Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sex, drugs and foreigners

The title of this post isn't as vulgar as it sounds. It just concerns serious issues raised by the National Solidarity Party.........

NSP Reaction To PM Lee’s National Day Rally 2006
Press Release, Tue, Aug 22, 2006

It is heartening to hear the PM expressed his optimism of a 3-5% "sustainable long term growth for Singapore." However, the wages of blue-collar workers continue to be depressed by a determined labour policy scourge of keeping wages for this group of workers low to render Singapore labourers more cost-competitive.

It is thus of immense concern that the blue-collar workers will not substantially benefit from the rosy economic statistics without needing increasing government handouts. And this is to say nothing of the constant threat of unemployment and retrenchment, which with the present policies is made insurmountable.

The emphasis of high quality growth sectors in areas like biomedical science, environmental and water technologies and interactive and digital media will inescapably drive the higher limits of the salary scale in Singapore rapidly up, invariably leading to a higher cost of living for all Singaporeans. Workers in the lower rungs will experience even more hardship.

We urge the government to resolve the woes of these workers by taking concrete steps to close the salary gap. For a start, the inexorable tide of cheap and readily available foreign labourers has to be checked. Singapore workers must be allowed the benefit of a prioritised job placement ahead of their foreign counterparts.

The government must seriously incorporate a decent minimum wage structure, coupled with the correct motivational approach for these workers. Persisting in labelling these workers struggling to find meaningful employment as either "choosy" of lacking in the right attitude and mindset is counterproductive.

We accept that global competition is useful for the progress of Singapore, and that foreign talents are a necessary component of a progressive nation. However, we propose that the domain of such competition be limited to the top 15-20% of the high-end professions (doctors, engineers, and big time businessmen, to name a few). We further inject the emphasis that only the right foreign talents be accepted in order to maintain a high standard of competition and to impart esteem to the policy.

We caution the government against a wholesale introduction of foreign competition to every sector and every level of the job market. Such a policy is detrimental to the interest of the majority of our local workers in their bid to make a decent living, and is destined to alienate the locally born Singaporeans. This will only serve to accelerate their departure from the country, exacerbating the chronic brain drain.

Government initiatives like the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) are commendable. However, the government must realistically face up to the truth that the environment in the motherland has simply become less and less attractive for many. As a case in point, businessmen often find themselves competing against GLCs backed by state resources. Faced with powerful monopolies or controlled competitions, many have to compromise their plans, or take the painful decision to leave their birthplace behind.

The sad state of Singapore's population replacement figures aggravates the situation. The Total Fertility Rate of Singapore has seen better days within a short span of 4 decades; from more than 3 in the 60's to an incredible 1.2 today. It is all the more inexplicable that the trend has not been taken too seriously despite the regular population census.

It is highly regrettable that the psychological origins behind this anomaly (for such a young nation) was met inappropriately by material incentives like the Baby Bonus and infant-care subsidies, which has proven to be overrated.

The government has now chosen to vigorously promote the introduction of immigrants into Singapore as yet another quick medicine. However, the government has the obligation to foretell the future consequences such a move will have on Singapore's social fabric - What is to become of the 'indigenous' population who finds themselves in the numerical minority? Will immigrants readily accept naturalisation, or will they 'come and go' as they please, using Singapore as a convenient liability-free springboard to greener pastures? How will our cultural heritage resist being rendered irrelevant by immigrants with little or no historical attachments to that which has defined Singapore?

Many nations are discovering that a liberal immigration policy is no panacea to population growth. And that is to say nothing of the cost of social integration.

In conclusion, the NSP would like to urge the government to look at the issues of wage depression, aversion for procreation, and the departure of aspiring Singaporeans in a more down-to-earth manner. NSP will like to continue to emphasise that intangibles like more media freedom and more space for political expression are sine qua non of a progressive nation. Economic and political liberalisations are different sides of the same coin.

Central Executive Council
National Solidarity Party
A Member of the Singapore Democratic Alliance
Don't miss the latest Feature article from the NSP titled The Great Subutex U-Turn - Injecting The Macabre Facts.

Bovine scatology......in other words, Bull Shit!

I posted on Aug 24 a ruling party minister's reply and now the police have confirmed it yesterday. First, the World Bank was told to go fly some kites when they requested that outdoor demonstrations be allowed. Now, the SDP has been denied a police permit for their rally & march.........

Singapore opposition politician vows to hold illegal protest
AFP
Aug 30, 2006

An opposition Singapore politician vowed to stage a protest march during upcoming IMF and World Bank meetings even without a required police permit.

Police said earlier Wednesday they rejected Chee Soon Juan's application to hold the protest at next month's meets on security grounds.

"Yes, we will go ahead... The world must know about this," the secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party said, criticising a blanket ban on public demonstrations and other political restrictions in the city-state.

Chee, who has served three jail terms - a total of about two months - for speaking publicly without a permit, said he is prepared to risk arrest again.

"It is our right to be able to do that (hold a protest). They (police) will just have to do what they have to do. We will continue to fight for our right as citizens of this country," he told AFP.

However he said he was exploring going to the courts over the rejection of his application.

Police would not hesitate to take the necessary action to enforce the ban on public demonstrations if anyone, including foreign nationals, was caught trying to protest without a permit, said police operations director Aubeck Kam.

Kam said Chee's application was denied for fear it will disrupt preparations to secure more than 16,000 delegates to the September 19-20 meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Previous meetings of the IMF and World Bank have attracted large anti-globalization protests, some of them violent.

"No licence, no permit will be issued ... if it is attempted to be carried out, it will be illegal," Kam told a media briefing on security preparations for the event, the biggest that Singapore has hosted.

"We will enforce the law."

In Singapore, public protests involving at least five people are regarded as illegal unless a police permit has been issued.

Any person who organizes or helps in organising the illegal assembly faces up to six months in jail or a fine or both.

Chee, a vocal critic of the ruling People's Action Party, said the march was aimed at exposing the government's curbs on free speech and what he claimed was the poverty situation in the wealthy city-state.

He was declared bankrupt in February for failing to pay 500,000 Singapore dollars (318,000 US) in defamation damages to former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

Ahead of general elections in May, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father Lee Kuan Yew filed another defamation suit against Chee for allegedly implying they are corrupt.
For years, the PAP govt with the help of our "nation-building" media have fed Singaporeans a steady diet of violent protests & demonstrations all over the world. And terrorism is being used to justify repressive actions by governments against their people as well.

I'm as concerned as the next fellow on the streets about a terrorist attack or demonstrations and protests gone wild. Who wouldn't be. But there have also been peaceful protests & demonstrations all over the world in countries where terrorism is also a concern. And they have pulled it off rather than throw a blanket ban on them.

As I've mentioned in my Aug 24 post, the police should work together with the organisers & participants of outdoor protests to make sure all goes smoothly. And those who do make trouble should be dealt with instead of banning every Tom, Dick & HARRY! By working together, the police would be able to do their job plus the organisers & participants can put out their messages and air their grievances without anything untoward happening. It can be a win-win situation for both parties.

Thing is, there's one major PARTY which sees otherwise. The laws that prohibit such activities are written and passed in a parliament dominated by the ruling Peoples Action Party. They are so blinded by power that they see a win-lose situation - people win; PAP lose.

I can go on & on but i'll just end here with the SDP's Chee Soon Juan writing about bovine scatology among other things. :-)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

For Anneliese.......

According to a report in TODAY, the Catholic Church is being sued for an "alleged act of exorcism"........

Church sued over 'exorcism'

Woman claims damages for trauma of alleged exorcism by two priests and helpers at Novena Church

Wednesday • August 30, 2006

— Channel NewsAsia

NOVENA Church, two priests and seven helpers are being sued for an alleged act of exorcism, in an incident believed to have taken place two years ago.

Ms Amutha Valli Krishnan, 50, an athlete in the 1980s, claimed that attempts to exorcise her later led to chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. A writ of summons was served last Thursday.

In the writ, Ms Amutha Valli claimed that on August 10, 2004, she went to Novena Church to pray with her son, daughter and a close friend. She fainted while she was there.

She is alleging that two priests from the church, Father Simon Tan and Father Jacob Ong, claimed she had been possessed by a spirit, and then performed an act of exorcism, helped by seven others.

The ritual is said to have lasted two-and-a-half hours, during which time Ms Amutha Valli claimed she had resisted furiously. She claimed she was strangled, pinned down and verbally abused.

When contacted, Father Tan claimed Ms Amutha Valli did not faint in church. In fact, he said, she had walked in asking for help, saying she was possessed.

