police for displaying a banner during a protest outside the Chinese Embassy against Li Lanqing's role in the persecution of Falun Gong in China. The charges stated Ng was defaming Li Lanqing.

On the morning of July 21, the police filed a lawsuit against Ng Chye Huay and Erh Boon Tiong with the charge of "harassment by displaying insulting writings - with common intention".


Singapore Government Influenced by Chinese Communist Regime?
By Zhang Jielien

By helping China to persecute Falun Gong practitioners in Singapore for economic trade, Singapore has lost its reputation as a democratic country.

While the US government stayed charges against Wang Wenyi, a Falun Gong practitioner who asked President Bush to help stop the persecution of Falun Gong during a White House press conference; and while Canadian investigators published their report confirming harvesting of organs from Falun Gong practitioners in China; the Singapore government is helping the Chinese communist regime to victimize Falun Gong practitioners in Singapore.

According to Xinhua News Agency, on July 14 the Singapore police charged nine Falun Gong followers with "illegal assembly" for an event that occurred last October.

Why is an incident that occurred nine months ago suddenly so important to the Singapore police? As the anniversary of the beginning of the crackdown on Falun Gong in China approaches, the "610 Offices" have stepped up their harassment of practitioners in China. Has the Singapore government been ordered to do likewise?. Singapore has shown an increasing inability to stand up to China in the face of potential economic gains. This has been evident to the international community for sometime now. Since 2001, Singapore has exerted pressure many times on Falun Gong practitioners in tandem with the Chinese government.

As the world was shocked by the contents of the report from the Canadian independent investigation team, reports in mainstream media in western society increased dramatically. So why would the Singapore government disregarded its international image and become an accomplice to the brutal regime for some petty economic rewards? We have drawn two conclusions: first the actions of Singapore's leaders show a lack of morality, and second, the Chinese communist regime is really evil.

The "illegal assembly on Orchard Road" refers to nine Falun Gong practitioners peacefully holding placards and distributing flyers to the public on October 22 and 23, 2005. But according to a report in Xinhua News Agency, "After Singapore police finished investigations into activities held on the two days and discussed their findings with Singapore's chief procurator, the police decided to file charges against the nine Falun Gong practitioners who participated in the activity."

The Singapore police took nine months to complete investigations into such a small case of "illegal assembly" (it is said that the maximum penalty for such a crime is three months imprisonment.) Moreover, the case was unimportant for nine months and suddenly became "urgent" enough to be discussed with Singapore's chief procurator before any legal action was started.

It seems that the chain of command in Singapore starts in Jiang and Luo's "610 Office" who dictate to the Chinese Communist regime's Foreign Affairs Ministry, who then direct the Singapore leaders, down to the Singapore Attorney-General, who then orders the Singapore police, and the police take action. Recently the "610 Office" started the largest attack on Falun Gong in recent years; the purpose is to sustain the suppression that is on the brink of collapse.

Since July 1, the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese communist regime, the "610 Office" has established a new website that slanders Falun Gong, has bought space on Xinhua.net to disseminate information directly, spent money outside of China for investigations, research, and frame-ups, used secret agents to collect intelligence for writing slanderous articles, and made large-scale harassing phone calls to Falun Gong practitioners allover the world. Spies of the regime have even taken over the normally orthodox Christian forum to post defaming articles. All these activities illustrate the scale of the attack on Falun Gong this time.

It is no coincidence that Singapore was chosen to assist the "610 Office" to attack Falun Gong. The government and leaders in Singapore are actually used by the Lee Kuan Yew family. Many people think that Singapore is a democracy and is ruled by a legal system; but its legal system cannot challenge the power of the Lee Kuan Yew family. Singapore is ruled by a type of family dictatorship. Lee Kuan Yew has many "famous sayings." For instance, he once publicly quoted Deng Xiaoping's speech: "Kill 200,000 for 20 years' stability." He then said: "I would do the same." Lee was the only major political figure who dared to publicly support the June 4 Tiananmen Massacre in China. It seems that when Lee sees a ruler with an iron fist he has found an equal. Therefore, under the double strike of the Chinese Communist regime's bloodstained, comprehensive suppression of Falun Gong and the enticement of economic benefits, the Lee family has taken to pleasing the Chinese leaders with increasing proficiency.

This time, one could imagine the pressure from Jiang and Luo is so strong that the "610 Office" even had Singapore revoke the registration of the Falun Dafa Association in Singapore. Therefore the Singapore police sent out a warning to the Falun Gong association: "If any registered organization in Singapore poses a threat to public peace, benefit, and order, the registration of this organization will be in danger of being terminated."

Rather than saying that the Singapore government is trying to please the Chinese communist regime, in this instance, it is more accurate to say that coercion from China is a desperate act of self-defense by Jiang and Luo. They exerted great pressure and used economic benefits to induce Singapore to be their accomplice to an illegal persecution. While the Singapore government helps the communist regime achieve its goal of persecuting Falun Gong outside of China, it has sold itself for very little and has lost its reputation as a modern and civilized country.
Link to the above reports on Epoch's website

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Foreign media reports on PAP's communist-inspired methods

Express yourself

In a state where protests are rare, John Aglionby sees a columnist inspire a small band of Singaporeans to take to the streets.

Tuesday July 11, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

The 30 people dressed in brown who gathered outside Singapore's City Hall underground station on Sunday were probably not noticed by most passersby.

But that is not too surprising considering they did not stand in one group, they did not shout slogans and only one person, who had the words "I am fed, up with progress" printed on the back of his t-shirt, gave any hint as to why they were there.

But the illegal demonstration - it is against the law in the tightly controlled city state for more than four people to hold an outdoor gathering without a permit - marked one of the first times Singaporeans have so publicly marked their dissatisfaction with the nation's lack of freedom of expression.

They were stirred into action by the reaction to a column written in the Today daily tabloid on June 30 by one of country's most popular bloggers, Mr Brown.

