Myanmar Ruler Heads To Singapore For Check-Up Sunday, Dec 31 2006 

Than ShweAFP

Myanmar’s aging junta leader Senior General Than Shwe has headed to Singapore for medical treatment, according to airport sources.

Than Shwe, 73, left Yangon airport on a private flight for Singapore at about 10:30 am (0400 GMT), accompanied by his wife Kyaing Kyaing, said an airport source who asked not to be named.

Officials rarely speak on the record in military-ruled Myanmar, for fear of repercussions by the junta, which runs the isolated Southeast Asian nation with an iron fist.

Another airport source said earlier this week that both Than Shwe and Kyaing Kyaing would receive medical check-ups in the island state. The couple would be accompanied by two daughters, the source said.

It was not clear when Than Shwe would return home.

The secretive leader has ruled Myanmar since 1992, but Thailand-based analysts have said his health is weakening and he is considering handing more power to his trusted protege, Shwe Mann.

Shwe Mann, the military’s joint chief of staff, has long been seen as the likely successor to Than Shwe.

However, the senior general remains firmly entrenched as head of state, and virtually every major decision must bear his seal of approval.

Myanmar’s military regime is currently facing mounting international pressure over human rights abuses, the ongoing house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and its slow progress on democratic reforms.

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Singapore Court Denies Philippine Government’s Claim Over Marcos Money Friday, Dec 29 2006 

By Sandy Araneta, The Philippine Star

Singapore’s High Court has denied the Philippine government’s claim to the $23-million Marcos funds in the city state, the lawyers for human rights victims said Thursday.

In a statement, lawyer Rod Domingo Jr. said at issue in the Singapore case is over $23 million of money originally hidden by former president Ferdinand Marcos in a Swiss bank before being transferred to Singapore.

“Following nine months of briefing and several oral arguments, Justice Kan Ting Chiu of the Singapore High Court entered a judgment denying the (Philippine) Republic’s major defense,” he said.

Martial law victims claim the money to partially satisfy their now $4 billion judgment against Marcos, he added.

The Philippine National Bank claims it is custodian of the money for the Republic, Domingo said.

Lead counsel Robert Swift said it is a significant victory on the way to obtaining a final verdict for the entire $23 million of Marcos funds.

“The Singapore Court upheld Singapore’s sovereignty to decide ownership to property located in Singapore,” he said.

“The tragedy is that the Republic is so heartless that it opposes every effort by Filipino human rights victims to recover on their judgment.

“The Republic even opposes the US Court-ordered distribution of the first payment of US$2,000 to each victim from monies already collected in the US on their behalf.”

Domingo said that “the government’s claims to the money in Singapore are sinking fast.”

“I think the Singapore Court is sending a signal to our government that it wants this matter settled or there could be dire consequences,” he said.

Despite spending over $1 million in legal fees and the engagement of Singapore’s largest and most influential law firm, the Philippines is losing the case, he added.

Domingo said the Presidential Commission on Good Government’s vaunted defense of sovereign immunity, as in the Arelma case, has once again been debunked and shuttered.

“When will it ever stop working against the oppressed victims of human rights abuses?” he asked.

Domingo said in a 27-page decision, Kan ruled that the arguments made by PNB were arguments of the Philippine government, and not those of PNB.

“The Republic has therefore, by its agent PNB, laid its claim before this Court and has submitted to the jurisdiction of the Court,” Domingo quoted the decision of the Singapore High Court. Kan also assessed costs, including legal fees, against the Republic and PNB, he added.

The 9,539 Filipino victims of martial law are part of a class action litigated in the United States against Marcos for torture, killings and forced disappearances, Domingo said.

The Philippine government has asserted that it was awarded the money by the Philippine Supreme Court in July 2003.

The litigation began in 2003 when West LB, a Singapore Bank, was confronted with competing claims for the money and deposited the money to the Singapore High Court.

Early in the litigation, PNB argued the case should be heard in the Philippines, but the Singapore High Court denied that request and assessed costs in favor of human rights victims.

In early 2006 the Philippine government entered the case to try and force its dismissal, arguing it was a claimant to the money but was entitled to sovereign immunity and not subject to the jurisdiction of the Singapore Court.

In 1995, a US jury awarded the human rights victims an amount which, with interest, is now worth $4 billion.

The judgment was affirmed on appeal.

Dropping the Fig Leaf of ‘Asian Values’ Friday, Dec 22 2006 

by Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Dec 22 (IPS) – As Indonesia lays claim to being the most promising democracy in South-east Asia, it is burying the expression, ‘Asian values,’ conveniently used by leaders in this region to crush civil liberties while calling their countries democracies.

The New Year is expected to strengthen the democratic credentials of South-east Asia’s largest country especially when set against its five regional neighbours — Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Cambodia — that end 2006 with a growing list of questions about their claims to be functioning democracies.

Indonesia is winning praise for seeing the current year through with signs of a country growing as a developing democracy after being crushed for over three decades of strongman Suharto’s rule which ended in 1998. Two significant indicators suggest the shift away from Suharto’s heavily centralised regime that tolerated little dissent — and one billed at the time as a government advancing the idea of ‘Asian values’.