Father Tan also denied any act of exorcism. He said he, Father Ong and seven helpers only said prayers over her.

Ms Amutha Valli's claims against the defendants include trespass, assault, false imprisonment and negligence. She is also asking for damages for loss of income and injuries.

Mr Suppiah Jeyabal, her husband, said: "Before, she was an athlete and ... a very tough person, you know, who (liked) to exercise; she must run and exercise. She also used to coach children — a very tough and active person.

"But now, she's more like a vegetable."

A medical report by a Changi General Hospital psychiatrist states that Ms Amutha Valli's symptoms — which are persistent, severe and extremely disabling —- are a direct result of the traumatic incident she experienced at the church.

According to the report, this has affected her ability to cope with self-care, demands at home and relationships with family members. The doctor added that she would require long-term treatment and follow-up, and is unlikely to fully recover.

Ms Amutha Valli's lawyer said it is still too early to comment, but he believed this is the first such case in Singapore.

The lawyer for the defendants says his clients deny liability and will file their defence by Sept 16. The civil suit is estimated to cost at least $1 million.
This is the first time I'm hearing of such a case in Singapore. Of course, I'm not a lawyer or historian or anything and so there could be some similar cases in our history.

The report reminded me of a movie last year titled The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Its based on true events that occured in Germany in the 1970s to a 23 year old girl, Anneliese Michel (right).

The true story and the movie differ somewhat. The atmosphere. The courtroom drama. The horrific happenings. The actual audio recordings of the exorcism sessions. The tragic end. The movie was very haunting and disturbing. Great performances. Especially the portrayal of Emily Rose played by Jennifer Carpenter (left).

Whether one thinks it was demonic possession or a sickness of the mind or some other medical condition, whatever happened to Anneliese was extremely horrifying and sad. The following report about Anneliese by Telegraph was published about the same time as the movie........
'God told us to exorcise my daughter's demons. I don't regret her death'
Elizabeth Day
27 Nov 2005


At the end of an ordinary road in a little town in Bavaria stands an unexceptional house, its walls a dirty white, the window frames painted a flaking green. But behind the locked front door and the lowered shutters a dark tale of extraordinary horror lurks.

Twenty-nine years ago, the house was filled with fear. The nights were punctuated by howls and screams, the mornings filled with inhuman voices. The neighbours did not know it then, but they were hearing the exorcism of a young woman who would shortly die.

At the time, it was believed that Anneliese Michel, a 23-year-old student from Klingenberg, had been possessed by six demonic spirits who would not let her go. After enduring 67 rites of exorcism over nine months, she succumbed to starvation in 1976.

She forced herself to fast, believing that it would rid her of the influence of Satan and when she died her weight was down to 68lb. "Mother," she said, just before the end, "I'm afraid."

Last week saw the release of a film loosely based on the life and death of Anneliese Michel. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is set, as is Hollywood's way, in modern-day America and focuses not on the of the exorcism itself, but on the prosecution of the exorcists after the heroine's death. Tom Wilkinson plays Fr Moore, the rural priest who believes he has acted on the side of angels, and Laura Linney stars as his hard-nosed but reluctant defence attorney.

Anneliese's parents, Anna and Josef, were put on trial for their daughter's murder alongside the two priests who performed the exorcisms. All were found guilty of negligent homicide by allowing her to starve and given suspended six-month prison sentences and three years' probation.

Anneliese's mother, who still lives in the house where her daughter died, has never quite recovered from those terrible times. Her husband died six years ago and her three surviving daughters have moved away. So Anna Michel, now in her eighties, bears the burden of memory alone. Her bedroom overlooks the graveyard where Anneliese is buried, under a wooden cross bearing her name and the inscription "Resting with God."

The house is quieter now, but the pain is evident still. "I don't want to see the film and I don't know anything about it," Mrs Michel says, her eyes glazed with the film of cataracts. "I miss Anneliese, of course. She was my daughter. I can see her grave from the house. I visit it often, taking flowers."

For a moment, it is easy to forget her turbulent history. She looks like a benign great aunt, contoured with soft lines drawn across papery skin, her brittle white hair tucked under a floppy black hat. She clearly does not like speaking about Anneliese's death and, until now, she has maintained a public silence.

But nor does she regret her actions. A deeply religious woman, she insists that the exorcism was justified. "I know that we did the right thing because I saw the sign of Christ in her hands," she says in a voice surprisingly forceful for one so frail. "She was bearing stigmata and that was a sign from God that we should exorcise the demons. She died to save other lost souls, to atone for their sins.

"Anneliese was a kind, loving, sweet and obedient girl. But when she was possessed, it was something unnatural, something that you can't explain." She pauses. From the very beginning, Anneliese's life was governed by fear. Her family was deeply religious. Her father had considered training as a priest and three of her aunts were nuns. But the Michels had a secret.

In 1948, Anneliese's mother gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Martha, bringing such disgrace on her family that she was forced to wear a black veil on her wedding day.

When Anneliese was born in 1952, her mother encouraged her to atone for the sins of illegitimacy through fervent devotion. But when Martha was eight, she died from complications arising from an operation to remove a kidney tumour. Anneliese, a kind-hearted and deeply sensitive girl, must have felt ever more strongly the pressure to do penance for her mother.

She found herself increasingly surrounded by evidence of sinfulness and increasingly anxious to be rid of it. While other children in the 1960s were rebelling testing the limits of their freedom, Anneliese slept on a bare stone floor to atone for the sins of the drug addicts who slept rough at the local train station.

In 1968, aged 17, she began to suffer convulsions. Although initially diagnosed with grand mal epilepsy, she started experiencing devilish hallucinations while praying. By 1973, she was suffering severe depression and considering suicide. Voices in her head told her she was damned. She asked the local priest for exorcism and was twice refused.

But gradually, Anneliese slipped further into the abyss. She would perform 600 genuflections a day, eventually rupturing her knee ligaments. She crawled under a table, barking like a dog for two days. She ate spiders, coal and bit the head off a dead bird. She even licked her own urine off the floor and could be heard through the walls screaming for hours.

In 1975, her third request for exorcism was granted by the Bishop of Wurzburg. "I don't regret it," says Anna Michel firmly. "There was no other way."

We shall never know if there was. By this stage, Anneliese had refused further medical intervention from the Psychiatric Clinic Wurzburg. Her symptoms have subsequently been compared to schizophrenia and should have responded to treatment.

There has also been speculation that Anneliese might have been influenced by the release of William Friedkin's The Exorcist, in 1973. But whatever lay behind her disturbance, the exorcism could have caused Anneliese to believe her own hallucinations.

There was certainly no doubting the extent of Anneliese's turmoil. Her exorcism was performed by Fr Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt according to the 1614 Rituale Romanum. One or two four-hour sessions a week were held over nine months. The priests identified several demons, including Lucifer, Judas Iscariot, Nero, Cain and Adolf Hitler, who spoke with the correct Austrian inflections.

Forty-two hours of the process were recorded and the tapes are said to make terrifying listening. Barely human growls mingle with throaty gurgles, screamed obscenities and a series of dialogues between each of the demons about the horrors of Hell. The sessions often resulted in such brutality that Anneliese would be held down or chained to her chair.

By the spring of 1976, Anneliese was suffering from pneumonia and emaciation. Gradually weakened and exhausted to the point of fever, she died on July 1. Her parents buried her next to Martha at the outer edges of the cemetery - ground normally reserved for illegitimate children and suicides. Even in death, Anneliese was not free of the sinfulness she fought so hard to repent of.

Today, the 2,000 inhabitants of Klingenberg are unwilling to speak of Anneliese Michel. A gentle enquiry to passers-by is greeted with hostile glares and a shake of the head. "The town is ashamed," says Christiana Metzler, 42, who works in the tourist office. "I was at school when it happened and there were a lot of things covered up. People don't want to talk about it. There is a feeling that it was the parents' fault because they were so religious they didn't see what was happening. Sometimes Catholic pilgrims come to her grave because they think she can save lost souls. But there are not many of them. Now there is this film coming out, we are worried it will all be stirred up again."

It is a past that the Church is ashamed of, too. In 1984, German bishops petitioned Rome to review the exorcism rite in the light of the Michel case. Although their recommendations were not adopted, the Vatican published a revised exorcism rite in 1999 - the first update since the 17th century - and has introduced a qualification in exorcism that maks priests undergo medical training.

"I wouldn't have carried out the exorcism [on Anneliese Michel]," admits Fr Dieter Feineis, the current priest at St Pankratius Church in Klingenberg. "But both Anna Michel and her husband remained absolutely convinced that what they had done was right. The view of the Church is that it is possible to be possessed, but in Germany there are no more exorcisms."