Mr Brown, 34, whose real name is Lee Kin Mun, wrote a harsh, humourous and satirical attack on the government over the growing disparity in people's incomes, rising living costs and the fact that about a third of households had seen their incomes shrink since 2000.

He also had a dig at the government for not releasing the data on which his article was based before the May general election, in which the ruling People's Action party won 82 of the 84 seats and 66% of the votes cast.

"We are very thankful for the timing of all this good news, of course," Mr Brown wrote in his article titled "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!"

"Just after the elections, for instance. By that I mean that getting the important event out of the way means we can now concentrate on trying to pay our bills.

"It would have been too taxing on the brain if those price increases were announced during the election period, thereby affecting our ability to choose wisely."

The government did not take the criticism kindly.

Three days later Today published a letter from Krishnasamy Bhavani, the press secretary of the minister for information, communication and the arts.

She branded the "diatribe" as "polemics dressed up as analysis" and said the "piece is calculated to encourage cynicism and despondency".

Her most stinging rebuke was left for last. "It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the government," she wrote.

"If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics."

Three days later Today "suspended indefinitely" Mr Brown's column.

"No reason was given and he didn't ask for one," Edmund Tan, a friend handling media enquiries for Mr Brown told Guardian Unlimited. "But we think it was related to the letter."

When Mr Brown posted Ms Bhavani's letter on his blog it attracted 686 comments. His announcement that Today had fired him has so far garnered 889.

The vast majority are supportive and many complained about the fact that the newspaper was refusing to publish any correspondence relating to the matter.

Mr Tan said Mr Brown's blog was one of the world's most popular, with his podcasts regularly surpassing 20,000 downloads, and during the election the figure topped 200,000.

When approached by Guardian Unlimited, Mano Sabnani, the managing director of Today, would only say the decision to suspend the column was taken by the editors and would not comment on anything else.

Ms Bhavani, when contacted by Guardian Unlimited, reiterated the contents of her letter, saying that Mr Brown's comments were unfair and unsubstantiated. She declined to comment on whether the government had participated in the decision to dismiss Mr Brown.

Chee Soon Juan, the secretary-general of the opposition Singapore Democratic party said he was not surprised by the government and newspaper's response to the column.

"What is surprising though is that for once Singaporeans are not sitting back and taking it silently," he told Guardian Unlimited. "Only a few years ago nothing would have happened."

Mr Chee said the government reacted so strongly because the article was in a traditional media outlet. "If it had just been on his blogsite, then I think they would have left him alone," he said.

Although Singapore has one of the world's highest internet penetration rates at more than two-thirds of the population, the government allows greater freedom of expression than in traditional media, although the rules were tightened for the election campaign.

Ministers argue that if greater freedom of expression were allowed, Singapore's economy, and consequently its society, would collapse.

Many people think that with its inability to control the internet, the government is fighting a losing battle.

"With the internet generation we hope there will be acceptance of a greater diversity of views," Mr Tan said.

Mr Chee predicts that the growing disparity between what is available online and offline in Singapore will force the government either to open up the mainstream media or clamp down harder on the internet.

"They have to work on one or the other to make the divide less apparent than it is or else the mainstream media will lose all credibility," he said.

Meanwhile some of the brown-clothed protesters say they are "spooked" after the police took names and identity card details from some of them, and the Straits Times newspaper reported yesterday that the police were "looking into" the incident.

******
Crackdown on Satirical Blogging
Marwaan Macan-Markar
IPS News Agency

BANGKOK, Jul 12 (IPS) - Among the popular T-shirts that a tourist can buy on a visit to Singapore is one that, tongue-in-cheek, describes that affluent island country as a 'Fine City'.

The reasons are creatively displayed at the back of the shirt. One could be fined for breaking the laws against chewing gum, fined against littering the streets, fined for not flushing the toilet and fined for indulging in unnatural sex.

But it appears that attempts at satirising government, known for its authoritarianism, will soon be added to this illustrious list of offences.

Already the state has harshly rebuked one of the country's most popular bloggers, Lee Kin Mun who writes under the online moniker of ‘'mr brown.'' His offence was poking fun at a spike in prices and the rising cost of living for the country's 4.2 million people.

‘'It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government,'' wrote Krishnasamy Bhavani, press secretary to the ministry of information, communications and art in an article to the state-owned ‘Today' newspaper last week. ‘'If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics.''

Over the weekend, another high ranking official of the same ministry echoed a similar piece of Singaporean government-speak. ‘'If you feel there is a problem with cost of living, say so, let's collectively explore solutions. But don't in the name of humour distort or aggravate on an emotional level,'' Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, second minister for the ministry of information, communications and art, was quoted saying by the website of Channel NewsAsia, a Singapore-based television station. ''That sort of discourse does not generate solutions. It generates more heat than light.''

And as is typical in Singapore, where the mainstream media serve as cheerleaders for the government, the ‘Today' newspapers did the obvious --on Jul. 7, it suspended the column written by ‘'mr brown.'' It was the previous Friday that the paper ran the blog on the economy, which is still available on Lee's website, that roused the ire of officialdom.

In his witty commentary, titled ‘'Singaporeans are fed, up with progress!'' the 36-year-old blogger writes: ‘'As sure as Superman Returns, our cost of living is also on the up. Except we are not able to leap over high costs in a single bound.''

Yet, this confrontation between the government and a symbol of the country's expanding cyberspace community is giving rise to resistance by sections of the Singaporean public that are nor ready to fall in line with the government's iron law of thought control.

On Sunday, some 30 supporters of the banned blogger conducted a silent protest at a busy subway station. They were dressed in brown clothes as a mark of solidarity to this latest victim of state censorship, media reports said. Such open defiance is rare, given the laws that require a police permit if more than five people want to gather in public to stage a demonstration.

The censured writer is also finding support within the country's blogging community. One blogger, who goes by the identity ‘'yawning bread,'' says: ''The equation (that Bhavani) insisted upon was, effectively this: if you criticise, it must mean you are out to undermine the government. If you are out to undermine, then you are no longer neutral, but a partisan player. If you're partisan, the government reserves the right to destroy you.''

