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Singapore’s Internal Security Act and the Dismal State of Human Rights in Singapore - Is Singapore Burma with Money?by Mark Beales

14 September 2010

Such a vague definition makes it easy to take action if needed. Opposition speaker Chee Soon Juan was fined $1,715 in 2002 for talking about a government ban on schoolgirls wearing a Muslim headscarf. Anyone fined more than $1,140 is unable to stand for parliament for five years.

When it come to radio coverage, the BBC World Service is the only true independent voice. Televisions show main local stations and there are no satellite dishes. Movies must not be political, although conveniently the Act does not include government-backed films. When one film-maker made a production about opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan for the Singapore International Film Festival, he was soon told to withdraw it. Copies of the movie, Singapore Rebel, were seized. In a twist worthy of any movie ending, a protestor then filed a complaint against MediaCorp for showing two programmes about PAP leaders, which he claimed should also be against the Films Act.

In 2008, a television company was fined for featuring a gay couple and their baby in a program because it is illegal to promote a homosexual lifestyle. Gay relations between men remain illegal, though nobody is ever prosecuted.

When it comes to public assembly, again, rules and reality do not match up. The law allows citizens to assemble, but Parliament is able to restrict gatherings it deems are a threat to public order, security or morality. And Singapore’s leaders have a fairly broad definition of what counts as immoral.

Assemblies of five or more people need police permission, although the rules were relaxed for indoor gatherings in 2004. Cultural events are also not affected by this rule. When four people once decided to protest about the state pension fund, more than a dozen anti-riot police felt the need to turn out. Eventually the protestors left peacefully. They later failed in a bid to have their dispersal declared ‘unconstitutional’.
The Singaporean government has also restricted protests about its death penalty and has blocked a gay and lesbian festival and similar fundraising events.

Religious views are generally tolerated, with the notable exception of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1972, the government deregistered the group because they wouldn’t do military service, salute the flag or swear oaths of allegiance. While they weren’t banned outright, their lack of registration meant they couldn’t meet legally.

Treatment of Foreigners

The 1951 UN Conventions on refugees means countries should give people asylum in certain circumstances. Singapore doesn’t give refugee or asylum status to anyone, though it will help those who face persecution if they return to their homeland.

Labor laws don’t apply to Singapore’s 180,000 foreign domestic workers, so some merely get one day off per month, the rest don’t bother complaining as they know they can easily be sent home. Physical abuse of domestic workers is not uncommon and there have been some prosecutions.

Perhaps the PAP gets away with so much simply because it has been in power for so long that people have become used to the system. Citizens know that any opposition will not be tolerated, and so few bother.

Singapore may lack the violent methods of Burma, but the results are much the same. Citizens in both countries lack a voice or any say over how their nation is governed. Those that do dare to speak out face severe sanctions.

Both countries are former British colonies that have struggled to find true democracy since taking back power. Their leaders have instead opted to remain in power through strict laws and even stricter enforcement. While Burma faces international sanctions for depriving its people of a voice, Singapore’s leaders remains free to continue the charade of democracy.

A comparison between Singapore and Burma may not actually be so far-fetched. In February 2008 Foreign Minister George Yong-Boon Yeo was also chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). At the time he voiced ASEAN's concern about the way in which Burma's constitutional referendum was being organized.

Once Singapore's stint as chair of ASEAN was over, the government began to show increasing support for Burma's military regime and has refused to renew residency permits for Burmese citizens who may have taken part in peaceful protests.

So while the crumbling streets of Rangoon may seem a world away from the skyscrapers of Singapore, maybe underneath the surface there are more than a few similarities.



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