In Italy, however, it is a different matter. According to the Italian Association of Psychiatrists and Psychologists, half a million Italians seek exorcisms each year. There are about 350 practising exorcists worldwide. Earlier this year, a priest and several nuns in a Romanian Orthodox convent in Tanacu believed that Maricia Irina Cornici, a 23-year-old nun, was possessed. They carried out an exorcism ritual and tied her to a cross, pushing a towel in her mouth and denying her food or water, She was dead three days later.

Was this death, or Anneliese's, the work of Satan or was the act of exorcism itself to blame? It is a question that tests the limits of faith and science. But for Anneliese's mother, sitting in her bedroom and looking out over the snow-covered graveyard, there is no uncertainty. "I give out a prayer to pilgrims who come to visit her grave," she says. "They are prayers to be said every day and they thank God for her giving her young life for other sinners so that we can be shown how to devote ourselves to the will of God."

As she shuffles slowly on her visits to leave flowers at the graves of her dead daughters, she cuts a lonely figure among the grey headstones. For Anna Michel, faith is all she has left.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Muslim Myopia by Irshad Manji

Here’s an Aug 16 op-ed by Irshad Manji published in the New York Times…….

Muslim Myopia

New Haven

LAST week, the luminaries of the British Muslim mainstream — lobbyists, lords and members of Parliament — published an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, telling him that the “debacle” of both Iraq and Lebanon provides “ammunition to extremists who threaten us all.” In increasingly antiwar America, a similar argument is gaining traction: The United States brutalizes Muslims, which in turn foments Islamist terror.

But violent jihadists have rarely needed foreign policy grievances to justify their hot heads. There was no equivalent to the Iraq debacle in 1993, when Islamists first tried to blow up the World Trade Center, or in 2000, when they attacked the American destroyer Cole. Indeed, that assault took place after United States-led military intervention saved thousands of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo.

If Islamists cared about changing Iraq policy, they would not have bothered to abduct two journalists from France — probably the most antiwar, anti-Bush nation in the West. Even overt solidarity with Iraqi suffering did not prevent Margaret Hassan, who ran a world-renowned relief agency in Baghdad, from being executed by insurgents.

Meanwhile, at least as many Muslims are dying at the hands of other Muslims as under the boots of any foreign imperial power. In Sudan, black Muslims are starved, raped, enslaved and slaughtered by Arab militias, with the consent of an Islamic government. Where is the “official” Muslim fury against that genocide? Do Muslim lives count only when snuffed out by non-Muslims? If not, then here is an idea for Muslim representatives in the West: Go ahead and lecture the politicians that their foreign policies give succor to radicals. At the same time, however, challenge the educated and angry young Muslims to hold their own accountable, too.

This means reminding them that in Pakistan, Sunnis hunt down Shiites every day; that in northern Israel, Katuysha rockets launched by Hezbollah have ripped through the homes of Arab Muslims as well as Jews; that in Egypt, the riot police of President Hosni Mubarak routinely club, rape, torture and murder Muslim activists promoting democracy; and, above all, that civil wars have become hallmarks of the Islamic world.

Muslim figureheads will not dare be so honest. They would sooner replicate the very sins for which they castigate the Bush and Blair governments — namely, switching rationales and pretending integrity.

In the wake of the London bombings on July 7, 2005, Iqbal Sacranie, then the head of the influential Muslim Council of Britain, insisted that economic discrimination lay at the root of Islamist radicalism in his country. When it came to light that some of the suspects enjoyed middle-class upbringings, university educations, jobs and cars, Mr. Sacranie found a new culprit: foreign policy. In so doing, he boarded the groupthink express steered by Muslim elites.

The good news is that ordinary people of faith are capable of self-criticism. Two months ago, 65 percent of British Muslims polled believed that their communities should increase efforts to integrate. The same poll also produced troubling results: 13 percent lionized the July 7 terrorists, and 16 percent sympathized. Still, these figures total 29 percent — less than half the number who sought to belong more fully to British society.

Whether in Britain or America, those who claim to speak for Muslims have a responsibility to the majority, which wants to reconcile Islam with pluralism. Whatever their imperial urges, it is not for Tony Blair or George W. Bush to restore Islam’s better angels. That duty — and glory — goes to Muslims.

Irshad Manji, a fellow at Yale University, is the author of “The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith.”

Right on cue a blanket ban citing the usual crap

The Singapore Democratic Party put out a media release on Aug 22, 2006. It says an application has been submitted to the police on Aug 22 for “….a group of Singaporean democracy defenders will conduct public rallies and marches to coincide with the WB-IMF meeting”. You can read the full release by clicking the link I’ve provided in the first sentence. But I would like to post the details of the event itself here….

Event: Empower Singaporeans Rally and March

Dates: 14 to 20 September 2006

Participants: Open to Singaporeans from all walks of life

Objectives: One, to highlight the fact that the Singapore Government denies Singaporeans their freedoms of speech, association, and peaceful assembly. Two, to highlight the plight of poor and working Singaporeans.

Itinerary:

1. Assembly and rally at Speakers’ Corner.
2. Walk along South Bridge Rd to Parliament House.
3. Rally outside Parliament House.
4. Walk along North Bridge Rd, Stamford Rd, Nicoll Highway to Suntec City.
5. Rally outside Suntec City.
6. Walk along Bras Basah Road and Orchard Road to the Istana.
7. Rally outside the Istana and dispersal.
And right on cue on the evening of Aug 23, our pro-government news broadcaster CNA had an “exclusive interview” with the ruling party Minister-in-charge of overseeing the WB-IMF meetings. She was quoted as saying “Under our local rules, we do not allow any outdoor demonstrations or marches. That’s a strict no-no. We have to stand very firm. Because to us, the threat is real” and “We have our own local rules on public order and we do not see any compelling reason to change them simply because we’re hosting the Singapore 2006 or the IMF-World Bank meetings.” What else can one expect a ruling party Minister to say.

So the World Bank and the SDP got their answers.

Given the PAP government’s past record, the SDP would not have gotten the go-ahead for their planned peaceful public rallies and marches. I stress peaceful because I don’t believe the organisers of the events would want anything otherwise since the whole point of it is to allow Singaporeans to participate in the activities and have their real voices heard.

The ruling party must really think we Singaporeans are a bunch of immature maniacs infected with mad cow disease who will go on a rampage or something! Instead of facilitating such events and working together with the organisers to ensure everything goes smoothly, the PAP government opts for the usual baloney by placing a blanket ban on the whole thing.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

World Bank wants Singapore to Allow Protests at Annual Meet

One can only wonder what really goes on in these deliberations between the World Bank and Singapore authorities compared to what’s known publicly. Well, we shall know soon enough….

World Bank press reviews

Aug 22, 2006

“The World Bank said Tuesday Singapore should allow outdoor protests by accredited groups during the Bank’s joint meetings with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) there next month. ‘The Bank’s preference for these meetings and all others has been to seek space for civil society to protest peacefully outside. That remains our preferred position,’ World Bank representative Peter Stephens said in an e-mailed statement. ‘We are aware of Singapore’s laws and announcements on this subject. We have been having discussions with the government at various levels to see if a compromise position can be reached. Those discussions continue.’

Stephens said the World Bank looked forward ‘to a substantial and fruitful series of engagements with civil society organizations during and after the annual meetings, recognizing their important role in achieving development outcomes.’ [Agence France Presse/Factiva]

A World Bank statement said that as of August 17, about 200 representatives of civil society organizations from around the world had been accredited, and another 200 were in the process of requesting accreditation to participate in the meetings. They represent ‘a wide array of organizations from 45 countries,’ including non-government organizations, community and faith-based groups, labor unions, foundations and research centers. ‘This is the largest number ever of civil society organizations participating in the annual meetings and demonstrates the heightened civil society interest in the event,’ the statement said. [Agence France Presse/Factiva]

Bloomberg adds that Stephens said in an interview ‘the Bank’s preference is that civil society groups should be able to peacefully express their views outside of the conference facility in a way that doesn’t cause disruption.’ The news agency notes that “Singapore forbids the public assembly of more than four people without police permits and is unused to the mass rallies associated with global trade and finance summits. Singapore police last month said groups accredited by the World Bank and IMF would be allowed to hold demonstrations in a designated area of the downtown convention center hosting the Sept. 12-20 meetings. All other protests will need police permission.”

