Friday, September 15, 2006

Police say NO to Street Party by Substation; PAP Government's authoritarianism on display for world to see

Press Release by the Substation

Police say “No” to The Substation’s request for road closure; Street Party cancelled.

After months of planning and negotiations with the authorities, the police have turned down our application to close down Armenian Street for a “Street Party” — a collaboration involving several individual artists, arts groups and civil society organisations (CSOs).

It would have featured musical performances on the street, and a range of activities by artists and civil society organisations indoors. It was scheduled for 30 September, several days after the conclusion of the World Bank and IMF meetings. In their response to our application, the police said that only if ALL activities were held indoors, would permission for the event be granted. If the entire event had no CSO involvement, we believe we might have had a better chance of getting permission for the road closure. However, we decided that the event wouldn’t have the same meaning if we couldn’t have at least some performances on the street, and we wouldn’t go ahead without CSO involvement.

Therefore we decided to cancel it. While we are of course deeply disappointed, we want to try again and organise a Street Party in the future. We think it is important for two reasons: (i) we strongly believe in the value of such a community-wide arts and civil society gathering, and (ii) we believe that if successful, it would set a positive precedent for engagement between the arts, civil society and the authorities. Indeed, government leaders have been consistently encouraging civic participation and constructive debate about society. And it’s not as if there haven’t been road closures for arts events before: in 2002, we got permission to close Armenian Street to stage a tribute to our late founder, Kuo Pao Kun.

In this press statement we would like to explain our motivations for organising the Street Party, assert the values we believe it represents, and summarise our negotiations with the authorities.

Since the beginning in 1990, The Substation arts centre has always recognised that art cannot be separated from its social contexts and the circumstances in which it is produced. The Substation’s vision and role — a vision that continues to be urgent and relevant today — is to be an open space that fosters cultural diversity: a place where a wide range of artists, audiences, activists and the public can meet to make art and exchange ideas not just about art, for art’s sake, but to reflect on art’s larger purposes. This approach has led to the emergence, with instrumental support from The Substation, of some of the most exciting artists working in Singapore today — a number of whom are represented in our first international biennale of contemporary visual arts.

It was in this spirit that we decided to organise an event involving the closure of Armenian Street, in front of our building. Our plan was to bring together the diverse arts and civil society groups, and to affirm ourselves as a community of active citizens. Precisely because we hardly ever come together as a community, we believed the Street Party would be especially significant, as it would encourage Singaporeans to appreciate the values of civic participation. Moreover, we wanted to create a strong sense of community ownership of public space, and that’s why closing the street — even if only for one day — matters so much.

It bears repeating: the arts and and civil society are inseparable. In supporting the biggest cultural event of the year, the inaugural Singapore Biennale, the government confirms this. Organised to coincide with the World Bank and IMF meetings, and funded mainly by the government, this biennale, like almost every other biennale in the world, showcases many artists whose work is deeply concerned with social and political issues.

In planning for our Street Party, we worked closely with the authorities, taking into consideration their sensitivities about security during the WB/IMF meetings, and we made compromises. At first we wanted to hold the Party just after the WB/IMF meetings. After discussions with the police, we rescheduled it to the 30th, well after the conclusion of the meetings. We had also initially wanted to organise booths on the street, creating something like a flea-market of arts and civil society organisations. Again, in response to police advice and as a compromise, we decided to move all CSO activities indoors. But what we did not want to compromise on is the involvement of CSOs — their participation is essential.

During this whole process our engagement with the police and other authorities have been very positive. We are encouraged by the open communication that we have had with them, and believe this is something to build upon. We plan to apply to them again in the future with another proposal for a Street Party.

We intend to convene a meeting on 5 October 2006 with the participants from the Street Party, which will be open to the press and the public. The purpose is to discuss everyone’s concerns in the wake of the cancellation of the event. The list of participants (arts groups and CSOs) is below. These organisations may be issuing press statements of their own.

A big thank you to all the participating organisations and individuals for their invaluable support.

The Substation

Participants of the Street Party: Migrant Voices, Vegetarian Society, Pelangi Pride Centre , PLU, Crashout, TWC2, Nature Society, Green Volunteers Network, Singapore Environment Council, Sea Shepherd, STITCH, Cat Welfare, Think Centre, SADPC, AWARE, Youth Employment Singapore, Village Xchange, Footprint Singapore, Magdalena (Singapore), Mercy Relief, The Society for Reading & Literacy, ONE (Singapore), ADLUS, p-10, Spell #7, WITA

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Singapore activist ban "authoritarian": Wolfowitz
By Geert De Clercq, Reuters, 15 Sept 2006

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz on Friday called Singapore's restrictions on the entry of activists for the World Bank/IMF meetings "authoritarian."