December saw a successful provincial election in the troubled and tsunami-ravaged region of Aceh. It has come to represent a glowing symbol of the push by Indonesia’s political reformers to make way for more devolved power to benefit local communities across this archipelago.

Equally significant was a ruling in December by the country’s Constitutional Court which annulled three articles in the constitution that prohibited insulting the president. It meant political space opening up for the two main engines driving the country’s democracy movement — civil society groups and the media — to strengthen transparency and accountability.

‘’Democracy will be strengthened in 2007 because of our strong civil society movement and the free media. They have been the backbone of reforms in the country,” Azyumardi Azra, rector of the Jakarta-based State Islamic College, said in a telephonic interview from the Indonesian capital. ‘’The recent election in Aceh should help the on-going decentralisation process. In fact the problem at times is there may be too much democracy on the ground, with little awareness of what it means.”

His views have been amplified by a poll conducted in October by the Indonesia Survey Institute, where 82 percent of the people questioned by this Jakarta-based body said they support democracy in the world’s most populous Muslim country. The survey also revealed a swing towards political parties and leaders, such as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who represent a more moderate secular culture than those advocating radical Islamic policies.

The prospect of the Indonesian military returning to dominate the political scene will also get more remote in the new year, added Azyurmadi, since public sentiment has grown against military officers holding political power, a central feature of the Suharto regime. ‘’I don’t think the army can revive its political role. The military is finished in this area, as far as I see it.”

Thailand, by this yardstick, has taken a step backwards in 2006 following the Sep. 19 military coup, which ousted twice-elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. And the prevailing views of the ruling junta and its chorus of supporters in Bangkok point to a further departure from the customary feature of a democracy in 2007, when the regime plans to unveil a new constitution – the country’s 18th since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

Typical of this call for a ‘’Thai-style” democracy is a move to have the country accept an appointed prime minister rather than one elected at the polls. Analysts have viewed this sentiment as one more clue about the intentions of the coup-makers and their supporters, even among academics in Thai universities, to return the levers of political power to a conservative elite that treat with contempt the country’s rural poor, the largest voter base.

But such a move to shut the public from the democratic process may come at a price, critics warn, since it would be seen as reverting to the practice of unelected premiers and a ‘’semi-democracy” that had been a regular feature before the country’s 1997, reformist constitution. ‘’A constitutional solution that tries to ensure rural demands do not get the hearing they deserve in the formal politics of the nation will simply redirect those demands elsewhere,” argued a respected columnist writing under the pseudonym Chang Noi in a November edition of ‘The Nation’ newspaper.

In the Philippines, on the other hand, a similar quest by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to tinker with the prevailing constitution in the hope of introducing a new charter in 2007 has seen a growing chorus of street protests. A recent anti-Arroyo rally in Manila, which attracted 50,000 demonstrators, indicated just how unpopular this measure is. The presence of the country’s powerful Catholic clergy among the ranks of the opposition would not have been lost on her, given that the priests were in the vanguard of public disenchantment that brought down two unpopular presidents since the mid-1980s.

Arroyo’s motives, to replace the prevailing constitution, the country’s fifth, with a new charter is being viewed with suspicion as an attempt to extend her power. She wants the U.S.-style political system of a presidential form of government, which has a two-term limit, replaced by a British-styled parliamentary form of rule, where the prime minister has no time limit in office.

Arroyo’s record in office in 2006 has also not helped to foster an image of a democracy advocate, particularly her inability to stop the growing list of extra-judicial killings of grassroots activists, leftist sympathisers and even priests. With that comes her increasing dependency on the Philippines army for survival following her 2004 election victory, where she was accused of cheating.

Meanwhile, the political troubles Malaysia carries into the New Year will be as daunting for the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The year ends with deepening cracks in the image the country has tried to promote as a role model of an economically successful, moderate Muslim nation. Growing animosity the majority Malays harbour towards the country’s minorities, in particular the ethnic Chinese, was highlighted during a convention of Abdullah’s ruling party in November. Some speeches, delivered live on television, called for the beheading of non-Muslims.

Abdullah has already been put on notice for his government’s sluggish response to growing threats to minority rights and may see the country head down a dangerous road in 2007. Such concerns are not unfounded, given the 1969 race riots in which hundreds of people were killed.

‘’Malaysia today is facing a huge dilemma, as the country’s public domain is being torn apart by competing demands and interests,” Farish Noor, a Malaysian political commentator, wrote recently in the on-line edition of Pakistan’s ‘Daily Times’. ‘”The failure to take into account the realities of multicultural life is what is painfully evident in present-day Malaysia.”

A lack of action by Abdullah in 2007 may only serve to bolster the credentials of the country’s popular opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim, who hopes to reach out to the country’s liberal political centre during campaigns in the New Year. ‘’The mood is with us on the ground,” Azizah Ismail, who heads the People’s Justice Party besides being Ibrahim’s wife, told reporters recently.