Other news reports meanwhile note that “Singapore police stood firm Tuesday against public demonstrations. ‘We are unable to waive the current rules which prohibit outdoor demonstrations and processions, so as not to compromise the high level of security that will be in place during the conference,’ police said in a statement to the news agency. ‘The World Bank has suggested some alternatives for consideration and we will examine the practicality of these.’” [Agence France Presse/Factiva]

Sunday, August 20, 2006

World Bank/IMF in cahoots with PAP govt to silence NGOs and activists

This is mostly for my own record and also for those who may not know what the fuss is all about. The two press releases below are from a regional human rights organisation called Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development or FORUM-ASIA for short.

Open letter to the Government of Singapore on civil society participation in World Bank – International Monetary Fund (WB-IMF) meeting in Singapore, 19-20 September 2006

3 March 2006

Mr Lee Hsien Loong
Prime Minister
Republic of Singapore

CC.
Ms. Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Ms. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the (UN) Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders
Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom opinion and expression of the UN Commission on Human Rights
Mr. Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of the UN Commission on Human Rights
Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, President, World Bank
Mr. Rodrigo de Rato y Figaredo, Managing Director, IMF

Dear Mr. Lee Hsien Loong;

As a network of the national, regional and international civil society organisations, we the undersigned express our grave concerns about the impending restrictions and threats reportedly being made that will hamper meaningful civil society participation at the upcoming WB-IMF meeting in Singapore, 19-20 September 2006. These threats and restrictions will jeopardize civil society engagement with various inter-governmental bodies on strategic issues such as trade, aid, debt, sustainable development, human rights, peace and human security.

We understand that your government, as well as WB-IMF, are making some arrangements for actions by foreign NGOs, during the above meetings. In our experience such regulated processes tend to be selective, exclusive and provide very limited opportunities for the expression of civil society voices, particularly of marginalised groups who are directly affected by the deliberations and decisions of these meetings. Thus, we would like to highlight the importance of spontaneous and unrestricted civil society actions before, during and after the WB-IMF meeting.

We are also concerned by reports that only selected foreign organisations may be “allowed” to stage peaceful protests – waiving the rules that normally apply in Singapore – and that like-minded Singaporean organisations will not be allowed to do so. We emphasise that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, particularly the right to organize and participate in peaceful protests are universal rights that should be enjoyed by all people, including Singaporean people and organisations.

We consider statements such as the one reportedly made by Mr Wong Kan Seng, Singapore Home Affairs Minister, that certain civil society actions may “attract severe punishment, including caning and imprisonment”, as veiled threats towards civil society.

The World Bank – IMF meeting in September is not a meeting that concerns only Singapore. Its deliberations and decisions will affect millions of people in hundreds of countries. Hence it will bring thousands of activists from all parts of the world to Singapore, and the eyes of the world will be on this country.

This will be an excellent opportunity for Singapore to display its respect and commitment to uphold universally-recognised human rights standards, particularly freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Restrictions on peaceful civil society actions of any kind and threats of using cruel, inhumane and degrading punishments such as caning will only erode Singapore’s credibility in the eyes of global civil society.

We look forward to your response to our concerns.

Sincerely yours,

1. Anselmo Lee, Executive Director, FORUM-ASIA
2. Sinapan Samydorai, President, THINK CENTRE
3. Debbie Stothard, Coordinator, ALTSEAN-Burma
4. Lucia Victor Jayaseelan, Coordinator, Committee for Asian Women
5. Al Alegre, Executive Director, Foundation for Media Alternatives
6. Aileen Bacalso, Secretary-General, Asian Federation Against Disappearance
7. Fred Lubang, Regional Representative, Nonviolence International
8. Lidy Nacpil, International Coordinator, Jubilee South
9. Jenina Joy Chavez, Senior Associate, Focus on the Global South
10. Irene Xavier, Coordinator, TIE Asia
11. Hye-Woo Na, Coordinator, Leaders and Organizers of Community Organization in Asia
12. Zinithiya Ganespanchan, Coordinator, Women’s Network for Peace and Freedom
13. Wilfred Dcosta, General Secretary, Indian Social Action Forum
14. Khalid Hayat, Balochistan Rural Development & Research Society
15. Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, AIN O SALISH KENDRA
16. Anis Hidayah, Migrant Care, Perhimpunan Indonesia
17. Agnes Khoo, Executive Director, Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives
18. Mohiuddin Ahmad, Regional Committee, Jubilee South/Asia-Pacific Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD)
19. Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director, NGO Forum on ADB
20. Ana Maria R. Nemenzo, Freedom from Debt Coalition
21. Steve Hellinger, President, The Development GAP
22. Bernadette T. Aquino, World Council of Churches Women and Globalization Program
23. Danielle Mahones, Executive Director, Center for Third World Organizing
24. Deus M. Kibamba, Gender Networking Programme
25. Andrew Mushi, Tanzania Association of Non Governmental Organisations
26. Mouafo Florent Noel, Centre for Promotion of Social and Economic Alternatives
27. Novita M. Tantri, Yayasan NADI
28. Rosemarie R. Trajano, Executive Director, Kanlungan Center Foundation
29. Nikki Reisch, Africa Program Manager, Bank Information Center
30. Dr. Mala Bhandari, Social and Development Research & Action Group NOIDA, India
31. Virgilio da Silva Guterres, President, Timor-Lorosa’e Journalists’ Association (TLJA
32. John Mihevc, Chair, Halifax Initiative Coalition, Canada
33. Chris Wangkay, Coordinator for Debt Campaign, INFID (International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development)
34. Dongwon Jo, Media Culture Action, Seoul, S.Korea
35. Zi Teng, Hong Kong
******
Government of Singapore restricts civil society participation in the IMF-WB Annual Meetings in September

Bangkok, 2 August 2006

FORUM-ASIA expresses its grave concern about the decision of the Singaporean authorities to ban outdoor peaceful demonstrations and impose a permit process for indoor events where foreign participants are involved, for the upcoming annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB). This is despite requests by civil society organisations around the world to allow such activities through an open letter dated 3 March 2006 to the Singaporean government.

In a news release on 28 July 2006 by the Public Affairs Department of the Singapore Police Force, it was categorically stated that outdoor demonstrations and processions would not be allowed. Foreign civil society organisations that are not formally accredited by the IMF and WB have to apply for police permits, even for indoor events.

As mentioned in the 3 March joint letter from civil society organisations, the meeting has implications for millions of peoples in hundreds of countries and hence, this course of action limits the opportunities for these affected peoples and human rights defenders taking up their cause through peaceful means, as stipulated in Articles 1, 5 and 6 in the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This was adopted by all states including Singapore during the 53rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1998 and other UN human rights instruments.

We note the reported comment by Singapore Police Force’s Chief-of-Staff Soh Wai Wah that the Singapore Police Force do “learn” from the Hong Kong experience of “public order threats.” We hope this means that Singapore Police Force will not repeat the disproportionate use of force, mass arbitrary detention, inhumane and degrading treatment during detention and baseless prosecution of 14 activists against whom the charges were finally dropped by courts in Hong Kong.

FORUM-ASIA urges the government of Singapore to rethink its restrictive orders.

We also call on the IMF and WB, as organisers of the meeting, to intervene with the Singaporean authorities to promote and facilitate civil society participation. They can do this by going beyond the civil society accreditation process and ensuring that peaceful spontaneous events in relation to the meetings can happen without prior permissions and restrictions, including those based on nationality. Otherwise, their pledges to promote and facilitate civil society participation will remain empty rhetoric.

Friday, August 18, 2006

PAP govt hands Falungong member to China on a silver platter

Here’s a disturbing report by TODAY…..

Case closed, Falungong member to be deported

Friday August 18, 2006

Loh Chee Kong
cheekong@newstoday.com.sg

The prosecution has dropped its charge against a 73-year-old Falungong member yesterday, 11 days before she was due to stand trial with two others.

Instead, Mdm Chen Pei Yu, a female Chinese national, will be repatriated on Monday.

Mdm Chen and two Singaporeans, Ng Chye Huay, 41, and Erh Boon Tiong, 49, were arrested and charged after the trio unfurled a “Stop persecution of Falun Gong in China” red banner and meditated in front of the Chinese Embassy last month.

They were charged with “harassment by displaying insulting writings - with common intention” and the trial was set for Aug 28 to Sept 1.

Ng and eight other Falungong members are also facing trial for illegal assembly in a separate case.

Yesterday, when Mdm Chen heard in court that her charge would be dropped, she demanded to know if she had “flouted any law”. However, Magistrate May Mesenas stressed repeatedly that “the case is closed” and she was free to go.

Speaking to Today afterwards, Mdm Chen, who has lived in Singapore for more than two years and has been a Falungong practitioner for the past nine years, said her life “would be greatly endangered” if she is deported back to China.