Others have responded differently to the Singaporean government's latest absurdity. ''Humour is not encouraged in Singapore. I am predicting that we might be caned if seen laughing at jokes, some day. But it is OK to smile at tourists,'' writes another blogger.

For media rights groups, however, this confrontation was inevitable, given the new challenges posed by Singapore's expanding blogging community. According to the state-owned ‘Straits Times,' there are over 22,000 Singapore blogs. And like other bloggers across the world, these writers communicate directly with their audience rather than having to depend on the editorial whims of the mainstream media.

‘'This is a defining moment for Singapore's blogging community, most of who are sophisticated and highly educated,'' Roby Alampay, executive director of the South-east Asia Press Alliance, a regional media watchdog, said in an interview. ‘'Things may come to a head, because blogging enables citizens to reach out. And ‘mr brown' is one of the pioneers of this trend.''

The harsh restriction Singapore imposes on bloggers has earned it a place among other South-east Asian countries notorious for censoring free expression on the Internet, such as Burma, Laos and Vietnam. Such impositions -- together with the government's reputation of going after its critics with defamation cases and the threat of prison terms have stymied the growth of an independent media..

In 2005, the Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders placed Singapore 140th out of 167 countries surveyed. That was the worst ranking for a developed country.

What is more, the restrictions show up how far short the government of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has fallen from a pledge made in August, 2004, shortly after Lee took on the mantle of premiership. Then, in a speech that stressed he wanted to see a more open and free Singapore, Lee said: ''Our people should feel free to express diverse views, pursue unconventional ideas or simply be different.''

Parliamentary elections in May this year offered more than a hint about the true nature of politics under the Lee administration. Leaders from opposition groups like the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) were banned from using the electronic media to campaign. And bloggers and website managers were warned by a minister that they do not have the right to endorse the political policies of a particular candidate.

''To ban ‘mr brown' does not say much for Lee Hsien Loong's promise of an open political culture,'' Chee Siok Chin, a ranking member of the SDP, told IPS. ‘'More people are tapping into the blogging world because there is a lot of political value.''

This trend, she said, is because of the lack of openness in the media. ‘'Bloggers are coming out and airing their political views more and more. This is largely because of the restrictions on the mainstream media we have here.''

Silence is not always golden

I was hoping to hear something from the other opposition parties with regards to Brown-out. Except for the Singapore Democratic Party, the other major parties like the Workers' Party; Singapore People's Party and National Solidarity Party, have been silent on this issue.

Not that i blame them. These parties have different approaches and styles. And they face tremendous obstacles & pressures in a system created by and for the ruling People's Action Party. I can empathise with their predicament given such a political environment.

Still, the ruling party did get kicked in their arrogant arse during the general elections held in May'06. The people, through the opposition parties, delivered the much deserved kick! Of course, i was wishing they would have kicked harder to bring these PAP buggers down to earth! Well, maybe next time.

But next time's another 5 years away. In the meantime, i really wish the other opposition parties make their voices heard when such important issues, like Brown-out, pops-up on the radar. The PAP government shot its own foot by opening its big bloody mouth the way it did. And its also quite obvious the decision by TODAY to suspend Mr Brown's column must have been due to government pressure since the government owns MediaCorp, TODAY's parent company. All these things have left a bitter taste, and i believe seething anger & frustration, among most Singaporeans.

Here's a letter written by Eric Tan, a Workers' Party member, in his personal capacity. It was sent to the Straits Times but the mouthpiece declined to publish it in their letters section. Apparently, many others have also written to TODAY on the same issue and their letters were also declined. This letter was originally posted at Yawning Bread.



Let Mr Brown speak


by Eric Tan Heng Chong

I am very sad and disappointed to learn that Today suspended Mr. Brown’s column. I felt he had not done anything wrong. If anything else, he brought out a lighter side of life in Singapore. In this age of stress he gave us relief and made us laugh. He even taught us to laugh at ourselves. Singaporeans resonated with his views and creative sense of humor earning him popularity. As people can identify with his column, the government should value it as good feedback.

In the business world we treat a complaint as a gift, as it gives us an opportunity to improve. We never belittle a gift and so the government if they value feedback should do likewise. Especially since they have often mentioned they want an open society and not "yes’ men.

In Mr. Brown’s case we did not see any evidence of an open society. Today suspended his column shortly after the MICA letter as though he has done something wrong. Mr. Brown never attacked any one personally in his article. Yet MICA rebutted Mr. Brown on a personal level, bringing up his autistic child hinting that he had vested interest. However for those who read his article you would know that was not the case. He was prepared to pay for the increase. I quote from the article he wrote, ‘We can afford it, but we do know many families who cannot, even those that are making more money than we are, on paper.’ Their response is simply unbecoming of a ‘first world’ ministry of information. Don’t get me wrong, we uphold MICA’s right to rebut him but they should do it logically and with dignity. In the same breath, we uphold Mr. Brown’s right to reply, which sadly in this case he was not given the opportunity. He should have been allowed to respond and to let the public decide the truth.

Further more, I do not agree with MICA that Mr. Brown has to provide an alternative policy. Mr. Brown is not part of a political party and is simply a Singaporean on the receiving end of the government’s policies. On the other hand MICA being a service provider and the government is obliged to do so. I am a member of the Workers Party and we are obliged to give an alternative. This is similar to a customer complaining to a bak chor mee hawker that the noodles are bad. In such a case the bak chor mee man does not expect the person to offer an alternative recipe.

Mr. Brown reflects the feelings of the people resulting in his popularity. He gives the government valuable feedback. The government can do two things with this feedback. They can either regard his views irrelevant i.e. ignore him or otherwise take them on board and change. But he should not be belittled or punished for expressing his views. He is just a Singaporean who loves his country and wants to make it better for his fellow Singaporeans. This is evident in his pod cast "I am a Singaporean" produced in the spirit of National Day.