And of the other two countries – Singapore and Cambodia – the political stability of 2006 is expected to continue in the New Year along with the disdain the ruling parties of both countries have for political and civil liberties. And in doing so, Singapore, the significantly richer of the two, will be able to hold on to the image of being the last outpost of the ‘’Asian values” culture — where the ruling elite takes on the role of a nanny to determine what is best for the country.

‘’There will not be any easing up of the political space in the country,” Sinapan Samydorai, president of the Think Centre, a Singapore-based non-governmental group lobbying for human rights, told IPS. ‘’There will be no change to this ‘guided’ democracy..”

In fact, media rights campaigners questioned Singapore’s claims to be a democracy this year and pointed to harsh censorship policies in place, making it no different, at times, to the repressive measures imposed on journalists by the region’s communist regimes, Laos and Vietnam. The country’s repressive laws, which are on par with that of military-ruled Burma, came into play against street demonstrations in September during the annual World Bank-International Monetary Fund meetings hosted by the city-state.

Samydorai does not expect Singapore’s ruling family to buck this trend in 2007. ‘’The press will be suppressed,” he said. And so will ‘’opposition figures who dare to speak out,” he added as a reminder of a country going through the motions of being a democracy but is in fact little better than a police state. – IPS

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In the meantime, our local media continues to, well, kiss the asses of the ruling party by putting out reports like the one below from the government-controlled broadcaster, Channel NewsAsia…..

Government to achieve objective of inclusive society in 2007
By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 21 December 2006 1837 hrs

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s political scene in 2006 was a hive of activity.

It was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s first general election as leader of the People’s Action Party.

And Singapore’s Parliament saw the largest number of new MPs coming from the post-independence generation.

Political watchers say 2007 will see the government pay more emphasis to its goal of achieving an “inclusive society”.

Singapore’s 10th general election topped the political calendar in 2006.

Before nomination day, the ruling PAP introduced 24 new candidates with a dozen coming from the post-independence generation.

The opposition parties too had several new and younger candidates on their slate.

At the close of nomination on 27th April, the PAP won 37 seats in walkovers.

On polling day on 6th May, nearly 1.12 million Singaporeans cast their votes.

And for the first time, voting also took place at several overseas voting centres.

The final result is victory for the PAP with 82 seats.

The opposition retained Hougang and Potong Pasir constituencies.

Overall, the PAP secured 66.6 percent of votes.

“I think it’s a very strong mandate – I’m very satisfied, and so are my colleagues. We look at the results and from what I know, it’s a very evenly distributed 66 percent,” PM Lee said on 6th May.

Indranee Rajah, Deputy Speaker and MP, Tanjong Pagar GRC, said: “There are various reasons for those who didn’t vote for the PAP and one has to try and understand why they didn’t. Either they felt the impact of certain economic hardships or they felt for whatever reasons, the policies weren’t sufficient to help them.

“For this group, you have to try and identify which were the policies or which were the things that adversely impacted them. Can we change them and if we can, (we) might be able to win back those votes.”

One group of Singaporeans – those from the post-independence generation – is expected to form larger numbers of voters in future.

Teo Ser Luck, Parliamentary Secretary of Community Development, Youth and Sports, said: “For the working youths or young adults aged 25-40, belonging to the post-65 generation, they have the day-to-day issues – costs of living, family, early childhood education, job prospects. They are very in tune. I think we will put in a lot more effort to connect with them.”

To implement the vision of staying together and moving ahead, several new PAP MPs were brought on board to govern, while others were given leadership roles in the Government Parliamentary Committees.

Dr Gillian Koh, Institute of Policy Studies, said: “What we are looking forward to in the year ahead is how the PM prefers his team and his MPs to build on this idea that there will be greater political openness. We have some tough policy issues to deal with. Let’s see what kind of fresh approaches they can bring to the table.”

Singapore’s new parliament session was convened in November and the new MPs made their maiden speeches during the debate on the presidential address.

Parliament’s sessions in 2007 would be closely watched by all Singaporeans, especially when Second Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam delivers his maiden Budget speech on 15th February with details about the goods and services tax increase and the government’s offset package to help Singaporeans, in particular the needy, cope with the increase. – CNA/so

“MHA’s Statement is Riddled with Inconsistencies, Contradictions and Outright Lies” Says CSJ Thursday, Dec 21 2006 

The government-controlled local media reported today morning on MHA’s 20 Dec 2006 response to Chee Soon Juan’s 18 Dec 2006 statement. You will find the report by TODAY below. The Straits Times also has a report out but I can’t find it online for now. Needless to say, both reports are similar. So reading one is the same as reading the other.

First here’s the latest from Chee Soon Juan….

Point-by-Point rebuttal to Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement

21 Dec 06

Below is a reply by Dr Chee Soon Juan (CSJ) to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) statement dated 20 December 2006.

Point 1: Marking of food trays.

MHA: It is normal Prisons procedure to record the food consumption of inmates under close watch. This procedure applies not just to Chee Soon Juan but to all such inmates.