Charged on July 21, Mdm Chen said she was brought back to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority on Aug 10. She said her passport and personal documents were confiscated and she was told to return to China within four days.

Mdm Chen, who has a daughter living here, said her friends found her a lawyer, Mr M Ravi, and he wrote in to extend the deadline by a week.

“I want to know why I was arrested and why my charge was dropped,” she said.

When asked, the deputy public prosecutor for the case told Today the court does not discuss such reasons.

Mr Ravi, who is representing the trio, said that Mdm Chen is a material witness for Ng and Erh, and he would ask the Courts to allow her to stay in Singapore until after the trial.

Falungong is a religious sect that has been banned in China since 1999, after it was accused of fanning unrest. It is not illegal in Singapore but several followers here have been arrested for holding illegal assemblies in which they handed out their publication, The Epoch Times.
According to a 2002 Human Rights Watch report Dangerous Meditation: China’s Campaign Against Falungong
Since 1999, Falungong practitioners have been the target of an aggressive and often violent crackdown by the Chinese government, one aspect of much broader tightening of controls on individuals and organizations whose activities China’s leaders perceive as threatening to Chinese Communist Party control. The past two years have witnessed a deterioration in civil liberties nationwide, with disparate groups-political dissidents, foreign scholars, labor organizers, religious believers worshiping outside official aegis, activists in Tibet and Xinjiang, Internet users, academics, and editors whose messages challenge the Party line, among others-facing new restrictions and abuses. The crackdown on Falungong is both symptomatic of the larger trend and significant in its own right for the vehemence with which the authorities have moved to eradicate the organization and “reeducate” its members.
And for quite sometime now, there has been news of allegations of organ harvesting of Falungong members in China. You may want to read the REPORT INTO ALLEGATIONS OF ORGAN HARVESTING OF FALUN GONG PRACTITIONERS IN CHINA by David Matas & David Kilgour.

According to the news report by TODAY, when the DPP was asked why Mdm Chen was arrested and the charges dropped later, the reply was “..the court does not discuss such reasons”. Its quite obvious the decision is not so much as judicial but political. Its a known fact that the PAP government is very close with the Chinese government. The number of trips former PM, and currently Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew has made to China will give one the impression that Singapore is a part of China!! The many favourable local media reports on China add to this impression. In fact, I’ve been asked a few times whether Singapore’s in China while I was abroad for a few weeks!!

What is disturbing to me is this: Given China’s many human rights abuses, the PAP government is handing Mdm Chen over to them on a silver platter when she’s deported on Mon, Aug 21. Once over there, she could either get harassed by the authorities; or imprisoned; or even tortured and god knows what else.

Of course, the decision should not come as a surprise since Singaporeans themselves are denied their civil and political rights and pretty much live in a gilded cage within a climate of fear.

Freedom of Expression and The Media in Singapore

Media ownership and the regulatory environment define the way the media operates in Singapore. Political, regulatory and structural control over the local media restricts and discourages the development of an environment where views can be expressed freely. A culture of self-censorship can be observed, created by and enforced through lawsuits or the suspension of offending publications, or the threat of such action. Furthermore, foreign media activities are restricted and regulated closely in an effort to control the flow of information and free expression.

Although there are debates over the censorship of nudity, pornography and homosexuality in the media, the area that receives most active scrutiny by the government is the media space that allows opposition parties, civil society opponents and foreign journalists to comment on local issues. Censorship of political expression is achieved through a mixture of ownership, legislation, defamation suits, harassment and self-censorship on the part of the media.
The above abstract is from a report on Singapore’s media from Article 19 entitled Freedom of Expression and The Media. Article 19 is an international human rights NGO which defends and promotes freedom of expression and freedom of information. The report looks at the media in 7 Asian countries. The report on Singapore was written by James Gomez (left).

A related post: PAP takes aim at FEER after it publishes article on Chee Soon Juan & Singapore politics

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Workers Party's National Day Message

Source: Workers Party

Singapore celebrates our 41 years of nationhood against the backdrop of the recent General Elections 2006.

The people have chosen and returned the ruling regime to power. Many Singaporeans told us that the Workers Party had given them a credible choice and that we had fought a good fight. The people have encouraged us to continue the struggle. We will certainly respond to this call and will continue to lay the foundations for Singapore’s political development. We will keep your choice alive.

As our 42nd year begins, let us reflect on how far we have progressed since the GE and what the future holds.

Transport Fare Hike

The post Elections dust has settled, and rising cost of living and price hikes are, once again, the order of the day. Over the last 3 months, Singaporeans had to accept hikes in both taxi and SMRT fares.

The reason given to the Public Transport Council by our transport operators is that of rising diesel prices, cutting into its earnings. The Workers’ Party noted that Comfort DelGro posted net earnings of about S$200 million last year, while SMRT made about S$100 million. Did they consider passing the benefits of lower COEs for taxis to the commuting public?

The Workers Party proposed in our manifesto that public transport operators, as the name suggests, should not be profit driven, let alone be listed. This is so that these operators do not have the anticipated pressure by shareholders (largely Government Linked Companies) to produce increasing Returns on Investments and quarterly profits.

We, therefore, call on the ruling regime to ensure that public transport operators should primarily serve the interests of public commuting needs and not only the shareholders.

Towards an open society

The Workers’ Party noted, with disappointment, the suspension of Mr. Brown by TODAY newspaper shortly after the MICA rebuttal to his column. Such intolerance is surely not evidence of an open society.

Mr. Brown never attacked anyone personally in his article. Yet MICA rebutted Mr. Brown on a personal level, bringing up his autistic child and hinting that he had vested interest. The response by MICA is simply unbecoming of a ‘first world’ ministry.

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.

Whilst MICA has the right to rebut anyone, the Workers’ Party calls on our first world ruling regime to do so logically and with dignity.

Widening Income Gap

A household survey showed that the bottom 30% income percentile saw incomes fall over the period 2000-05, whilst the highest income percentile saw incomes rise over the same period.

The recent changes in foreign worker policies and levies by the Ministry of Manpower are purportedly to protect the jobs and raise wages of Singaporeans. In reality, despite these changes, Singaporean workers can never compete on a level playing field with foreign workers.

The Foreign worker has the option of going back to his country, better off from the wages he earned here and the much lower costs of living back there. On the other hand the Singaporean worker has to contend with the higher cost of living and housing here. As such the Singapore worker is at a great disadvantage compared to the foreign worker in terms of expected wages. The management’s challenge is to extract the maximum productivity from the cost of labour. Are we giving employers an easy way out by allowing them more access to cheaper foreign workers?

The Workers’ Party, therefore, calls upon the Government to look at the plight of our Singaporean workers and come up with a more satisfactory solution to raise the salaries of the lower income group and close the income gap.

During GE2006, the Workers’ Party proposed the ruling regime ministers to benchmark their performance on their ability to uplift the conditions of our bottom 20% income percentile. Will our ministers be willing to benchmark themselves to the ground?

Hope For The Future

According to a recent study by the British think-tank New Economics Foundation (NEF), the Happy Planet Index ranked Singapore as 131st on a list of 178 nations, faring the worse of all in ASEAN and Asian nations, in a survey that measured people’s well being and their impact on the environment.

On the anniversary of Singapore’s 41 years of nationhood, the Workers’ Party seeks to make Singapore a better and happier home in which every Singaporean can make contributions.As a political party, we will protect and promote the rights and dignity of all in society, especially the less fortunate. As fellow Singaporeans, we will do our part to create a vibrant environment in order to allow Singaporeans to maximize their potential in different fields.

Happy Birthday Singapore!

ERIC TAN HENG CHONG / YAW SHIN LEONG

Treasurer/ Organising Secretary
Date 16 August 2006

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Fascination with Deep Throat

Ever since my early teens, I’ve been fascinated with Deep Throat. Obviously I’m not referring to the infamous porn movie of that era.

After more then 3 decades, Deep Throat’s identity was revealed when Vanity Fair published an article late last year called I’m the Guy They Called Deep Throat.

What an end to this mystery, which has fascinated and captivated millions for so many years, when it was revealed Deep Throat was actually Mark Felt, the number two at the FBI at the time of the Watergate break-in!

So you can imagine my delight and excitement when these two books were published recently! The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat by Bob Woodward and A G-Man’s Life: The FBI, Being “Deep Throat”, and The Struggle for Honor in Washington by Mark Felt.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I had the time of my life reading these two books written by the Washington Post reporter & Deep Throat who met secretly several times in an underground parking garage as they worked to expose the Watergate scandal.