So I appeal to the government to be more receptive to feedback and to Today to reinstate his column. Let Mr. Brown continue to speak.

Eric Tan stood as one of the Workers' Party candidates for East Coast Group Representation Constituency, in the recent general election. This letter, however, was written in his personal capacity.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Whatcha gonna do brother when Hulkamania destroys you!!!

I know this is a departure from what i normally blog about but i couldn't help it while going through YouTube. I came across this video over there. Brought back alot of good memories when i was much younger and things weren't that complicated. Guess its the same with alot of people when they are much younger.

For those of us who grew up in the 80s & 90s, and watched WWF wrestling on TV, will always remember Hulk Hogan and his famous entrance theme song, I Am a Real American. WWF, or World Wrestling Federation, went through a name change quite sometime ago. Its known nowadays as WWE or World Wrestling Entertainment.

Yeah, yeah we all know these fights were scripted and all. But for those of us who enjoyed watching this, it was all about the hype & entertainment, good vs evil, that sort of thing. And Hulk Hogan embodied all these and more. And i can safely say a whole generation of us grew up loving this guy whose a legend and cultural icon!! So go ahead and just enjoy the video!! :-))

"A color revolution for Singapore" - FEER talks to Chee Soon Juan

Singapore’s ‘Martyr,’ Chee Soon Juan
by Hugo Restall
Far Eastern Economic Review

July/August 2006 edition


Striding into the Chinese restaurant of Singapore’s historic Fullerton Hotel, Chee Soon Juan hardly looks like a dangerous revolutionary. Casually dressed in a blue shirt with a gold pen clipped to the pocket, he could pass as just another mild-mannered, apolitical Singaporean. Smiling, he courteously apologizes for being late—even though it is only two minutes after the appointed time.

Nevertheless, according to prosecutors, this same man is not only a criminal, but a repeat offender. The opposition party leader has just come from a pre-trial conference at the courthouse, where he faces eight counts of speaking in public without a permit. He has already served numerous prison terms for this and other political offenses, including eight days in March for denying the independence of the judiciary. He expects to go to jail again later this year.

Mr. Chee does not seem too perturbed about this, but it drives Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong up the wall. Asked about his government’s persecution of the opposition during a trip to New Zealand last month, Mr. Lee launched into a tirade of abuse against Mr. Chee. “He’s a liar, he’s a cheat, he’s deceitful, he’s confrontational, it’s a destructive form of politics designed not to win elections in Singapore but to impress foreign supporters and make himself out to be a martyr,” Mr. Lee ranted. “He’s deliberately going against the rules because he says, ‘I’m like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. I want to be a martyr.’”

Coming at the end of a trip in which the prime minister essentially got a free ride on human rights from his hosts—New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark didn’t even raise the issue—this outburst showed a lack of self-control and acumen. Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the man who many believe still runs Singapore and who is the current prime minister’s father, has said much the same things about Mr. Chee—“a political gangster, a liar and a cheat”—but that was at home, and in the heat of an election campaign.

Mr. Chee smiles when it’s suggested that he must be doing something right. “Every time he says something stupid like that, I think to myself, the worst thing to happen would be to be ignored. That would mean we’re not making any headway,” he agrees.

But one charge made by the government does stick: Mr. Chee is not terribly concerned about election results. Which is just as well, because his Singapore Democratic Party did not do very well in the May 6 polls. It would be foolish, he suggests, for an opposition party in Singapore to pin its hopes on gaining one, or perhaps two, seats in parliament. He is aiming for a much bigger goal: bringing down the city-state’s one-party system of government. His weapon is a campaign of civil disobedience against laws designed to curtail democratic freedoms.

“You don’t vote out a dictatorship,” he says. “And basically that’s what Singapore is, albeit a very sophisticated one. It’s not possible for us to effect change just through the ballot box. They’ve got control of everything else around us.” Instead what’s needed is a coalition of civil society and political society coming together and demanding change—a color revolution for Singapore.

So far Mr. Chee doesn’t seem to be getting much, if any traction. While many Singaporeans don’t particularly like the PAP’s arrogant style of government, the ruling party has succeeded in depoliticizing the population to the extent that anybody who presses them to take action to make a change is regarded with resentment. And in a climate of fear—Mr. Chee lost his job as a psychology lecturer at the national university soon after entering opposition politics—a reluctance to get involved is hardly surprising.

Why is all this oppression necessary in a peaceful and prosperous country like Singapore where citizens otherwise enjoy so many freedoms? Mr. Chee has his own theory that the answer lies with strongman Lee Kuan Yew himself: “Why is he still so afraid? I honestly think that through the years he has accumulated enough skeletons in his closet that he knows that when he is gone, his son and the generations after him will have a price to pay. If we had parliamentary debates where the opposition could pry and ask questions, I think he is actually afraid of something like that.”

That raises the question of whether Singapore deserves its reputation for squeaky-clean government. A scandal involving the country’s biggest charity, the National Kidney Foundation, erupted in 2004 when it turned out that its Chief Executive T.T. Durai was not only drawing a $357,000 annual salary, but the charity was paying for his first-class flights, maintenance on his Mercedes, and gold-plated fixtures in his private office bathroom.

The scandal was a gift for the opposition, which naturally raised questions about why the government didn’t do a better job of supervising the highly secretive NKF, whose patron was the wife of former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (she called Mr. Durai’s salary “peanuts”). But it had wider implications too. The government controls huge pools of public money in the Central Provident Fund and the Government of Singapore Investment Corp., both of which are highly nontransparent. It also controls spending on the public housing most Singaporeans live in, and openly uses the funds for refurbishing apartment blocks as a bribe for districts that vote for the ruling party. Singaporeans have no way of knowing whether officials are abusing their trust as Mr. Durai did.

