Speech! Speech! Speech!
Originally, this was going to be a post on an event that I was attending to commemorate the fact that 25 years ago, 24 people were arrested by the government, for an alleged Marxist conspiracy. They were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act, which gave the government free range to do whatever they want to whomever they suspect.
Mr Chia Thye Poh, an alleged communist, was detained under the ISA for 23 years and was subsequently “released” only to be placed under house arrest for the next 9 years. That’s 32 years in total, for those keeping score. Furthermore, none of the ISA detainees have ever been tried or convicted in a court of law.
Welcome to Singapore, where Freedom of Speech comes to die.
Since Freedom of Speech is regarded as a myth here, the government predictably intervened 4 days before the ISA event, by having the permit revoked by the police. No reason were given as to why the police changed their minds.
Yes, in Singapore, you have to apply for a permit 30 days in advance in order to hold your event or to even let people hear your speech. Demonstration can only take place at the Speaker’s Corner, traditionally a place for public speeches and debate, the lively exchange of ideas. Public demonstrations anywhere else in the country are strictly illegal, not allowed ever.
Unsurprisingly, in a country where people in groups (more than 5 persons) are regularly screened for illegal assembly, there are very strict rules governing the Speaker’s Corner, a place that is supposed to be the poster boy for Freedom of Expression.
- You are not allowed to discuss any matter that relates directly or indirectly to any religious belief or to religion (talking about any racial issues is also prohibited).
- You cannot exhibit any banners, posters, signs or anything to that effect that could be deemed “offensive”.
- You have to be a Singapore citizen or a permanent resident to be eligible to apply for the permit. The Minister for Communication, Information and the Arts famously stated that the Government did not think it “desirable or good precedent” for “foreigners [to come] here to organise and to lead Singaporeans to complain about our domestic issues”
And the list goes on. These stringent rules imposed on the citizens have effectively quell any vibrant political scene that might have blossomed. Instead of having a variety of people from all walks of life exchanging ideas and different issues being debated, the Speaker’s Corner is mostly abandoned, except for the odd weekends when children play Frisbee at the area.
Most of the people I know seemed resigned to the current state of affairs. Most of us practice self-censorship for the fear of being reprimanded by The Big Brother. Even with the anonymity that internet offers, many dissatisfied citizens still use caution and more often then not, keep to their silence.
Those that dare to have the audacity to have an opinion and express it, have been arrested, some for making racist remarks and others for criticizing the government. The state papers covers these news extensively, as if spinning it into a tale of caution, with a hint of intimidation, full of warning to the others.
There are many more examples that I could give, but it would not be sufficient to express the outrage I feel at these injustices. I am angry that the government does not hesitate to threaten prosecution, fines, and imprisonment against any author whose views run contrary to its own.
It is as though the opinions of the people does not matter. It is condescending, rude and arrogant.
To be honest, I am thoroughly sick of it. As the first step into taking an active role in the Human Rights issues (especially Freedom of Speech), I have join the local human rights group, and I promise to be as loud as I possibly can.