Read also The Washington Post's Watergate Story & Deep Throat Revealed!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

One gutsy lady!

I read Irshad’s book, Trouble with Islam Today - A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, a few years ago when it was published. A very interesting book. I highly recommend this book to everybody. Here’s a July’06 interview with her by Times of India which I got from Irshad’s official website....

“Allah is perfect; Allah’s interpreters are not” Author, journalist and activist Irshad Manji has received death threats since appearing on British television: she is a lipstick lesbian, a Muslim and scourge of Islamic leaders. Priyanka Dasgupta lifts the veils off the refusenik

The New York Times has dubbed Irshad Manji “Osama Bin Laden’s worst nightmare.” She takes that as a compliment. Irshad is the best-selling author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith.

A self-confessed lesbian, she also travels the globe to lecture about the liberal reformation of Islam. Her audiences include Amnesty International, the United Nations Press Corps, the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, the International Women’s Forum and universities from Cambridge to Notre Dame. Oprah Winfrey honoured Irshad with the first annual Chutzpah Award for “audacity, nerve, boldness and conviction.” Her livewire critiques have evoked severe reactions. One of the reactions posted on her website says, “I swear by Allah that some brothers are planning to take action against you. . . Just as Van Gogh was taken care of. This is your last warning.”

Theo Van Gogh was the Dutchman who made a film criticising the treatment of women under Islam and was stabbed to death on an Amsterdam street. His killer left a note threatening others in the name of radical Islam.

Irshad’s Toronto home now has bullet-proof windows. Currently, Irshad is based at the Yale University as a visiting fellow with the International Security Studies program. She is also making a feature film on Islam.

The New York Times had once described you as the biggest threat to Osama Bin Laden. If you were to ever meet Osama, what would you tell him?

• I would introduce ‘Osama Uncle’ (as good South Asian girls might say) to a 26-year-old British Muslim of Pakistani heritage. This young man recently left the jihadist terror network because he says that my work compelled him to re-think. After the introductions, I would sit back and let this former terrorist tell Osama Uncle what he needs to hear.

Would you attribute your growing up in Canada as being a huge influence to your way of thinking?

• I would say that the seminal influence on my thinking is the experience of being a refugee. I value the spiritual journey far more than the destination. That’s why I can appreciate the ambiguity of the Quran, even though it’s drilled into the heads of little Muslim boys and girls that Islam is the “straight path”. It may be straight, but it’s also very wide.

Why are so many fundamentalists opposed to such a progressive idea of creative thinking as Ijtihad?

• There are at least two kinds of Muslim fundamentalists who oppose ijtihad, Islam’s tradition of creative reasoning. One camp despises independent thinking because it challenges established power structures. Quite simply, they fear losing the personal privileges that come from a certain interpretation of the Quran. What they see as divinely created, such as Sharia law, is actually man-made. Therefore, the responsibility to update laws for the 21st century rests in the hands of Muslims, not God. But many fundamentalists believe that to acknowledge this is to demean God. To them I say: Allah is perfect; Allah’s interpreters are not. A second camp actually exercises a crude form of ijtihad, even as it threatens others for doing so. These are violent jihadis, who turn their backs on traditional, non-violent interpretations by cobbling together their own conclusions. Then they actively prevent others from drawing their own conclusions, threatening to rape, torture, or murder those who disagree with them. They’re the reason I must have bullet-proof windows at home, bodyguards in certain parts of the world, and a policy about living near police stations — one of the criteria for determining my address at Yale University.

So how does one propagate the theory of creative reasoning?

• But the answer, in my view, is not to leave ijtihad to the self-appointed ‘experts’. Such elitism only cements the pattern of submissiveness that afflicts the contemporary Muslim mind — an affliction that stops too many reformist Muslims from speaking up as extremists take over. The answer, I believe, is for open societies like Canada and India to democratise the practice of ijtihad while using all the legal tools at our behest, including criminal codes, to nail those individuals who preach hate in God’s good name. In early June, after 17 Muslim men in Canada were arrested for allegedly plotting a terrorist attack, I publicly asked my country’s law enforcers and justice officials why it’s taken so long to prosecute the people who spread radical Islamist ideologies. Canada has used the criminal code to deport a Holocaust denier on the one hand and a Hitlerloving Aboriginal leader on the other, but has never gone after Hindu-bashing, women-scorning, minority-mincing Islamist preachers. Why not? So far, no answer. The problem is not too much ijtihad; it’s too much hypocrisy in treating those who abuse it.

What will be your message to the fear-ridden people of our country?

• Ultimately, my message is about more than reforming Islamic practice. It’s about fighting the forces that seek to turn any of us — Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, even atheists — into robots for received wisdom. Let us remember that we don’t cease to be individuals merely by belonging to identifiable groups. Let us lose the false — and dangerous — assumption that just because human beings are born equal, cultures are too. Cultures aren’t born. They’re constructed. Finally, let us bear in mind that the universality of human rights is premised on the dignity of the individual, not the sanctity of culture. When we sanctify that manmade construct called culture, we’re actually damning it. We drain culture of the dynamism that individual creativity injects. We wind up with groupthink otherwise known as fundamentalism.

Irshad speak:

Fundamentalism is about where you wind up — and staying there.

Pluralism is about enjoying, but also learning from, the twists and turns in the path.

What I fear are not people, creatures, or events. I fear complacent states of mind, especially passivity — the intellectual, artistic and spiritual sluggishness that comes from losing faith in ourselves as individuals.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The proof of the suing....by Michael Backman

Michael Backman
Aug 10, 2006
The Age

MANY in Asia see the media as an enemy. Rather than seeking to befriend journalists and commentators, they threaten them, often with defamation proceedings. Both governments and business do this not realising that their actions turn constructive critics into enemies.

Just last week, the Singapore Government announced that the Far Eastern Economic Review’s distribution in Singapore would now be contingent on it paying a $S200,000 ($A167,000) bond, a reserve from which legal bills would be paid if the Review is sued in a Singapore court. It must also name a legal representative in Singapore to deal with any law suits. Already its circulation is capped.

You’d think the Review was pornographic. But as far as the Singapore Government is concerned, it’s something far more dangerous: a source of independent opinion.

The bond was announced just after the Review published an interview with Chee Soon Juan, a Singapore opposition figure, an interview about which Lee Kuan Yew and his family reportedly had consulted their lawyers. (The interview can be read at www.feer.com/articles1/2006/0607/free/p024.html. See what I mean about how the Singapore Government gives publicity to its critics. They’ve just done it again.)

The previous week, the Singapore Government attacked as partisan a local newspaper columnist who’d written mildly about wealth disparity in Singapore. The newspaper fired the columnist three days later. When will the US invade to restore freedom and democratic principals, you might well ask?

My first encounter with intimidatory tactics came when I published a book, Asian Eclipse, in 1999. The first would-be litigant was Lee Ming Tee, a Malaysian living in Hong Kong who had acquired an Australian passport under the business migration program. I alleged in the book that he had had several run-ins with regulatory authorities. I said so because it was true.

However, through his London lawyers he threatened to sue me, the publishers and the distributors of the book unless it was immediately withdrawn, apologies were printed in newspapers around the world and damages were paid. I had, he claimed, damaged his reputation. Given that he was facing 11 counts of criminal fraud at the time, this seemed a bit rich. Furthermore, he wouldn’t have been able to appear at any hearings because the Hong Kong authorities had confiscated his passport. Ultimately he went to jail.

More than anything, the threat seemed to be designed to stop me from writing about him again. He wasted his money.

The tendency either to ignore the media or to view it as a servant occurs Asia-wide. Expatriate Australian Alistair Nicholas, who runs AC Capital Strategic Public Relations in Beijing, says that in China, local companies when they bother courting the media at all, tend to be ham-fisted about it. They pay the media to run positive stories.

The stories, says Nicholas, are usually written by a PR agency and read like “advertorials with syrup on top”. This has little impact with Chinese readers because, after 60 years of communism, they are very adept at spotting propaganda. Another approach is to call editors who are running negative stories and threaten to pull advertising unless the stories stop. Another is to call the journalists and threaten them.

But Nicholas sees some positive signs, even in China. The bigger Chinese companies that are looking to list overseas are starting to consider getting outside, professional PR help. His firm now has several large, state-owned enterprises as clients for training on media interview skills and crisis communications skills. But they remain the exception.

There is a saying in Asia that it’s the tall bamboo that catches the wind. Accordingly, many don’t want any publicity whatsoever unless it is entirely on their terms. There is no “Asian way” when it comes to transparency and the media.