It gets worse. Mr. Durai’s abuses only came to light because he sued the Straits Times newspaper for libel over an article detailing some of his perks. Why was Mr. Durai so confident he could win a libel suit when the allegations against him were true? Because he had done it before. The NKF won a libel case in 1998 against defendants who alleged it had paid for first-class flights for Mr. Durai. This time, however, he was up against a major bulwark of the regime, Singapore Press Holdings; its lawyers uncovered the truth.

Singaporean officials have a remarkable record of success in winning libel suits against their critics. The question then is, how many other libel suits have Singapore’s great and good wrongly won, resulting in the cover-up of real misdeeds? And are libel suits deliberately used as a tool to suppress questioning voices?

The bottling up of dissent conceals pressures and prevents conflicts from being resolved. For instance, extreme sensitivity over the issue of race relations means that the persistence of discrimination is a taboo topic. Yet according to Mr. Chee it is a problem that should be debated so that it can be better resolved. “The harder they press now, the stronger will be the reaction when he’s no longer around,” he says of Lee Kuan Yew.

The paternalism of the PAP also rankles, especially since foreigners get more consideration than locals. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund will hold their annual meeting in Singapore this fall, and have been trying to convince the authorities to allow the usual demonstrations to take place. The likely result is that international NGO groups will be given a designated area to scream and shout. “So we have a situation here where locals don’t have the right to protest in their own country, while foreigners are able to do that,” Mr. Chee marvels. Likewise, Singaporeans can’t organize freely into unions to negotiate wages; instead a National Wages Council sets salaries with input from the corporate sector, including foreign chambers of commerce.

All these tensions will erupt when strongman Lee Kuan Yew dies. Mr. Chee notes that the ruling party is so insecure that Singapore’s founder has been unable to step back from front-line politics. The PAP still needs the fear he inspires in order to keep the population in line. Power may have officially passed to his son, Lee Hsien Loong, but even supporters privately admit that the new prime minister doesn’t inspire confidence.

During the election, Prime Minister Lee made what should have been a routine attack on multiparty democracy: “Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I’m going to spend all my time thinking what’s the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters’ votes, how can I solve this week’s problem and forget about next year’s challenges?” But of course the ominous phrases “buy votes” and “fix them” stuck out. That is the kind of mistake, Mr. Chee suggests, Lee Sr. would not make.

“He’s got a kind of intelligence that would serve you very well when you put a problem in front of him,” he says of the prime minister. “But when it comes to administration or political leadership, when you really need to be media savvy and motivate people, I think he is very lacking in that area. And his father senses it as well.”

However, the elder Mr. Lee’s death—he is now 82—is a necessary but not sufficient condition for change. Another big factor is how civil society is able to use new technologies to bypass PAP control over information and free speech. The government has tried to stifle political filmmaking, blogging and podcasting. Singapore Rebel, a 2004 film about Mr. Chee by independent artist Martyn See, was banned but is widely available on the Internet.

Meanwhile, pressure for Singapore to remain competitive in the region has sparked debate about the government’s dominant role in the economy. Can a top-down approach promote creativity and independent thinking? The need for transparency and accountability also means that Singapore will have to change. That is the source of Mr. Chee’s optimism in the face of all his setbacks: “I realize that Singapore is not at that level yet. But we’ve got to start somewhere. And I’m prepared to see this out, in the sense that in the next five, 10, 15 years, time is on our side. We need to continue to organize and educate and encourage. And it will come.”

He doesn’t dwell on his personal tribulations, but mentions in passing selling his self-published books on the street. That is his primary source of income to feed his family, along with the occasional grant. As to the charge of wanting to be a martyr, once he started dissenting, he found it impossible to stop in good conscience. “The more you got involved, the more you found out what they’re capable of, it steels you, so you say, ‘No, I will not back down.’ It makes you more determined.”

Perhaps it’s in his genes. One of Mr. Chee’s daughters is old enough that she had to be told that her father was going to prison. She stood up before her class and announced, “My papa is in jail, but he didn’t do anything wrong. People have just been unfair to him.”

Mr. Restall is editor of the REVIEW.


Mr Brown and the case of Rights vs Rice
Singapore Democratic Party
July 11, 2006

For those who wonder why the SDP spends so much time and effort talking about human rights, your answer came in the form of the Mr Brown episode.

In materialistic Singapore, many question the wisdom of championing for human rights and whether these values resonate with the average Joe. Can you eat civil liberties? How does freedom of speech bring you the next paycheck? Can protests make you rich? – are some of the cynicism expressed whenever the idea of democratic freedoms are raised.

Such political myopia has gotten many a society into trouble.

With the economy running away with the rich leaving the poor poorer, people want desperately to voice out their hardships and rectify the imbalance. But through what avenue? The elections are designed to let the PAP tell the people how powerless they are, civil society is all but dead, and the media…well, just ask Mr Brown. The writer’s essay touched a raw nerve in the Government because it expounded on familiar kitchen-table issues albeit in a manner with tongue firmly in cheek. The Government swiftly responded with its routine one-two counter-punch. One consisted of the usual rebuke that politics should be left to wise men in the PAP and two was the more lethal move of removing the writer’s and/or dissident’s means of communication.

The upshot is that there will be no more discussion, or in this case fun-poking, of the cost of living in Singapore in the press. It was like plucking out the only blade of grass that grew out of the hot, dry desert sand.

But this is PAP at its vintage worst. It deprives society of the means to discuss and debate issues that reflect the views of the people. Once this is done it proceeds to paint the picture it wants the people to see – in this case Singapore as a veritable island of milk and honey, no matter how far removed this is from reality.

Can you see now how freedom of speech fits into the equation? Without political rights, including freedom of the press and the right to free expression, Singaporeans cannot talk about issues that directly affect their everyday lives. Without these rights how do Singaporeans like Mr Brown draw attention to the unfairness of the PAP’s economic policies and perhaps change them?

It is true that pocket-book issues are usually the main factors that go into deciding which party voters pick. But this makes sense only in a democratic system where votes really count. In an undemocratic society, talking about pocket-book issues are meaningless when free speech and a free press don't exist.

