Five individuals who have been prosecuted by the Singapore government over aspects of freedom of speech and expression have jointly written a response in light of the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. They are Han Hui Hui, an activist; Roy Ngerng, a blogger; Martyn See, a filmmaker; Alan Shadrake, an author and former journalist; and Kenneth Jeyaretnam, secretary general of the Reform Party. Their article is here.
On Jan 7, the world witnessed a grotesque attack against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Two extremists massacred not only 12 innocent journalists and civilians, they attacked basic tenets at the very heart of democracy and civilization: a free press and freedom of expression.
Leaders of the international community and cartoonists worldwide have condemned the attacks and sent their condolences. We hope the global outpouring of sympathy has shown the terrorists that they are on the wrong side of history and that their actions will not succeed in thwarting the progress of freedom.
Yet attacks on liberal values at the core of any democratic society come in different guises. Some attackers have guns as their weapons of choice. Others use more subtle means in their fight against freedom of expression.
One of the most persistent assailants of freedom and democracy is the Lee dynasty in Singapore. It started with the first prime minister of independent Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, who shamelessly jailed his political opponents and closed down the free press, replacing it with a government-owned and controlled media. He used false charges to remove the first opposition MP, J B Jeyaretnam, from Parliament and imprisoned him in what the UK Privy Council termed a grievous miscarriage of justice.
When this was not sufficient to stop Jeyaretnam from asking awkward questions and demanding accountability, Lee Kuan Yew and his ministers proceeded to use Singapore’s repressive defamation laws as a political tool to bankrupt him. Today Lee Kuan Yew’s son, the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is continuing the assault with full force, just with slightly different means.
Last week Lee Hsien Loong wrote a letter to the French Prime Minister expressing his condemnation of the brutal attacks. This week PM Lee is in court suing one of his citizens for raising uncomfortable questions about the government’s finances.
Like the extremists in Paris, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cannot tolerate a free press or free speech. While the terrorists in Paris had Kalashnikovs as their weapon of choice, Lee Hsien Loong’s weapons are an unfair and undemocratic electoral system that delivers a Parliament packed with his cronies, oppressive laws that have removed the citizens’ rights to basic freedoms of assembly and expression,, a judiciary that is not independent, and the government controlled media (the only media that is allowed). This arsenal has proven as least as effective as guns in the war against freedom of expression.
On the international stage Lee condemns the attacks in Paris. At home he is suing blogger Roy Ngerng for defamation. However the defamation suit is just a cover for his real aim, which is to stop Ngerng and others asking questions about the government’s handling of people’s pension funds. Lee has also charged blogger and gay rights activist Alex Au with contempt of court. Previously he has locked up cartoonist Leslie Chew and author Alan Shadrake and he bans politically inconvenient films portraying the victims of his father’s oppression. The list goes on. The attacks are pervasive and sustained. And they are effective.
Through these and other persecutions, Lee has created a climate of fear in Singapore. Self-censorship is rule number one. Anyone who dares raise his pen risks receiving a heavy blow from the state apparatus: you can be imprisoned, bankrupted, kicked out of your job, estranged from your friends and portrayed in the state media as a fringe lunatic. It has been going on for 50 years and most people have learned to keep their mouths shut.
It is a sad fact that the attacks against the free and independent media in Paris could not have happened in Singapore. Not because murders never happen in Singapore (they do), but because there would not be enough independent journalists and cartoonists to kill.
The authors of this letter have all either themselves, or through their family members, been on the receiving end of the Lee dynasty’s assault on freedom of expression. We call for an immediate stop to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s ceaseless persecution of cartoonists, bloggers, authors, film-makers, journalists and other voices that dare challenge his hold on power.
We also call for an immediate abolition of laws whose purpose is to silence critics of the Lee regime. This should be followed by the restoration of the conditions for free and fair elections including an independent media, an election commission that is not controlled by the Prime Minister and an end to the use or threat of withholding of state resources to intimidate and influence voters.
We ask world leaders and the public who have condemned the terrorists in Paris: also condemn the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, and his government’s attack on liberty and freedom. They say friends can be honest with each other. Please be a friend of the people of Singapore, of liberty and democracy and demand an immediate end to the Lee dynasty’s assault on freedom of expression and a free press.
#JeSuisCharlie – we are all Charlie.
Han Hui Hui, activist
Roy Ngerng, blogger
Martyn See, filmmaker
Alan Shadrake, author and former journalist
Kenneth Jeyaretnam, secretary general of the Reform Party