And so there is a big role in Asia for consultants like Alistair Nicholas in hastening change, in persuading Asian business and political leaders not to fear the media but to learn how to use it to their advantage without resorting to crude means such as censorship, propagandising or the intimidatory use of defamation suits.

Change comes slowly but it does come.

michaelbackman@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

“Rebel” gets “stern warning” - First world government indeed!

“After 16 months of investigation, three interrogation sessions, 120 questions, and not discounting a covert round of interviews with some friends and associates, the police has finally decided to close their case against me”
For those who do not know, or vague about, what this whole “Singapore Rebel” affair is all about, click on the above link to read Martyn See’s account.

Given the amount of time; energy and resources put into this “investigation”, and the number of people, including Martyn See, who were harassed and put through such an ordeal by the authorities, one can be forgiven if one comes away with the impression that ”Singapore Rebel” was being investigated for being a video message from Osama bin Laden or his number two in Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri!!!

I’m tempted to spew vulgarities at the injustice of it all but I shall refrain from doing so.

Instead, I’ll settle for just showcasing this injustice to Singaporeans and the wider world, to highlight the despicable levels to which the ruling Peoples Action Party government will stoop to, just to secure & maintain their hold on power by going after anything & everything they perceive to be a threat to the party.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? - Privacy in a Police State

I’ve been working on this piece for quite sometime. Never got around to completing it ‘cos I had to look for all the raw information, sources, etc, etc. After all, I’m just an average citizen. Not some researcher or academic. Citizen journalist?? Maybe. Anyway, that’s not the point here.

As I was saying, I finally got around to completing this piece after reading a recent Straits Times report “Green light for portable phone numbers”. The report was about the IDA’s decision to allow mobile phone users to keep their existing numbers while switching service providers. But what got my attention in the report was this paragraph which said “The telcos may also have to pay fees to access a centralised database of phone numbers. By January, the IDA will appoint a firm to set up and run this database, estimated to cost about $5 million.” Especially those phrases in bold.

Two things sprang to mind when i read this report and an earlier Straits Times report Hundreds more cameras on streets to bolster security. One was the phrase "Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?" which is Latin for "Who guards the guardians?". The second was the recent incident during the elections with regards to the minority candidates certificate.

Of course, the local media being what it is, will not raise the issue of Who guards the guardians? which i will get to after you read the May 22 report....

Hundreds more cameras on streets to bolster security

Apart from a check against terrorism, new CCTV schemes are aimed at crime,traffic problems

by Goh Chin Lian, May 22, 2006, The Straits Times

HUNDREDS of new electronic eyes will be watching the streets of Singapore, under three new police and transport authority projects to be completed by next year.

The Land Transport Authority will install closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras to monitor 67 traffic junctions and the Singapore Police Force will put up another 91 in the Raffles City area, where the International Monetary Fund and World Bank conferences will be held in September.

The third project, also by the police, will link traffic cameras to a new system at police headquarters that could eventually be smart enough to spot unlawful and suspicious acts, from theft to a person planting a hidden explosive. The cameras will also record events, allowing the authorities to review street scenes for security checks, in the event of, say, a terrorist attack, as was the case in the London subway bombings in July last year.

Details of the three projects were spelt out in government tender documents obtained by The Straits Times.

The new moves follow the success police have had in reducing crime in CCTV-monitored areas such as Boat Quay, Newton Hawker Centre, Little India and Geylang. Buses and trains here could be next to have electronic eyes, going by the experience of several major cities like London, where the network of 500,000 cameras helped track down perpetrators of the terror attacks.

For now, the LTA’s new cameras will monitor traffic junctions in the northern and eastern parts of Singapore, as well as on the outer ring of roads that bypass the city, the LTA told The Straits Times. This includes a stretch of the Central Expressway from Moulmein Road to Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, parts of Upper Serangoon Road, as well as streets in Tampines and Bedok.

The cameras, to be installed by the third quarter of next year, will complement cameras in place at 109 junctions, mostly within the Central Business District and roads close to the city.Traffic controllers at a remote centre in River Valley Road use the cameras to monitor and keep traffic moving smoothly.

Since last August, they have also used the cameras - which can zoom in on a vehicle’s licence plate - to police motorists who park illegally, wait along major roads or in the yellow boxes. They have caught more than 400 motorists with the cameras so far at three hot spots - Orchard Link, Bideford Road and Woodlands Centre Road. These cameras, as well as those overlooking expressways, will be linked wirelessly to police headquarters.

This is part of a new video management system that aims to integrate the CCTV systems of the MRT, airports, checkpoints and key buildings, according to police tender documents calling for contractors to install the systems. The police intend to have a system smart enough to detect abnormal events, including loitering vehicles and suspicious gatherings. They also want it to guard against false alarms, such as adapting to changes in lighting and the cyclical movements of water fountains and escalators. And alarms are expected to sound as soon as a suspicious person leaves behind a parcel and disappears, to allow authorities to pre-empt any explosion.

Police also hope the system will link images from cameras mounted on police vehicles or portable outposts to the central police system.

The new cameras at the Raffles City area will be mounted mostly on lamp posts or new poles. The area to be monitored includes Suntec City, Marina Promenade, Ritz-Carlton, Fullerton Hotel and One Fullerton. Also on the list are the Golden Mile Complex taxi stand at Beach Road, the back lanes of Circular Road and Lorong Telok near Boat Quay, and towards Club Momo from Solomon Street. The existing CCTV systems at Boat Quay and Little India will also be integrated with the Raffles City network so it can be easily monitored by the surveillance operators.
I recall reading the Latin phrase in James Gomez’s book titled Internet Politics: Surveillance & Intimidation in Singapore which was published in 2002. You don’t really find books on such topics being published often in Singapore by a Singaporean author. In Chapter 3 of the book, titled The Modern Police State, it explains why Singapore under the ruling party can be understood as a police state. Here are some excerpts:
“The existence of “the police”, a separate force designed entirely for enforcing the criminal law, is a product of modern urban society. The establishment of a metropolitan police force in London in 1829 is usually seen as the single most important event in this development. The existence of a police force, by its very nature, raises several related political issues. The oldest is summed up by the Latin question, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” (Who guards the guardians?). That is, given the capacities and force of arms which the police must have to do their job, to whom are they accountable and how can they be prevented from abusing their position.”

“A police state is one in which the executive uses the police and other instruments of the state from the bureaucracy, judiciary and other agencies and tools at its disposal to monitor and control civil and political activities of its citizens and others on its territory and even beyond. The police are used to limit civil and political liberties in accordance with legislation introduced by the ruling regime. Such policing goes beyond politics and intrudes also into economics and social life.”

“What characterises Singapore’s political system is the constant query, worry and anxiety among the majority of the citizens, foreigners and observers that individuals and groups will get into trouble with the police and the political authorities for challenging the political status quo. Such anxiety is based on repeated examples of political challengers consistently being found guilty of contravening the system of tight and restrictive laws that govern people in the city-state.”

“In Singapore, those who show the potential for political action against the ruling regime are treated as possible threats to the state and are heavily monitored and policed. It is a system where resistance to the ruling party is controlled by policing political opponents using very restrictive legislation. Laws are constantly modified whenever space is found for political expression, mobilisation and action. The ruling party’s domination of parliament allows for the passage of new laws as well as continual amendment of the constitution so that the legal environment can be constantly revised to serve the ruling party’s needs.”
I couldn’t have said it more eloquently. A major concern is an individual’s privacy in a police state. I’m all for number portability & efforts to enhance our safety and security. At the same time, given the nature of our political system and the immense power the ruling party wields, how can we be sure that the system will not be misused or abused by those who are managing it? Who are they accountable to? Where are the checks? The safeguards? Do we take the PAP government’s word for it that it won’t be misused or abused and how can we be sure of that?

This brings me to the incident i mentioned at the beginning. The ruling party and the local media went stir-crazy over a trivial incident involving Gomez. (The link to an article by yawning bread will fill you in on what the incident was all about) Instead, i’ll cut to the chase.

Singapore’s Elections Department released CCTV footage and voice recordings of Gomez’s interactions with department staff. According to the department, they did so “in order to leave no doubt about the integrity of the electoral process”.

The incident was over the submission of a form. Initially, Gomez said he did submit the form. Later on, he realised his oversight and apologised in front of a crowd of thousands at a rally. Mind you, this was not CCTV footage of the London subway bombings or even a bank heist!But the ruling party went berserk with conspiracy theories with the local media all over it. Furthermore, all this during the 9 day campaigning period allowed for the general election. I believe a statement from the department would have sufficed because the media would surely have run the story as they were salivating over it since it first broke!