CSJ: When the question of marking was first raised by my wife, Ms Huang Chih Mei, and sister, Ms Chee Siok Chin, on 4/12/2006, Monday, both Mr Chandra Kumar (MHA official) and Queenstown Remand Prison (QRP) Superintendent Hoon categorically denied that prisoners’ trays were marked, unless it’s for vegetarian food. I am not a vegetarian. If it is the “normal” practice to mark the food trays of inmates under close watch, why did Mr Chandra Kumar and Mr Hoon say they had no knowledge of the marking?

In this connection, the food trays of Chee’s associates, Yap Keng Ho and Ghandi Ambalam were also marked to allow Prisons to monitor their food intake. This was done following Yap’s declaration that he was going on a hunger strike.

Point 2: Food trays were not marked on previous occasions

MHA: For Chee especially, the marking of food trays should not be new as this procedure was applied to him when he was in prison in Oct 2002 and again in Mar 2006. He had no complaints then about the marking of his food tray.

CSJ: My foodtrays were most definitely not marked on previous occasions when I was imprisoned. On this point, the MHA first says that my food tray was marked “following Yap’s declaration that he was going on a hunger strike.” [emphasis added] But it later says that my food tray was also marked on previous occasions on Oct 2002 and Mar 2006. How can this be when Mr Yap was not even in prison when I was incarcerated in 2002 and in March this year?

Point 3: Allowed to choose among unmarked trays

MHA: To address this and assure him, Chee was allowed to choose among unmarked trays from 2 Dec 2006 but he continued to persist in not eating.

CSJ: This is not true. I repeatedly told prison officials that I did not want to continue to eat prison food until I saw my wife. QRP refused to allow my wife to see me until 4/12/2006 (eight days after I stopped eating the food in the marked trays). When I was finally allowed to see my wife on 4/12/2006 in Changi General Hospital (CGH), and after Mr Chandra Kumar gave the assurance that I could select from unmarked food trays, my fears gradually eased and agreed to eat the food served in the hospital. The first time that I was told that I could choose from unmarked trays was 4/12/2006 (at the CGH) and not 2/12/2006 (while I was still in prison) as claimed by the MHA.

It is therefore wholly untrue for the MHA to say that although “Chee was allowed to choose among unmarked trays from 2 Dec 06 but he continued to persist in not eating.” CGH’s records would unequivocally show that I had eaten the food on the same day that Mr Chandra Kumar assured me that I could choose from unmarked trays.

Point 4: Insisting on eating home-cooked food.

MHA: He also persisted in his demand that he would only eat home-cooked meals prepared by his wife. (Prisons policy, which applies to all inmates, does not allow this.)

CSJ: Again, it is not true that I insisted on eating only home-cooked food. During the hospital visit on 4/12/2006, my family was allowed to buy me some biscuits & packet drinks for me. I consumed these. I clearly indicated that I didn’t want food that was in marked trays or those handled by prison officials. To reiterate: After Mr Chandra Kumar assured that I could choose from trays that were not marked, I then started to eat the hospital food.

Point 5: Refusing to eat hospital food.

MHA: Chee refused to eat even the meals served by the Changi General Hospital…

CSJ: As mentioned above, I ate the food served by CGH during my stay at the hospital. This is easily verifiable in the hospital records. There was even a CCTV in my hospital room recording this. MHA can easily produce this to prove who is not telling the truth.

Point 6: Request for medical records.

MHA: Chee claimed that he and his family members have repeatedly asked for a complete set of his medical report but have not received them. This is certainly untrue. Chee only gave his consent to the authorities for his medical report to be released to his sister on 14 Dec 06.

CSJ: The facts are incontrovertible. My lawyer faxed QRP a letter on 13/12/2006 asking for the medical records. My sister, Ms Chee Siok Chin, also faxed a letter requesting for the said documents on 12/12/2006. QRP have these faxed letters and should produce for the public to see. I myself asked for the medical results when I returned to QRP on 7/12/2006. It is therefore yet another lie for the MHA to say that is “certainly untrue” that my family and I had repeatedly asked for the medical reports.

Point 7: No sleep deprivation.

MHA: On his return from Changi General Hospital, Chee was placed in a cell equipped with CCTV. The lights at such cells are kept switched on from 6 pm to 8 am the following day…

CSJ: First, let it be noted that the prison had admitted to keeping the lights on in my cell throughout the night and morning hours (6 pm to 8 am the following morning). I repeatedly complained to the prison doctor and psychiatrist that the lights at night were keeping me awake and this affected me tremendously. There is a reason why we all turn off the light when we sleep at night – our bodies respond differently to light and darkness. Keeping the lights on during sleeping hours for a prolonged period (in my case, for a straight nine days/nights) deprives one of proper rest and this affects one’s health.

Point 8: Prison needs to monitor inmates with suicidal tendencies.

MHA: [The lights are left on] for visibility to enable prison officers to monitor inmates under close supervision, including those with suicidal tendencies or who may cause self-inflicted injuries.

CSJ: The MHA needs to come up with more credible answers. Suggesting that I had “suicidal tendencies” or “may cause self-inflicted injuries” is complete and utter rubbish. Psychiatrists at QRP and CGH have examined me, and if the results indicated that I was suffering from any “suicidal tendencies“, they should produce it. Obviously, the turning on of the lights at night is just an excuse to deprive me of sleep and affect my psychological health. Is it not possible for the prison to use an infra-red camera to do the recording with the lights off?

