Was our phenomenal GDP growth worth selling our soul for?

When I listen to the painful experiences of ex-political detainees like Dr Lim Hock Siew, I question whether our phenomenal GDP growth over the past 40 years was worth selling our soul for (if indeed the two were interchangeable). Would I settle for a less developed country that did not have such a shameful past? It’s a hard question to answer, even though the morally correct answer should be obvious.

Watch Martyn See’s recording of a speech by Dr Lim Hock Siew, Singapore’s second-longest detained political prisoner, who was imprisoned without trial from 1963 to 1982. This is the kind of stuff that needs to go into our national education curriculum and screened in Singapore Discovery Centre. Our young people need to know the sacrifices these opposition politicians made for the sake of their beliefs and their convictions on how to forge a better Singapore for all of us.

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Peace vigil for Aung San Suu Kyi @ Speakers’ Corner

Message from Maruah (Singapore Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism), which is organising a peace vigil for Aung San Suu Kyi at 5.30pm on May 31 at Speakers’ Corner.

This is a peaceful rally to ask as many people in Singapore to give two hours of their time to show support to a courageous women – Daw Aung Sung Suu Kyi – who has been placed under house arrest for almost two decades and now is held in a formidable prison.

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My interview with an ex-ISA detainee

Passion for activism extinguished…but not for long

This article is the first part of a week-long focus on The Online Citizen of the 22nd anniversary of the 21 May 1987 government clampdown on a group of so-called “communists” and “marxists”, who were detained under the ISA – and never charged or brought to trial.

On 21st May 1987, 22 social activists in Singapore were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for allegedly plotting a so called “Marxist conspiracy” to overthrow the Singapore government. Although they were never tried in an open court, the full weight of the government’s machinery, including the state-controlled media, was used to make the government’s case against these activists.

The detainees’ side of the story has seldom been heard by the general public. In the 20 years after the detentions, the mainstream media has shied away from telling the ex-detainees’ stories.

Mr Tan Tee Seng was 28 years old when he was detained, along with 21 others. In an exclusive two-and-a-half hour interview with The Online Citizen, Mr Tan speaks about his background and activities in the 1970s and 80s, his arrest in 1987, his experience under interrogation and detention, and his life after his release.

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Govt wiretapping opposition? MHA must respond to State Dept

I glanced through the US Department of State’s annual human rights report on Singapore. It contains little that I don’t already know. Much of it was a cut-and-paste from last year’s report.

Yet there were a few interesting tidbits that I noticed.

In June a visiting foreign citizen, Gopalan Nair, was arrested for comments he made in his blog about the High Court judge presiding in the hearing to assess damages in the Chee defamation case. He was charged with insulting a public servant, which carried a maximum fine of S$5,000 ($3,759) or one year in prison.

Gopalan Nair is a US citizen, albeit a former Singaporean. I found it interesting that the US State Dept (i.e., its foreign ministry), which is supposed to defend the interests of its citizens abroad, chose to avoid stating that Nair was a US citizen. I can think of two possible reasons. One, most Americans won’t even suspect or care that he is a US citizen; and two, they probably don’t want to cause an uproar back home over him, and jeopardize bilateral relations. Although that latter statement is probably me getting too big headed. Why would a hyperpower like the US care about offending Singapore in this respect?

The Films Act bans political advertising using films or videos as well as films directed towards any political purpose. The act does not apply to any film sponsored by the government, and the act allows the MICA minister to exempt any film from the act.

Another interesting omission was that they failed to mention anything about the AIMS committee, the government’s response to their report and the proposed “liberalisations” of the Internet and the Films Act. Either they thought that these were too insignificant to be worthy of mention, or it happened too late to make it to press time. I know that the US embassy here has taken some interest in these developments, so I’m surprised they didn’t report about it. Or maybe it’s because technically, the Films Act has yet to be amended — I believe it is still pending its second reading in Parliament.