Look at it this way: In a nomadic, agrarian society that practices subsistence farming, people are constantly foraging for food and shelter. To them political rights don't matter very much. In modern societies, however, one doesn't just up and go to another spot to set up camp and grow crops. People depend more and more on systems and community organization for their livelihoods.

In such societies, there will inevitably emerge a ruling class that will seek to dominate those around it. For the dominated, remaining focused on food and shelter to the exclusion of protecting their right to have a say in how society is run is to invite exploitation and, ironically, eventual deprivation of one’s basic necessities.

Wanting financial security without protecting one’s political rights is like wanting to eat rice without having the fire to cook it. Seen this way, does it make sense to say that rice is more important than fire? Would the cynics, having seen the latest Brown-out, continue to insist that human rights are just airy-fairy concepts that don’t affect our lives?

While we may not be able to eat democracy, the rights that it brings will put the meaning of human into “human beings” and, in the process, keep us alive.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Supporters of suspended Singaporean blogger hold silent protest

Supporters of suspended Singaporean blogger hold silent protest
July 9, 2006

SINGAPORE (AFP) - Supporters of a Singaporean blogger have gathered at a busy subway station for a silent protest at the suspension of his weekly newspaper column after the government criticised his latest satirical piece about high living costs.

At least 30 supporters turned up at City Hall station at 2:00 pm dressed in brown attire in support of the blogger, who goes by the moniker Mr Brown.

"I think most of us feel that it is very important to have an independent voice in the print media," said a 25-year-old man who declined to be named.

He said he was told of the planned protest via a SMS text message on Saturday evening, like many of the others.

"For them to suspend the column is ridiculous," said a 19-year-old Canadian student who only wants to be known as Bronwyn. She was at the subway station with her sister and mother to take part in the silent protest.

The 36-year-old blogger, whose real name is Lee Kin Mun, is aware of the 30-minute silent protest but friends say he is not the organiser.

"We are aware of it but we did not organise it. We are touched by the gesture and we hope that nobody gets into trouble because of us," the blogger's friend Edmund Tan told AFP.

In Singapore any public protest of at least five people without a police permit is illegal. A few policemen patrolled the subway station but no arrests were made.

The Today newspaper's publisher MediaCorp confirmed Thursday it has suspended Mr Brown's weekly column from July 7 but gave no reason.

His latest satirical piece entitled "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!" drew a strong rebuttal from the government who said the writer was distorting the truth.

Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF or Reporters Without Borders) has described the government's condemnation of Mr Brown's column as "disturbing" in light of its already strict curbs on the media.

In April RSF condemned Singapore's restrictions on political discussions in blogs and websites ahead of general elections in May.

Last year the group ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its annual press freedom index.

The photo in this post is taken from a posting by Jeff Ooi of Screenshot, a famous Malaysian blogger. You can read his post at No brownie points for media cops in Singapore.


Here's a report today in the government mouthpiece masquerading as a national newspaper, The Straits Times.

Cops looking into gathering in support of mr brown

By Aaron Low
Jul 10, 2006
The Straits Times

THE police are looking into a gathering of 30 people who turned up wearing brown to support blogger mr brown at City Hall MRT station yesterday afternoon.

Those interviewed said they had come in response to an SMS message that had circulated over the weekend, after the free newspaper Today had suspended his weekly column.

The text message had asked people to wear brown and head for City Hall MRT station at 2pm yesterday, to protest against the 'Government-imposed blackout'.

At about 2pm, The Straits Times found about 30 people standing in groups of four to five, talking and laughing just outside the station. They were mostly in their 20s and 30s, and most had come alone. Also present was a Canadian family of three, a mother and her two teenage daughters.

There were no posters, banners or placards, but artist Zai Kuning, 44, came in a brown T-shirt which said 'I am fed up with progress' on the back.

That was referring to the headline of mr brown's June 30 article, 'Singaporeans are fed, up with progress', that drew criticism from the Government.

Mr Zai said: 'I don't really read mr brown's online postings or his columns but...I wanted to show my support for him because what happened to him was unfair.'

Mr brown is the moniker of full-time writer and blogger Lee Kin Mun, 36. In a letter published in Today on July 3, the Government criticised his last piece on the high cost of living here.

The newspaper then suspended the column, sparking online postings late last week by bloggers and netizens, mostly critical of the freesheet's move.

Yesterday, Mr Lee said through his friend, Mr Edmund Tan, 37, who runs a studio that produces content for mr brown's website, that he knew about the SMS asking people to go to City Hall MRT station but was not the one who initiated it.

'We are touched by the gesture and we hope that nobody gets into trouble because of us,' said Mr Tan.

Some police officers were on patrol at City Hall MRT yesterday but they did not approach any of the people dressed in brown or tell them to disperse. By 2.20pm, people began wandering off, and by 2.40pm, it was over.

It is illegal to organise an assembly of five or more people to support or protest something without a permit.

The police confirmed that nobody was arrested. A spokesman said: 'The police are aware of the incident and we are looking into it.'

Sunday, July 09, 2006

No freedom after speech when power is concentrated in one party

Media Release: Stop harassing Mr Brown and let him speak freely
Singapore Democratic Party
9 Jul 06


The worst of the PAP’s pubescent mind has surfaced yet again with the latest silencing of Mr Lee Kin Mun and the removal of his newspaper column. It is an act worthy of a regime insecure and untrusting of its own citizens.

It is confirmation, as if more is needed, that the PAP governs from a political fortress isolated and under siege. It dictates that criticism and dissenting views are unwelcome, and moves swiftly to eradicate them. The arbitrariness and top-down-we-couldn’t-care-less-how-the-people-feel approach is wielded with increasing frequency.

The treatment of Mr Lee aka Mr Brown is not unlike that of Dr Catherine Lim in years past. This is testimony to the fact that under the PAP – whether it is Mr Lee Kuan Yew or Mr Goh Chok Tong or Mr Lee Hsien Loong as prime minister – the wrapper may change but the package remains decidedly antiquated.