If the prison is really monitoring inmates who had “suicidal tendencies” or “may cause self-inflicted injuries“, why did it not similarly monitor Mr Yap Keng Ho who had announced publicly that he was conducting a hunger strike while imprisoned?

Point 9: Sleeping without trouble with lights on.

MHA: Prison officers observed that Chee’s cell-mates slept without trouble. At his request, Chee was also given valium and was observed to have rested at least 6 to 7 hours each night. This was recorded by the CCTV camera.

CSJ: I and my cell-mates had great difficulty sleeping with the lights on. As mentioned, I repeatedly requested the prison doctor, psychiatrist and Superintendent to turn off the lights at night. It is silly for the MHA to continue to argue that I and my cellmates “slept without trouble” for more than a week under bright lights when everyone knows that our biological functions and circadian rhythms are disturbed when the lights are on at night.

Point 10: Books were not taken away as punishment.

MHA: When he was referred to the hospital, Chee brought with him 7 books for his reading while in hospital. On his return, these 7 books were required to be subjected to security screening. This is a standard security procedure for all items, books included, which are brought in from outside into the prison.

CSJ: These seven books were among the 32 books that I had first brought with me to the QRP when I was first taken to prison 23/11/2006. At no time did the seven books leave the sight of prison officials to and from CGH.

Point 11: Refusing medical assistance in prison.

MHA: Between 25 Nov 06 and 4 Dec 06, Chee resisted blood tests (to establish the cause of his purported nausea) and medical assistance from the prison medical officer and the doctors of Changi General Hospital.

CSJ: I only refused to have invasive measures that required needles to be inserted into my body. This would include the drawing of blood by a syringe and application of IV drips. During the said period, I repeatedly requested to be allowed to see my family before I would consent to such invasive procedures. The prison, however, adamantly refused to allow me to see my family. However, I continue to allow my blood pressure to be taken, my ECG to be monitored and gave urine samples.

I also agreed to all non-invasive procedures to be conducted on me (two CT-scans, an ultra-sound scan, two X-rays, and urine samples). I allowed blood to be drawn after I was allowed to see my family.

Records in QRP and CGH would back up my account of the matter. Would the MHA make public these medical records so that the truth can be ascertained once and for all? By refusing to disclose these facts, the MHA is trying to cover up the truth.

Point 12: Strangely resumed eating at CGH.

MHA: Then just as strangely as Chee had stopped eating on 28 Nov 06, Chee abruptly resumed eating his meals on 4 Dec 06. He ate his dinner ordered from a menu of choices at Changi General Hospital.

CSJ: There was nothing strange that I started eating the food at CGH. I have said all along that I wanted to see my wife first before I would resume eating. I consumed hospital food when my wife was allowed to see me on 4/12/2006. That was also the day when Mr Chandra Kumar promised us that there won’t be any more markings on my food either in CGH or QRP.

Point 13: Deciding to eat when returned to prison.

MHA: On his return to prison, and when he was placed in a cell under CCTV observation, Chee decided to eat prison meals and behaved well enough to be eligible for remission of his sentence.

CSJ: I started to eat prison food after assurance from Mr Chandra Kumar and Suprintendent Hoon that there won’t be any more markings on my food. I was also threatened that my yard time, family visits, and even consultation with lawyers would be denied if I did not eat the prison food.

Conclusion

From the above it can be seen that the MHA’s statement is riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and outright lies. The Government should provide documents and recordings that it has in its possession to reveal the truth rather than make statements that it can neither substantiate nor prove.

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Chee’s charges, ministry’s reply by TODAY

Thursday • December 21, 2006

Politician Chee Soon Juan was released from prison last Saturday – his five-week jail term ending one-and-a-half weeks early for good behaviour.

The Singapore Democratic Party chief, who opted to go to jail rather than pay a $5,000 fine for speaking in public without a permit, has since released a three-page statement to the media, accusing the Government of treating him poorly in prison.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has refuted Chee’s latest claims. Here are the key points made by both parties.

Marked food trays

Chee SAID: The food served to him in prison made him nauseous and dizzy, and distorted his “auditory senses”. He noted that his food tray had been marked, and said the symptoms stopped when he skipped a couple of meals. He asked the Government to explain why his tray had been marked with an “S”.

THE MHA SAID: It is normal prisons procedure to record the food consumption of all inmates under close watch. It said that it had also monitored the food intakes of Chee’s associates, Yap Keng Ho and Ghandi Ambalam, following the declaration by Yap that he was going on a hunger strike. It said that it had done the same when Chee was in prison in Oct 2002 and again in March this year. He had not complained then, said the MHA.

Medical reports

Chee SAID: He and his family members claim to have repeatedly asked for a complete set of his medical reports, but are yet to receive it.

THE MHA SAID: Chee only gave his consent for the authorities to release his medical report to his sister on Dec 14. The medical report is currently being prepared by a Raffles Medical Group medical officer and should be ready for collection in two weeks, subject to payment of a fee.

