Singapore opposition leader and two party members imprisoned for exercising right to free speech

phpgow4hr.jpegalerts-button-1.jpgSingapore opposition leader Dr. Chee Soon Juan has been imprisoned for five weeks following a 24 November 2006 court verdict which found him and two other party members guilty of breaching the city-state’s restrictions on free speech.

Chee, the secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party, refused to pay the alternative sentence meted out to him – a fine of S$5,000 (approx. US$3,225).

Local news site “Today Online” reports that this is the fifth time in seven years that Chee has opted to be imprisoned instead of paying a fine for speaking out. Click here for Chee’s parting shot.

Anyone fined S$2,000 or imprisoned for a year, or both, is barred from standing for elections for five years.

Chee’s fellow party members, Gandhi Ambalam and Yap Keng Ho, also refused to pay their respective fines of S$3,000 and S$2,000, opting to serve their prison terms – three weeks and 10 days, respectively. Yap has been on a hunger strike since 23 November, to protest the charge.

The three were found guilty of speaking without a police permit in a community multipurpose hall on 22 April, during the run-up to the general elections in May, which was won by the incumbent government of the People’s Action Party.

All three were jailed with immediate effect following the court verdict.

The court said the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt the three “essential ingredients” of the charge – namely, that the public was addressed; that the activity was carried out in a place accessible to the public; and that the activity was conducted without a licence.

“This charge is nothing but political vengeance on the part of the ruling party,” Chee told the court as a score of supporters cheered him on.

According to local media “Channel News Asia”, there are seven other such charges pending against Chee and Yap.

Chee is also being sued by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, for allegedly defaming them through his interview with the “Far Eastern Economic Review”. The periodical is facing the same suit over the said article.

Yap was recently ordered by the authorities to remove an online video of one of his public addresses.

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