Dr Vivian Balakrishman then fans the flame by saying that "if someone says something which we disagree with, we will say so. If someone says something which is unhelpful we have a right to say it is unhelpful.” The minister ignores the fact that citizens, in whatever capacities, have just as much right to tell the Government what we disagree with and find unhelpful about policies that affect our lives.

Such disagreements between the governors and those governed are bound to exist. The attendant debate and their resolutions must, however, be carried out in an open manner through the mass media – not shut down with Communist-like excuses that no one understands, much less believes.

The Singapore Democrats call on the Government to stop harassing Mr Lee Kin Mun and to restore his rights as a citizen to freely express his views. It goes without saying that this can only be done if the PAP desists in its unconstitutional control of the media.

The PAP needs to catch up in its development with the rest of the Singapore.

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party


This news report by the other government mouthpiece, Channel News Asia, is a classic study as to how a former critic of the PAP government ends-up falling hook, line & sinker for the ruling party by joining the party, imbibing the party bullshit while being a Minister, among other things.

Mainstream media has role in ensuring quality of debate: Dr Balakrishnan
By S Ramesh,
Channel NewsAsia

July 8, 2006


Singapore's mainstream media has a crucial role in ensuring the quality and standard of discourse and national debate, says Second Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

And he says as long as everybody understood their respective roles and respected each other, Singaporeans can have a useful dialogue going forward.

Dr Balakrishnan made these remarks when asked to comment on reactions by the foreign media to a recent decision by MediaCorp's TODAY newspaper to stop publishing a column by "Mr Brown" who was one of its regular columnists.

A recent article by the columnist about the cost of living in Singapore had drawn a sharp rebuttal from a government spokesperson.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "I am not at all concerned at all about what the foreign media thinks. We are not here to fulfil their agenda. Let me put it to you this way. We are all entitled to express our opinions.

"But we also have to be accountable for our opinions and to be prepared from time to time to stand by them or be called to answer them and from time to time to be rebutted. So I see this as part and parcel of the consistent position which the government and people of Singapore have taken."

He added that what is important for Singaporeans, particularly on serious issues, is to have an honest constructive debate with no extraneous agendas involved.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "If you feel there is a problem with cost of living, say so, let's collectively explore solutions. But don't in the name of humour distort or aggravate on an emotional level. That sort of discourse does not generate solutions. It generates more heat than light.

"So we should put this in its proper context. If someone says something which we disagree with, we will say so. If someone says something which is unhelpful we have a right to say it is unhelpful. We have a right to remind everyone that at the end of the day, this is not a fight.

"We are in search of solutions and by working together and by engaging in an honest constructive dialogue we can do so and we want our newspapers to be a part of that process and also to be aware that, the mainstream media in particular. You are not an internet chat room." - CNA/ch

Songs for Sam


Lion City DIY presents

SONGS FOR SAM -
a benefit compilation for victims of capital punishment

This CD is both a memorial and a celebration. First of all, it is a memorial to Shanmugam Murugesu, who was executed in May 2005 for possession of just over 500 grams of cannabis - which qualifies as a mandatory capital offence here in Singapore.

But in a larger sense, this is a celebration of the spirit of Shanmugam and his courageous fight to have the harsh sentence imposed on him reduced.

The CD compiles 12 local original compositions with themes relating to issue of capital punishment. Some of the 12 artistes featured include X' Ho, Zai Kuning, Six T Nine, The Escapist Theorist and Ila Mitra. It will be selling at SG$10 each.

We hope that in listening to this CD, you will also feel that spirit of people who joined the fight to save Sam's life and to prevent any similar miscarriages of justice from taking place again. Part of the proceeds from the sales of this CD will be given to Sam's family. Before his arrest and subsequent execution, Sam was the sole support of his disabled mother, Madam Letchumi, and his twin teenage sons. (Sam was a single father supporting the family with a series of jobs held simultaneously.)

In buying the CD, you will not only be helping this family so recently visited by avoidable tragedy, but will be supporting a cause that argues for the value of life and fights for that.

For more information contact us at songsforsam@gmail.com

Singapore’s falling living standards

Singapore’s falling living standards
by Alex Au
Asia Times Online
July 8, 2006

SINGAPORE - A local Singapore newspaper, Today, just suspended one of its regular columnists after the government gave him a tongue-lashing for his writings about the deteriorating state of the local economy.

Lee Kin Mun, who writes under the pseudonym "Mr Brown", wrote a harsh, though humorous, commentary on June 30 concerning Singapore’s rising cost of living, mentioning that latest official statistics showed that one in every three Singaporean households had suffered a reduction in income over the last five years. The irony, which was not lost on the island state’s government, was that Lee cited official statistics to bolster his argument.

On June 28, the Department of Statistics (DOS) issued a press release with a slew of new data from its general household survey. The most striking result was that only 50% of Singaporean households enjoyed any significant improvement in their income over the five-year period spanning 2000 to 2005.

Moreover, the bottom 10.1% of households reported no or negative income, a marked deterioration from the 2000 level when 8.7% of the population reported they were in the red. The DOS explained that a possible factor for the notable increase was the aging of Singapore's population and that an increasing percentage of the population was retiring.

More striking, perhaps, the 11 to 20 percentile group saw their household incomes fall a whopping 19.7% over the same five year period. On average, these households had S$1,180 (US$744) monthly incomes last year, compared to S$1,470 (US$927) five years previously. On an annualized basis, their average household income fell 4.3% each year. A smaller income fall was recorded for the next up percentile group.

The DOS suggested that the decline in household income in these two groups "was partly caused by the larger number of households with retired persons and no incomes". "It could also be partly due to the higher unemployment in 2005 than 2000 ... and lower income from employment," the statement said, which acknowledges both structural unemployment and depressed wages in less-skilled jobs.

The data on household income notably excludes government hand-outs, which the ruling People’s Action Party doled out just before the general elections they resoundingly won earlier this year. The most recent round of hand-outs, which targeted the lower-income households, was called the "Progress Package". In contrast to the one-third of households which witnessed falling household incomes, the top10% of households saw a 14.8% improvement in theirs. In Singapore dollar terms, their monthly household incomes leapt by an average of S$2,120 (US$1,337) over the period.