Lights in the cell

Chee SAID: The light in his cell had been kept on the “entire night and morning”, which made sleep impossible. It affected his health and his ability to eat. This he claimed went on for the last nine nights of his imprisonment, after he had returned from the hospital. He added that complaints to the prison doctor and psychiatrist had fallen on deaf ears.

THE MHA SAID: Chee initially slept in a cell with cell-mates, where the lights were turned off at night. After he complained of sleeping problems, he was given the sleeping aid valium by the medical officer, and was observed to have slept well. On his return from hospital, the MHA said that Chee had been kept in a cell equipped with CCTV, where the lights are kept on from 6pm to 8am to enable prison officers to monitor inmates under close supervision, such as those with suicidal tendencies or intent to injure themselves. It said that prison officers observed that Chee’s cellmates slept without trouble. At his request, Chee was also given valium and was observed on CCTV to have rested at least six to seven hours each night.

His books

Chee SAID: In his statement, he asked why his books had been taken away when he returned from hospital. He said that when he asked for them, he was told that they had been taken away for censoring. He pointed out to officials that they were the same books he had brought into prison, and said he received no explanation on why censoring was required.

THE MHA SAID: Chee had brought a total of 32 books with him to prison, far more than any other prisoner. These 32 books were permitted. When he was sent to the hospital, Chee took with him seven books. On his return, the MHA said that the seven books were required to be subjected to security screening — standard procedure for all items brought in from the outside.

In their own words …

Chee SAID:

If I am treated no differently from other inmates, why was my food tray marked when others’ were not? Also, why did the prison refuse to turn off the lights in my cell when the lights in other cells were switched off at 9pm every night? Let me add that I do not believe for a moment that the prison officials acted on their own initiative. Like everything else regarding the Opposition, decisions are made at the People’s Action Party Government level and, in this instance, it should not try to pass the blame on to the Prison Service.

THE MHA SAID:

Chee’s incarceration is a result of his own doing and political motivation — he broke the law and was convicted with due process but chose to go to jail instead of paying the fine. Chee’s insinuations about being the victim of some food conspiracy by the authorities are ridiculous and a product of his own mischief.

The facts about Chee’s conduct and actions in prison show that no one has made him nauseous; the medical tests done in the hospital showed that he was fit to return to prison. Instead, what is clear is that Chee’s purported “ailment” in prison served only to provide an expedient story for his associates and foreign supporters to faithfully distort and exploit for political mileage. In the end, this was what really happened with Chee in prison.

The Truth Hurts For The “Marie Antoinettes” Wednesday, Dec 20 2006 

“The source for much invective in the Wee Shu Min case is that there is a real sense the PAP is composed of people in ivory towers; that they are a bunch of Marie Antoinettes,”

Politics is no laughing matter in Singapore

By Geert De Clercq

SINGAPORE, Dec 20 (Reuters) – Chewing gum, homosexuality, public protests… the list of things frowned upon is long in Singapore. But satire? Yes, that too. Seriously.

Political humour is playing a bigger role than ever in the city-state, and despite government’s insistence that politics is no laughing matter, satirical websites are blossoming.

TalkingCock.com, an irreverent website that relentlessly pokes fun at the Singapore “gahmen” (government), gets 4 million hits per month in a country of 4.4 million, while popular blog mrbrown.com receives some 20,000 downloads per day for its droll podcasts about life in Singapore, up 10-fold from a year ago. “These websites touch a popular vein. They deal with issues of everyday life in a language that can be understood in the kopitiam (coffee shop). It’s like the parables of Jesus,” said researcher Gillian Koh of the Institute of Policy Studies.

Others say government disapproval of these websites has added to their appeal.

Colin Goh is the only public face of the large collective that puts together TalkingCock.com, a website named after the term for “talking nonsense” in “Singlish” — the local patois of English laced with Hokkien Chinese and Malay words.

“The others do not want to reveal their identities, they are too scared,” said Goh, a former lawyer with degrees from University College London and New York’s Columbia University.

Goh and friends set up TalkingCock in 2000 in New York, where he lives. The project has since grown into a huge, rambling site with dozens of anonymous contributors.

Goh insists the site’s focus is on humour, not on politics.

“All humour is about daily life. It just so happens that in Singapore, the government occupies such a large part of our lives,” said Goh, who is also an award-winning film director.

“Seriously”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is well aware of TalkingCock.

In his national day speech on August 20, Lee actually showed a slide of TalkingCock.com.

“If you want humour, you go there. Some of the jokes are not bad. Not all of them,” he said.

In another speech on April 1 — April Fool’s day — Lee said there was space for political debate in Singapore, but stressed that discussions on politics must be taken seriously.

“Countries can become unstable if political figures are not given basic respect and acceptance,” Lee was quoted as saying by state broadcaster Channel NewsAsia.

Goh said he vaguely agrees with the government that jokes are no substitute for real political discourse.

“It is bad for the satirist when people look to the satirist for alternative serious political commentary. We’d be very happy to go back to our court jester status,” he said.

Singapore print and broadcast media are government-owned or controlled, but on the Internet anti-government views abound.

