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.

  1. 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).
  2. You cannot exhibit any banners, posters, signs or anything to that effect that could be deemed “offensive”.
  3. 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.


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Mox is a 22 year old student, aspiring writer, and a closet atheist. She lives in the exotic East where superstition runs rampant. She enjoys movies and books like everyone else. One of her favorite things in the world is saying outrageous things to her mother and seeing the look of horror on her face. Hilarious.


  1. May 22, 2012 at 10:04 pm —

    This is unbelievable, Mox. Stay safe.

  2. May 28, 2012 at 2:58 pm —

    Apathy can certainly be one of the biggest hurdles to enacting social change. As long as most people are sure that the government only cracks down on “those people” and not “people like me,” it’s nearly impossible to convince them to do anything.

    In this case, I think the internet may be the key to actually getting something done. Exploit the Streisand Effect: Find a good example of where the government has unambiguously done something wrong (not something easily handwaved away), and spread it far and wide on the net, anonymously or not. If the government tries to suppress criticism, then you can double up and publicize both the initial wrong and the attempt at suppression, which will help spread it further and might even break some people out of their apathy.

    Maybe. I really don’t know anything about Singaporean culture, and I don’t want to come across as if I think I do (my apologies if that’s the case). This is just an idea I had of what might help.

  3. June 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm —

    Thanks Mindy!

    @ Infophile; The Singapore government is very good at fostering fear among the people. People do get angry when the government suppressed their freedom of speech but it dies down, especially when the state papers splash headlines announcing arrests. People here have the mentality of just minding their own business, and just following the rules, no matter how absurd. It’s a little bit like Stockholm syndrome.

    Anyway, thanks for your feedback! It’s interesting to see it from an outsider’s point of view

  4. June 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm —

    On a related note, I just noticed this post today over at The Crommunist Manifesto, about a protest in Montreal. It makes me think that even in a supposed democracy like Canada, we still have trouble getting the actual will of the people made into law. We can protest (usually), but it doesn’t always work, and most of the rest of the country will see the protests through the lens of the media, which tends to be controlled by conservative interests.

    The only conclusion I can make from all of this is that the road to freedom isn’t a straight path. Sometimes it slowly approaches it, sometimes it slowly backs away, sometimes it does both at once (depending on what measure you look at). Sometimes all hell breaks loose and it makes a huge leap in one direction or the other. But on average, most societies have tended to get freer over time. It doesn’t tell us the right course in any particular case, but it does give us reason to remain hopeful. Singapore may seem like it’s in a bad state now, but history is on the side of the people.

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