The figures show clearly that income inequality in Singapore is increasing rapidly. The DOS reported that the Gini coefficient increased from 0.490 to 0.522 from year 2000 to 2005. The Gini coefficient is a statistical measure of income inequality, whereby the higher the number, the more unequal the distribution.

The Straits Times, Singapore’s government-influenced major English language newspaper, reported that members of parliament were, "not surprised by the survey findings, noting that these reflected the effects of globalization." This response was consistent with the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts' letter to Today explaining that the government "had told Singaporeans all along, that globalization would stretch out incomes".

However, most Singaporeans would probably have taken "stretch out" to mean that incomes would universally rise but at differential rates, not that a large percentage of the population would get poorer. The increasing cost of living was one of the major issues in the May 2006 general election, but the data from this survey was conspicuously not released in time for the May polls.

Shooting the messenger

In his commentary, Mr Brown alluded to how convenient it was that the survey results, together with recent announcements about increases in electricity rates and taxi fares, have come out after rather than before the elections. "We are very thankful for the timing of all this good news, of course. Just after the elections, for instance," he wrote, tongue in cheek. "It would have been too taxing on the brain if those price increases were announced during the election period, thereby affecting our ability to choose wisely," he wrote.

On July 3, a stern rebuke from the government appeared in the form of a letter published in Today. Signed by Miss Krishnasamy Bhavani, the Press Secretary to the Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts, she denied that the release of the survey data was in any way delayed for political purposes. She took Mr Brown to task for writing a piece that "poured sarcasm on many issues", and claimed that his views "distort the truth".

Characterizing his commentary as "polemics dressed up as analysis", Bhavani accused him of calculating to "encourage cynicism and despondency". "Instead of a diatribe," she continued, Mr Brown "should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly."

This statement echoed the government's growing concerns that anonymous bloggers on the Internet have found a venue to criticize the PAP-led administration in ways which otherwise would be impossible in Singapore’s tightly-controlled society. The government's response has been to try to frame all anonymous posts and blogs as “irresponsible and discreditable”, and is now exploring new laws and regulations to rein them in. Mr Brown also runs one of Singapore's best-known blogs, even though he also writes a regular column for the print newspaper.

But immediately after the government's outburst, which included a reminder to the newspaper that, "It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the government," the editors of Today told Lee his column would be suspended indefinitely. Left with only government-influenced mainstream media, Singaporeans will likely be left to guess if their economic lot is improving or deteriorating until the DOS’s next 5-year survey is released - unless their wallets tell them first.

Alex Au is an independent social and political commentator and freelance writer based in Singapore. He often speaks at public forums on politics, culture and gay issues.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Matrix is watching us

I'm posting this primarily for record purposes and for whoever's interested. I've lifted those parts that concern blogs from the latest report issued by the National Internet Advisory Committee. All this information is from the Media Development Authority.


Rise of Blogosphere

1.11 Blogs, which are a form of online diary, are gaining immense popularity in Singapore and around the world. In August 2005, the Singapore Internet Research Centre carried a report stating that Singapore has over 22,000 registered blogs, putting Singapore among the top ten countries with the largest number of registered blogs. Some Singaporean blogs are already making a name for themselves in the blogosphere; for example one local blogger won the 2004 Best Asia Weblog award while several local blogs are also listed among the top 100 blogs in Technorati. However, this might present a problem, especially if the bloggers get carried away and post objectionable content on their blogs, as demonstrated by the recent public outcry over some racist blogs.

1.12 It is with regard to this exciting, evolving landscape that the NIAC was asked by MDA to review the existing Class Licence Framework, first introduced back in 1996 when the Internet was still in its infancy and when 3G and blogs were non-existent. The NIAC believes that the light touch Class Licence Scheme is still the best regulatory approach to deal with evolving technological and market trends but feels that the MDA Class Licence needs to be updated in some areas to factor in these changes.

Treatment of blogs

2.3 Given the emerging pervasiveness and popularity of blogs over the past two years, the Legal Sub-committee considered how blogs should be treated under the Class Licence framework. The Legal Sub-committee noted that a blog, or weblog, is similar to a normal website except that a blog typically comprises of a collection of entries conjoined together – much like a diary. While a diary, in its traditional sense, is a private collection of one’s thoughts; the Legal Sub-committee noted that blogs are usually public in nature. Indeed, popular blogs are able to attract such high viewerships that popular bloggers can collect revenue from advertisements.

2.4 Despite receiving much attention as a new form of content, the Legal Subcommittee is of the view that a blog is not sufficiently distinct from a web-based discussion forum where users can post entries and comments, or sometimes even a simple website that is presented in a “journal” style. In other words, the Legal Subcommittee is of the opinion that blogs, from a legal perspective, are simply “old wine in new wine bottles”.

2.5 Accordingly, the Legal Sub-committee recommends that there is no need to adjust the Class Licence to specifically address blogs, as the Class Licence regime already applies to blogs in the same way as it applies to any internet website or any discussion forum i.e. where a blog is operated by an individual for commercial, political or religious purposes, the blogger would automatically fall under the jurisdiction of the Class Licence.

2.6 For individual private blogs, the Legal Sub-committee holds the view that existing laws are sufficient and can be brought to bear on a blogger whose blog contains material that is detrimental to public and societal interest. The effectiveness of existing laws was vividly illustrated by the threat of possible legal action from A*Star against one of its scholars for alleged defamatory statements on his personal blog, and by the incident where the 3 bloggers posting racist entries on their blogs were convicted in the last quarter of 2005 under the Sedition Act. In addition to existing regulatory safeguards, the Legal Sub-committee also believes that other informal mechanisms, such as peer pressure and blog community norms, would also play an important role in neutralizing any bloggers who may espouse irresponsible or extreme views.