Catherine Lim, Singapore’s best-known fiction writer, said the government’s allergy to satire is not surprising.

“It’s a very Asian, Confucian thing, especially if you take it to the point where you make them lose face. That is absolutely intolerable, even in a society as modern as Singapore,” said Lim, who has angered the government before with her criticisms.

Australian academic Garry Rodan, who has written extensively about Singapore politics, said the Singapore government is not comfortable with political jokes because “humour challenges the notion of a foolproof meritocracy”.

Lee has said repeatedly that the government tolerates dissent but would respond to criticism that it disagreed with.

“Because if we don’t respond, untruths will be repeated and will be believed, and eventually will be treated as facts and the Government and the leaders will lose the respect of the population and the moral authority to govern,” Lee said.

Minced Pork Podcast

mrbrown — the Internet moniker for blogger Lee Kin Mun — was the first satirist to find out what that response could be.

In July, his weekly column in state-owned newspaper Today was axed after he had poked fun at a series of price hikes that followed soon after the May 6 general election.

“It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government,” the information ministry wrote in a blistering reply.

In his National Day speech, Lee said the satirical column had “hit out wildly at the Government and in a very mocking and dismissive sort of tone”.

One of mrbrown’s podcasts had a starring role in the run-up to the elections when it mocked the way the government harped on for days about an opposition candidate’s bungled attempt to submit an election form.

mrbrown’s podcast parody of the affair as a food stall vendor hounding a customer over an order of a bowl of minced pork noodles was downloaded 200,000 times and spread like wildfire in the blogoshpere.

Like others in Singapore’s lively Internet scene, both mrbrown and Goh are worried about an upcoming revision of the penal code, which could take into account “new technological developments” such as the Internet.

“At any time, the government could drop the guillotine on us. So, not very funny times, I’m afraid,” Goh said.

Merry Christmas To All Tuesday, Dec 19 2006 

I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. While at the same time to remind ourselves during this festive season of the thousands who are suffering and/or dying across the world due to hunger, war, poverty, natural disasters, killings, rapes, other human rights abuses, political persecution, etc, etc. The list is, unfortunately, endless. Yes, even in Singapore. The degree to which people are suffering might be different and specific to individual countries. But it’s suffering nevertheless.

Here’s a video of the original 1984 version of Do They Know It’s Christmas?. This song brought together many of the 80s British superstars to raise awareness and money for the then Ethiopian famine victims. Even though the song was about the famine, it could just as well be about any form of human suffering. Personally, this song also brings back alot of memories for me, good and bad but mostly good.

What Really Happened in Prison: CSJ Responds to MHA Statements & Media Manipulation Monday, Dec 18 2006 

Source: SDP

What really happened in prison
Chee Soon Juan
18 Dec 06

In response to the Ministry of Home Affair’s (MHA) statement (ST, 2 Dec 2006), allow me to state what really took place during my recent imprisonment at the Queenstown Remand Prison from 23 Nov-16 Dec 2006.

When I consumed my meals on the first two days of my jail term, I experienced acute nausea, dizziness and extreme distortion of my auditory senses. Sounds like the jangling of keys or my cell-mates urinating in the latrine became unbearably loud.

When I subsequently skipped a couple of meals, these symptoms did not occur. When I resumed eating, the negative effects re-appeared. This made me rather suspicious and nervous.

Food tray marked

My suspicion was heightened when I noticed that my food tray was marked with the letter ‘S’. Those of my two other cell-mates were not so marked. I then compared the contents of my rations with theirs and found that the servings were similar.

I subsequently found out from my wife that when she asked a Mr Chandra Kumar, who would only identify himself as a “prison officer” from the MHA, he categorically denied that prisoners’ food trays were marked.

I then decided to stop eating whereupon the symptoms I described earlier went away. I told the prison authorities, including the doctor, about the matter and said that I wanted to see my wife.

After a few days without my eating, the doctor said that he wanted to run some tests to check on my health. I consented to giving him urine samples but indicated that I did not want any invasive procedures to be conducted, including extracting blood samples.

Given what I had just experienced, I did not want the prison authorities inserting anything into me such as pricking my finger for blood-sugar tests, taking blood samples, or putting me on intravenous drips.

I repeated that I wanted to see my wife first (to seek independent opinion) before I gave consent to such invasive procedures, however minor they were. Given the circumstances, I had to be extra cautious.

I, however, continued to give urine specimens and allowed my blood pressure to be monitored.

The prison authorities remained intransigent for an entire week until Sunday, 3 Dec when the doctor decided to admit me to Changi General Hospital (CGH) because my blood pressure had begun to fall and traces of blood continued to be present in my urine.

The following morning on 4 Dec, I again indicated to the doctors at CGH that given the situation, I wanted to see my wife first before I agreed to any invasive procedure to be done. But I did not object to X-rays and CT-scans being conducted on me.

When the authorities finally allowed my wife and sister, Chee Siok Chin, to visit me at CGH that morning, I felt more at ease and subsequently consumed the hospital food and allowed my blood to be drawn for tests.