The report also did not mention about the spike in incidences of cheating of foreign workers from Bangladesh, China and elsewhere. This must come as a huge relief to MOM, whose officers had probably already prepared a rebuttal and cleared it with their Minister for release.

The belief that the government might directly or indirectly harm the employment prospects of opposition supporters inhibited opposition political activity; however, there were no confirmed cases of such retaliation.

I’m glad to hear there were no confirmed cases — in 2008. I hope that continues on for 2009 and beyond, especially during an election year. In my opinion, this is the single biggest reason why the opposition continues to face such difficulties in recruiting more capable Singaporeans into their ranks.

Yet,

Law enforcement agencies, including the Internal Security Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board, have extensive networks for gathering information and conducting surveillance and highly sophisticated capabilities to monitor telephone and other private conversations. No court warrants are required for such operations. It was believed that the authorities routinely monitored telephone conversations and the use of the Internet. It was widely believed that the authorities routinely conducted surveillance of some opposition politicians and other government critics.

I wonder who these opposition politicians they are monitoring are? “Politicians” could mean elected MPs, or simply opposition party members. I consider it a gross invasion of privacy if they are wiretapping the telephone conversations and emails of law-abiding opposition members. It will be even more appalling and unacceptable if they are monitoring elected opposition MPs. That would be a huge misuse of government and taxpayer resources for political ends.

Imagine if Internal Security Department (ISD) officers — who are civil servants — are monitoring opposition party conversations and emails, and are reporting all their election strategies to the Prime Minister! I sure hope this is not happening, because I think the ISD and the PAP will lose every remaining shred of credibility if they do revolting things like that. If they don’t, then the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) should come out and strongly rebut this accusation by the US and state clearly that nothing of this sort happens in Singapore.

I have written separately to MHA to highlight this to them and request for their action.

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New polling districts announced

From the Straits Times (Feb 18th):

A DAY after the announcement that the register of voters will be updated, the Government Gazette has now revealed that changes have been made to polling districts.

The latest change – which is to ensure that each polling district has the optimal number of voters – was set out in a 144-page notification on Wednesday in the electronic version of the Government Gazette.

In the previous three general elections, the time-lag between the release of changes to polling districts and the release of the Electoral Boundaries Report has ranged from 19 days for the 2001 election, to six months for the January 1997 election.

The general election followed after the boundaries report.

View the Government Gazette announcement here.

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China must be held to account before Olympics

A 13-year old Sudanese child witnessed a rebel soldier being first shot in the arm,
then executed by gunshots to the groin. (Sudan Watch)

Film mogul Steven Spielberg made the most rattling move so far for the Communist Chinese government by pulling out as artistic advisor to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His objection: Beijing’s complicity in the genocide going on in Darfur, Sudan. This was by no means an unexpected move. He had urged China as far back as April last year to do more to press for change in Darfur.

Spielberg’s announcement came on the same day that nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates — including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel and Jody Williams — sent a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao urging China to uphold Olympic ideals by pressing Sudan to stop atrocities in Darfur.

I fully support Spielberg’s move. The PRC government must be held to account for its human rights abuses not just within its borders, but outside as well. Darfur is just one in a long string of human rights abuses which date back to the founding of the Communist state.

In more than four years of conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes. Just last Friday, Sudan’s government attacked three towns in Darfur, forcing about 200,000 people from their homes and leading thousands to flee into neighboring eastern Chad.

Closer to home, we are all aware of the role that China has played in propping up the Myanmar generals who are responsible for killing thousands of their own people and dragging their country down into an economic abyss. Not to mention their jailing of responsible journalists like The Straits Times’ Ching Cheong over trumped up charges, and not even giving him the benefit of an open trial to present his case.

China is trying to use the Olympics to show their world that they have arrived, that they are a superpower to be reckoned with, when their dismal human rights record clearly suggests otherwise.

