Ministry of Law contradicts District Judge over whether political criticism in Singapore is a crime
Written by Ng E-Jay
19 December 2009
The Ministry of Law has issued a statement which contradicts a recent judgment made by District Judge Ch’ng Lye Beng who presided over the case of 3 SDP CEC members charged with illegally distributing pamphlets at Raffles City Shopping Centre on 10 Sep 2006.
In her letter to the Straits Times “Political criticism not a crime here” dated 19 Dec 09, Ms Chong Wan Yieng, Press Secretary to Minister for Law, stated that “engaging in robust criticism per se is not and has never been a crime or libellous in Singapore“, and that “there can be, and there is, vigorous debate on public policies“.
The Ministry of Law was responding to an excerpt from British author John Kampfner’s book, Freedom For Sale, which was recently quoted by the Straits Times. Mr Kampfner had asserted that any politician or journalist in Singapore who says anything controversial is open to arrest and the subsequent charge of defamation.
The statements issued by the Ministry of Law, however, are in contradiction with the judgment passed by District Judge Ch’ng Lye Beng who on Friday, 18 Dec 09, found Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ms Chee Siok Chin guilty of distributing pamphlets criticising the PAP Government without a permit. The flyers questioned ministerial salaries and highlighted the denial of political rights to Singaporeans. They also announced the Empower Singaporeans March and Rally that was to be held the following week on 16 Sep 06 during the WB-IMF meeting.
During the trial, Station Inspector Yeo, the officer-in-charge of the police’s Compliance Management Unit (CMU), had testified in Court that under the subsidiary legislation of the Miscellaneous Offences Rules, a group of 5 or more persons intending to demonstrate support or opposition to the views of the Government would require a permit.
By handing down a guilty verdict, DJ Ch’ng in effect affirmed his agreement with the prosecution that distributing flyers in a group of 5 or more persons criticising the PAP Government’s policies is an offence in Singapore.
What then are we to make of the statements issued by the Ministry of Law’s Press Secretary which seem to indicate otherwise?
Presumably, the distinction is that the 3 SDP CEC members had gathered in a public area, whereas the Ministry of Law was probably referring to criticism made either in the media or in private.
If so, the Ministry of Law should have made clear this distinction.
It is through this lack of clarity and the making up of arbitrary rules as it goes along that the Government hoodwinks the masses, instills fear in the people, clamps down the opposition, and keeps criticism out of public view.
But this really is not the main point of the issue.
The heart of the issue here is that by selective prosecution and oppression, the Government has attempted to undemocratically silence those voices that it deems threatening to its own power base.
The Ministry of Law’s statements concerning the existence of robust debate on policy issues are the height of hypocrisy given that only certain kinds of criticism are tolerated, whilst those deemed unacceptable by the powers-that-be are charged in court, sued for defamation, and made bankrupts.
It is no secret that the ruling party has set itself up as the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong in Singapore politics. If you looked closely at how the book Men In White was publicized by the mainstream press and read between the lines, you would not fail to notice that the PAP philosophy is that those in power have the ultimate authority to define what morality is, independent of any notion of human rights.
I believe that in the 21st century, Singaporeans should not accept this any longer.