The Elections department is not an independent entity as one would expect if it was an Independent Elections Commission. Instead, the department is under the Prime Minister’s Office. To be more specific, its directly under the charge of the Minister for Home Affairs. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs who is also the Deputy Prime Minister are from the ruling party.

If the CCTV can be used in such a manner over a trivial incident, one can imagine how it can be misused or abused. As I’ve said before, i’m all for efforts to allow technology to benefit consumers or protect the people and society. At the same time, there needs to be an independent mechanism to guard the guardians as well so that the system will not be abused and used to secure the ruling party’s hold on power.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Press Release on SMEGMA by Theatre of Fire

Here’s a press release, dated Fri Aug 4, by the president of Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire) which I received today. For those not familiar with what’s going on, please refer to my earlier posts Controversy surrounds Theatre of Fire yet again and Early curtains for provocative play by TODAY.

You’ll not see this press release in our local press. Even if they do publish or broadcast it, or even parts of it, it’ll be presented in a negative fashion. Opposition political parties, human rights/political activists or organisations are not the only ones who face such problems with our local media.

Press Release - MDA bans another play by Elangovan

TRUTH IS THE GREATEST ENEMY OF THE STATE

The Media Development Authority of Singapore’s (MDA) censorship of the arts has become an unbearable joke today.

We applied for a public entertainment licence for the play SMEGMA, written and directed by Elangovan (bilingual poet-playwright-director) a month ago to the MDA for censorship vetting.

I called the MDA on Tue 1 Aug afternoon at about after 2pm to find out about the licence. I was told that MDA has approved the licence and it was ready for collection. About half an hour later, I received a call from an MDA officer saying that the licence was not ready and they were still processing. When I asked her whether it was a joke and also added that I would go the media, she immediately did a full roundabout and said that the licence was ready and we could collect it.

We collected the black & white approved licence document from MDA at 4.55 pm on Tue 1 Aug 06 after paying them S$20 by NETS at the counter. The conditions in the licence were as expected- RA18 with advisory: “The play is Rated RA18. The play contains strong language and adult themes that may be objectionable to some members of the public. The advisory must be reflected in all publicity materials.”

Today, at about 2.30 pm, I received a call from an MDA official who did not reveal her name. She informed me that the licence which MDA issued to our group Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire) for the play SMEGMA has been cancelled. She did not give any reasons and I demanded for a written letter. She said that MDA would follow up.

Meanwhile, MDA had a press conference for the local media at 3pm at its premises to inform that they had cancelled the licence issued for the play SMEGMA The script of SMEGMA was given to the press members for private reading and collected back.

I finally received a letter by fax today from Ms Amy Tsang,confirming the cancellation of our licence with the following reasons:

Para1. Further to our teleconversation today, we would like to inform you that the Media Development Authority (MDA) is cancelling the arts entertainment licence No: 005/08/2006 issued on 1 Aug 2006 for the play ‘SMEGMA’.

Para 2. After careful consideration, we find that the play undermines the values underpinning Singapore’s multi-racial, multi-religious society, and may negatively impact upon our bilateral relations with our neighbours.

Para3. The play portrays Muslims in a negative light. Two playlets featuring Muslim terrorists are also provocative in view of the increased tension in the Middle east.

Para 4. In view of this, MDA has decided not to let the play be staged.

After the above fax, I received a call from MDA saying that they would be faxing another letter soon and it would supercede the fax sent earlier. I received the final fax at 5.29 pm with a cover letter saying - “Please ignore the earlier letter on the above subject which we had faxed to you before 5 pm today. The attached supercedes the previous letter.” Now, this fax had only one para (para 2) to give a reason for the cancellation:

“Para 2. After careful consideration, we find that the play undermines the values underpinning Singapore’s multi-racial, multi-religious society, and portrays Muslims in a negative light.” Paragraph 2 from the earlier letter disappeared and paragraph 2 has been amended.

Elangovan’s TALAQ faced a different sort of problem in OCT 2000 from the then PELU of the Police. The licence was not issued and the whole situation ended in a fiasco, that led to a relook at the censorship laws for plays in Singapore.

But now, six years later, the esteemed MDA has created a mess for a small minority theatre group, by issuing the licence and then cancelling the licence, and also changing their reasons for the cancellation, the same day.

MDA had a month to vet the play. They claim on their website that they would usually vet a play and respond after two weeks. MDA had sufficient time to vet the play and inform us. We would have made the necessary amendments if MDA had informed us earlier. What’s wrong with the Censorship panel of MDA and its super-efficient officers? Why are MDA officers behaving like this? Why cancel the licence on the eve of our production, which is tomorrow and Sunday? If MDA had cancelled the licence much earlier, we would not have proceeded with our production. We would have saved our finances but now we have lost so much.

It only confirms that liberalisation of the arts in Singapore is just lip-service of the 66.6% powers that be. What happened to us ( worse than the TALAQ incident in 2000) may happen to fellow artistes in this country. With the National Day celebrations to glorify nation-building next week, and the IMF meeting in September, what Freedom of Expression are we talking about in Singapore?

It is a painful joke. Grateful if you would globalise this Singapore Joke.

Thank you.

S Thenmoli (Ms)
President
Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire)

Early curtains for provocative play by TODAY

I suggest you read my related post Controversy surrounds Theatre of Fire yet again before going on to read the following report by TODAY. Of course, being another government mouthpiece, it doesn’t really focus much on the other side’s views and perspectives.

Early curtains for provocative play

A day before its opening, MDA says it portrayed Muslims negatively

Weekend • August 5, 2006

Loh Chee Kong AND Ashraf Safdar
cheekong@newstoday.com.sg

LESS than 30 hours before it was to open on Saturday evening, the Media Development Authority (MDA) pulled the plug on controversial playwright P Elangovan’s latest work.

The MDA announced that it was withdrawing the arts entertainment licence for Mr Elangovan’s provocative offering which, it said, portrayed Muslims negatively.

It is the first time the MDA has disallowed the staging of a play since it was formed in 2003 and took over the licensing of arts entertainment from the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit (Pelu). The agency issued some 1,200 arts entertainment licenses last year with about a fifth of those requiring a rating.

Mr Elangovan, too, was initially granted a licence on Aug 1 to stage his full-length play over two nights during the weekend at The Substation.

But in its press statement on Friday, the MDA said that it was banning the production Smegma, which was scheduled to be performed by theatre group Agni Kootthu, as it was “insensitive and inappropriate for staging”.

The MDA added that it had consulted the Arts Consultative Panel — a committee formed in 2004 and made up of 35 members including arts and media professionals, educators and grassroots representatives — and its members were “concerned that the play could create unhappiness and disaffection amongst Muslims”.

The synopsis for the play, which was to be staged at The Substation’s 100-seater Guinness Theatre, read: “The bizarre experiences and incidents in the play interrogate the moral, cultural, religious, political, economical legitimacy world from many perspectives of the underdogs and their masters. When the comfort zone is shattered, ugliness rears its head like smelly smegma.”

With its script filled with Hokkien and English expletives, the play consists of 10 vignettes.

These included one which depicted Singaporeans’ sexual escapades with underaged girls overseas and a class of kindergarten children calling their Member of Parliament a “pig”.

Another scene scripted also has three men in a prison cell making fun of the Singapore flag.

Mr Elangovan, 48, told Today that he had submitted the script last month and was granted a licence for it under an RA (18) rating for “strong language and adult themes” on Tuesday. That very same day, however, he was also informed of the National Arts Council’s decision to cut its funding for the play due to “sensitive content”.

Beneath the coarse language and disturbing scenes, Mr Elangovan said that Smegma “analyses the five stars on the Singapore flag”.

After hearing of MDA’s decision through a phone call on Friday afternoon — he was informed in writing about three hours later — he told Today that he was “unsurprised”.

”This is always happening to me,” said the playwright, who, in his 33-year career, has been labelled a maverick by his milder critics and a “rabble-rouser” by his harsher ones.

In 2000, another of his plays, Talaq — about an Indian-Muslim woman’s brush with marital violence — was banned by Pelu in the face of protests from Muslim and Indian authorities.

In 1975, he was investigated by the Internal Security Department because of his reinterpretation of a classical Indian story where a Muslim and Hindu King have a conversation.

When Today spoke to the playwright-cum-director about Smegma earlier, Mr Elangovan said that he doesn’t intentionally write incendiary material.

But in this case, the MDA indicated that he had crossed the line. It said: “Smegma undermines the values underpinning Singapore’s multi-racial, multi-religious society. The play portrays Muslims in a negative light.”