The world should seize this window of opportunity to highlight China’s contribution to the suffering in the world. I hope that in the coming months, international pressure will be be ramped up on Beijing to force them to relook at their policies. I have no doubt that Ching Cheong’s early release was in part due to the upcoming Olympics. Imagine what more can be achieved if more influential personalities like Steven Spielberg stand up and tell China’s leaders that enough is enough.

.

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What are your priorities, Mr Policeman?

This evening, as I made my way from Orchard MRT to the Myanmar Embassy to sign the petition to voice my revulsion at the brutal quelling of peaceful protests in Myanmar last week, I saw two prostitutes in front of Orchard Delphi (near the junction with Claymore Road) soliciting for clients. Their target clients were clear: single, Caucasian men.

A short distance down, as I walked up St Martin’s Drive where the embassy is located, I saw two policemen and a policewoman in plain clothes doing nothing but standing there eyeing every one walking up towards the diplomatic mission. At the embassy’s entrance, where a round-the-clock candlelight vigil is being held, another three or four policemen where there doing nothing productive except manning a videocamera mounted on a tripod, filming all the visitors as they went by.

I walked back down towards the MRT station a few minutes later. Those two prostitutes were gone (presumably with their clients). But again, in front of Delphi, another three prostitutes were there, smiling at Caucasian men who walked by and sometimes taking them by the hand and whispering something into their ears. None of the men succumbed to their charms.

I felt frustrated by this situation. Many tourists come to Singapore expecting a clean, wholesome place, free of vices normally associated with inner cities and Third World countries. Many of those men who were approached probably had a whole different story about Singapore to tell to their friends and family back home.

I decided to call the nearby police station to report this. The officer on the line told me he had sent in a request to the patrol, and that police officers will be there very soon. I waited for 10 minutes, and seeing no police car arriving, decided to just go home. However just down the road, I saw another policeman who looked like he was booking a motorist for a traffic violation. I approached him and reported the soliciting prostitutes. He told me plainly (albeit politely) that he did not have the authority to approach them, but would call in the anti-vice unit to have them handle it.

I don’t know what the outcome of this is. Perhaps the policemen eventually came. But what I can’t fit together is why our police would waste the manpower of six to 7 officers to eye a small candlelight vigil, while taking so long to respond to actual criminal activity taking place nearby.

What are their priorities? Keeping our streets safe and free of vice activities, or playing Steven Spielburg and filming and intimidating people who are peacefully expressing their genuine concern for their fellow human beings in Myanmar?

Update:

I wrote separately to the police’s “SPF Service Improvement Unit” to complain about the lack of enforcement all these years. This was their reply:

“Dear Sir

We refer to your email of 4 October 2007.

Police will continue to monitor the situation in Orchard Road closely and
will take enforcement action where necessary against any illegal
activities.

We thank you for your feedback.”

I encourage readers to call the police to report every time you see prostitutes soliciting in the Orchard Road area (prostitution is not illegal, but soliciting is). The number to call is 1800-7359999 (Orchard Police Post).

Once they get more complaints, they will feel under pressure to act on it. If no one complains, they will just continue to “close one eye” to the situation.

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Myanmar junta leader’s family reportedly in Singapore

London’s The Times has reported that the family of Myanmar’s dictator, Senior General Than Shwe, has left Myanmar and is currently in Singapore.

Citing a report by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an established Myanmarese dissident radio station based in Norway, The Times reported that Than Shwe’s wife, daughter and son-in-law have arrived with other family members in Singapore. Than Shwe’s son-in-law, Teza, who is incidentally also Myanmar’s richest man because of his family connections, then flew off to Dubai and is staying at the seven-star Burj Al Arab Hotel, arguably the world’s most luxurious hotel. A DVB correspondent apparently was able to establish that Teza was indeed staying at the the Burj.