But he said the World Bank and IMF did not plan to postpone their annual gathering, which is being hosted by the Southeast Asian city-state this month.

"Enormous damage has been done and a lot of that damage is done to Singapore and self-inflicted. This could have been an opportunity for them to showcase to the world their development process," Wolfowitz said in response to questions from civil society organizations at a town hall meeting in Singapore.

"I would argue whether it has to be as authoritarian as it has been and I would certainly argue that at the stage of success they have reached, they would do much better for themselves with a more visionary approach to the process."

He added that the bar on entry into Singapore for some activists "is a violation of the understanding that we had drawn up" with Singapore.

Singapore objected to at least 27 activists who were accredited to the meetings on the grounds they posed a threat to security and public order and put them on a blacklist of people to be assessed by immigration and possibly refused entry.

Some would-be participants have already been deported or refused entry.

"NO VOICE"

Asked by a civil society activist whether the IMF and World Bank would consider postponing the meeting and hold it somewhere "where it can be held with proper conditions," Wolfowitz said: "I honestly don't think that is feasible or I would consider it."

Roberto Bissio, coordinator of NGO network Social Watch, asked how any international organization could have a meeting outside its home base when the host country is allowed to set the rules.

"We have urged the Singapore authorities to reconsider their position and I hope they will. If they don't, I think they would be making a mistake," IMF Managing Director Rodrigo Rato said.

"The people who have been accredited by us are people who work with us regularly and we don't have any doubt about their capacity to behave and to be respectful of the country's laws."

But he added the meeting would not be suspended. "The meeting is going to be held because there are many issues that need to be discussed and here we are discussing with you," he said.

At that point, about a quarter of the more than 100 civil society activists got up and left the room in protest.

While Wolfowitz and Rato were speaking, about two dozen activists staged a protest in the designated 8 x 8 meter area that the Singapore authorities have set aside for protest.

Wearing white gags inscribed "NO VOICE" -- and after duly registering with the Singapore authorities one by one -- the protesters lined up quietly.

"These limits are ridiculous. Singapore is a developed country; it needs a developed perspective on citizens speaking up," said Haidy Ear-Dupuy of NGO Forum on Cambodia.

by Ian Timberlake, AFP, 15 Sept 2006

SINGAPORE (AFP) - World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz has said Singapore has damaged its reputation with the reluctance to admit 27 activists accredited for the Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings.

Wolfowitz's comments were his strongest yet over the spat that has overshadowed the run-up to next week's meetings in Singapore, which also refused to relax its tough rules on public protests during the events.

The World Bank said he had got a pledge Thursday night from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that each case would be looked at individually, but said the city-state should have handled the matter differently.

"Enormous damage has been done ... A lot of that damage has been to Singapore and it's self-inflicted," he said at a meeting with non-governmental organizations.

"I would certainly argue that at the stage of success they've reached they'd be much better for themselves if they (took) a more visionary approach to the process," he said.

Singaporean officials could not immediately comment on Wolfowitz's statement.

"This is a very serious matter," IMF managing director Rodrigo Rato said at the same meeting with more than 30 representatives of non-governmental organizations.

Rato said activists accredited by the two financial institutions are people they regularly work with.

"And we don't have any doubt of their capacity to behave," he said.

Wolfowitz said Singapore appears to have reneged on a 2003 memorandum of understanding that granted open access to activists accredited for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings.

He said the wording of the memorandum "seems very clear to me."

The local organizing committee said Thursday that "Singapore is aware of its obligations under the MOU and will continue to honour them."

But it said the memorandum of understanding also obliges Singapore to take all necessary precautions to ensure people's safety.

Police have said Singapore is a high-profile "terrorist" target.

Activists allege some people on their way to the IMF-World Bank meetings have been deported and accreditation has been withdrawn from others.

Police confirmed that an Indian activist and two Filipinos have already been deported after being denied entry at Changi Airport because "they posed a potential security and public order threat to the annual meetings."

A Singapore artist alleged that he and two other Singaporeans were questioned by police over anti-IMF leaflets they planned to distribute during the group's annual meeting.

Since independence in 1965, Singapore has grown from a Third World country to an Asian economic powerhouse.

Political stability has been the bedrock of the economic success of the city-state, which never borrowed from the IMF during its rise to become one of Asia's wealthiest nations.

But critics say this came at a price, in the form of restrictions on freedom of speech and political activity.

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