Friday, January 22, 2010

Singapore rejects 'repressive state' labelling by rights watchdog

From: Tanki

"Singapore is a democratic state with a clean and transparent
government, whose public officials are held responsible against the
highest standards of probity and integrity," the Ministry of Law said
in a statement to AFP.

The ministry cited the latest World Economic Forum Global
Competitiveness Report which rated Singapore as "first out of 133
countries for public trust of politicians and transparency of
government policymaking".

Human Rights Watch in its annual report released Thursday slammed
Singapore for jailing critics of the ruling People's Action Party
(PAP) and hitting them with financially devastating libel suits.

The New York-based group also criticised the mandatory imposition of
the death penalty for certain crimes, legislation that permit caning
as well as laws that ban street protests and allow detention without

"Singapore remains the textbook example of a politically repressive
state," said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson in a press
statement Thursday.

HRW's global report had a chapter on Singapore, a wealthy city-state
known for political stability, a low crime rate and a conducive
environment for global businesses to operate, but also criticised for
its little tolerance against dissent.

"Individuals who want to criticise or challenge the ruling party's
hold on power can expect to face a life of harassment, lawsuits and
even prison," Robertson said.

The Law Ministry rejected the allegations, and accused HRW of
recycling propaganda put out by opposition politician Chee Soon Juan
and other government critics.

Chee is a long-time critic of the PAP who has been jailed several
times in his struggle against the government.

"Human Rights Watch's approach seems to be that they can issue these
pronouncements and we should follow them," the Ministry of Law said.

"And their approach seems to be that before they issue these
pronouncements, they do not need an understanding of the facts or our
viewpoints -- what we think and why we have chosen a specific
governance model. These appear to be irrelevant to them."

The HRW report:
Singapore: ‘Textbook Example” of Repressive State

Recent Convictions of Democracy Activists Show Intolerance Towards

(New York) - As Singapore begins to emerge from the international
financial crisis and focuses on elections that are likely to be held
later this year, the government should act to improve its poor human
rights record, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2010,
released today.

The 612-page report, the organization's 20th annual review of human
rights practices around the globe, summarizes major human rights
trends in more than 90 nations and territories worldwide. Its chapter
on Singapore says the government fails to meet human rights standards
in a number of critical areas, including freedom of expression,
association, and assembly. While Singapore has touted its prowess as a
leading economic nation in Southeast Asia, it continues to falter in
respecting the rights of its own population, Human Rights Watch said

"Singapore remains the textbook example of a politically repressive
state," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights
Watch. "Individuals who want to criticize or challenge the ruling
party's hold on power can expect to face a life of harassment,
lawsuits, and even prison."

Freedom to express views publicly continues to be largely limited to
the tiny Speaker's Corner in the city-state, while any procession or
assembly for a "cause-related activity" must have prior police
approval under the Public Order Act of 2009.

Draconian laws such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), Criminal Law
(Temporary Provisions) Act (CLA), Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), and
Undesirable Publications Act remain available to the government to
muzzle peaceful critics. In December 2009, three long-time government
critics-Dr. Chee Soon Juan, Chee Siok Chin, and Gandhi Ambalam-were
convicted of distributing flyers critical of the government. After
refusing to pay fines, all three were sentenced to short prison terms.

But appearance-conscious Singapore sometimes forgoes criminal
prosecution in favor of other forms of harassment, such as defamation
suits seeking punitive damages that snagged the Wall Street Journal
and the Far Eastern Economic Review, restrictions on publication
licenses under the longstanding Newspaper and Printing Presses Acts,
and enforcement actions limiting rights.

Human Rights Watch called for the repeal of laws allowing corporal and
capital punishment, noting that the penal code authorizes caning for
about 30 offenses, and sets out more than 20 drug-related offenses for
which capital punishment is mandatory. Singapore resists all calls to
rescind arbitrary detention without trial, refuses to recognize that
caning constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment,
and insists on maintaining mandatory death penalties for offenses such
as drug trafficking that are contrary to international human rights
standards, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch criticized Singapore's continued legal ban on
private and consensual sexual relations between men and called for it
to be overturned.

"As Singapore looks to its future and new elections, the time is long
overdue for it to abandon its stubborn defiance of international human
rights standards," Robertson said. "Singapore should have the
confidence to trust its people with full freedom of expression,
assembly, and association, and recognize that their participation is
critical for the country's continued prosperity."

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