This adds to a growing list of Myanmar junta leaders who have made Singapore their “home away from home”. Than Shwe himself was recently in Singapore for medical treatment, and the current prime minister, General Soe Win, has been at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) receiving treatment for leukaemia since May.

Related reading:

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PM Lee’s letter to Myanmar’s top general

Text of Letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman, State Peace and Development Council, Union of Myanmar. Original MFA press release is here. Salient portions have been highlighted.

29 September 2007

Dear Excellency,

In Singapore’s capacity as the ASEAN Chair, I write to express the deep concerns that other ASEAN leaders and I share over the very grave situation in Myanmar.

I have discussed this matter with all the other ASEAN leaders. We are most disturbed by reports of the violent means that the authorities in Myanmar have deployed against the demonstrators, which have resulted in injuries and deaths. The videos and photographs of what is happening on the streets of Yangon and other cities in Myanmar have evoked the revulsion of people throughout Southeast Asia and all over the world.

We agree that the confrontation that is unfolding in Myanmar will have serious implications not just for Myanmar itself, but also for ASEAN and the whole region. Hence, our Foreign Ministers issued a firm statement in New York, strongly urging your government to exercise utmost restraint, and to work towards a political solution for national reconciliation and a peaceful transition to democracy. ASEAN also called for the release of all political detainees, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I attach a copy of this statement.

The ASEAN Leaders fully support the mission by the Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Ibrahim Gambari. He has gone to Myanmar to help all parties involved find a peaceful resolution. I would like to emphasise the importance which the ASEAN countries, and indeed the whole international community, attach to Mr Gambari’s mission. We strongly urge your government to grant Mr Gambari full access to all parties in Myanmar, as you have done in the past, and to work with Mr Gambari to try to find a way forward.

ASEAN’s concerns are for the welfare of the people of Myanmar, for a return to stability and normalcy, and for Myanmar to take its place among the comity of nations. I hope you will consider these views in that spirit.

Yours sincerely,
(Signed)
LEE HSIEN LOONG

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Singaporean intentionally shot by Myanmar police; Japanese journalist apparently shot point blank

This is an account of a Singaporean who was shot by riot police in Myanmar while on his way to work:

Below is an actual of what had happen yesterday on 27/9/07.

I am a Singaporean working in Myanmar for the past 11 years.
I was on my way to office (near Thuwana area) at around 4 to 4.30pm when the riot police block the road near “Super one, ILBC area”. I stop my car with my wife and walk out. suddenly riot police and soldiers drove the truck around the corner and start firing shots at the crowd. we quickly ran to the side and squat down near the wall.

The soldiers came down and start to shoot at us. I was shot twice but i did not know what hit me. My both leg were bruised. the soldiers and police kicked us and the rest of the crowds into the drain and shouted that they would kill us if we look at them.

We were forced to stay in the drain for 15 mins and gather by the into a group.
A commander came and gather his troops and drove off to Tamwe direction.
After that ,i looked at my injures and and found injures on my left and right legs.
My wife found the “40mm riot control munnition” empty cartridge that the soldiers shoot at me.

I would like the embassy and media to know the actions of this army.

We are just ordinary citizen going to work and they just shot at us for no reason.
Imagine what they would do to the protesters!

I would like the Singapore government would make a strong stand against this violence crack down on the monks and people.

attached is the photo of my injures .
I have been attended by a private doctor on my injures.
The doctor said i was very lucky that the shot missed the groin area.

You can see the photos of his injuries on ko-htike’s blog.

In separate news, revelations have surfaced that Kenji Nagai, the Japanese journalist who died yesterday, was apparently intentionally shot at point blank range. Here are the pictures from thisislondon.co.uk:





I wonder what is going through the minds of the soldiers. Don’t they have families and loved ones too? Perhaps some of their own relatives are out protesting on the streets too. Have they been so thoroughly indoctrinated by their commanders that they do not hesitate to spray automatic rifle fire into their on countrymen? Truly, evil knows no bounds.

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