I was informed that all the tests and consultations showed that there was nothing inherently wrong with me that caused me to refuse to eat the prison food or to experience the symptoms when I ate it. Which brings me back to the question: What caused my symptoms when I first ate the prison food?

Sleep deprivation tactics?

When I was subsequently discharged and transferred back to prison on Thursday, 7 Dec, it was already dinner time. When the food trays were brought in, I was told to choose one out of the three (the marking was no longer there).

I did not want to eat the dinner partly because I had an aversion to the food and partly because I had had a late meal at the hospital just before I was brought back to prison.

The prison official in charge gave me five minutes to start eating failing which my family visit, yard time, and consultations with my lawyer would be canceled. When I did not comply, I was taken back to my cell.

The books that I had taken with me to the hospital and brought back were then taken from me. When I asked for them, I was told that they were undergoing “censoring”. I told the officials that they were the same books I had with me since the first day of my imprisonment and asked why they were being censored only now. I received no explanation. The books were only gradually returned to me the following day.

That night the light in my cell was left on the entire night and morning which made sleep impossible. This went on for the remaining nine days of my imprisonment. I told the prison doctor and psychiatrist that the refusal to turn off the lights at night was affecting my ability to rest and sleep and this, in turn, affected my health adding to my inability to eat during the day. Obviously, this fell on deaf ears.

I nevertheless tried to eat as much as possible, usually managing a few mouthfuls, just so that I would not be accused of deliberately refusing to eat. Because of the sleep deprivation, I was not able to gain back the weight I had lost (about 5 kg) when I refused to eat the food during the first week of my incarceration.

Lastly, my lawyer, my family members and I have repeatedly asked for a complete set of my medical test results to be given to us. To date, after more than a week, we still have not received it.

Given what I have just revealed, it is imperative that the Government answer the following questions:

1. Why was my food tray marked ‘S’ when others’ were not?

2. Why were my books taken away from me when I returned to the prison from the hospital?

3. Why was the light in my cell left on throughout the night thus depriving me of sleep?

***********

What the Govt and media didn’t tell S’poreans about Dr CSJ’s prison treatment

In newspaper reports (Today, 6 Dec 06), the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) made the following allegations against Dr Chee which did not tell Singaporeans the truth:

Today: “But MHA pointed out that his three cell mates and all other prisoners ate the same food without incident.”

Chee: What the Government did not reveal was that my food tray was marked whereas those of my cell-mates’ weren’t. I have served four previous prison sentences and this is the first time that my tray has been marked.

Today: “But [Chee] has been adamant about refusing medical treatment.”

Chee: Again, this is untrue. I had repeatedly insisted that I wanted to see my wife before I consented to any invasive procedure (such as inserting of needles) done on me. In prison I had given urine specimens which is how the prison doctor was able to identify blood in my urine as well as monitor my blood pressure.

In the hospital, I again repeated that I wanted to see my wife first before I allowed any needles to be inserted into me. But I had agreed to do CT-scans, ultra-sounds, X-rays and do an interview with a psychiatrist.

When I was finally allowed to see my wife and sister, and after we had a short discussion, I felt more at ease and subsequently consented to eating hospital food. Mr Chandra Kumar had also promised that henceforth there would not be any marking on my food tray. I subsequently agreed to give a blood sample.

Today: “MHA…noting that Chee had ‘demanded to be treated differently from other inmates’.”

Chee: If I am treated no differently from other inmates, why was my food tray marked when others’ were not? Also, why did the prison refuse to turn off the lights in my cell when the lights in other cells were switched off at 9 pm every night?

Let me add that I do not for a moment believe that the prison officials acted on their own initiative. Like everything else regarding the opposition, decisions are made at the PAP Government level and, in this instance, it should not try to pass the blame on to the Prison Service.

Chee Soon Juan
18 December 2006

Income gap tears at Singapore social fabric Monday, Dec 18 2006 

By Geert De Clercq

SINGAPORE, Dec 18 (Reuters) – When Wee Shu Min, the teenage daughter of a Singapore member of parliament stumbled across the blog of a Singaporean who wrote that he was worried about losing his job, she thought she’d give him a piece of her mind.

She called him “one of many wretched, undermotivated, overassuming leeches in our country” on her own blog and signed off with “please, get out of my elite uncaring face“.

Wee was flamed by hundreds of fellow bloggers, but when her father Wee Siew Kim — an MP in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s constituency — told a Singapore newspaper that “her basic point is reasonable“, the row moved well beyond the blogosphere.

The episode highlighted a deep rift in Singapore society and was an embarrassment for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and prime minister Lee, who has made the reduction of the income gap one of the priorities of his new government.

“Coming from an MP in the prime minister’s constituency, these comments really were political dynamite,” political commentator Seah Chiang Nee told Reuters.

“If the political arrogance and elitism get any worse, the PAP will lose more electoral ground,” he added.

Singapore is Asia’s second-richest country after Japan with a gross domestic product per capita of about $27,000, ranking between EU member Italy and Spain. But in terms of income disparity, Singapore is in altogether different company.

Singapore’s Gini index — which measures inequality of income distribution among households — of 42.5 puts it between Burundi and Kenya, the UN Human Development Report 2006 shows.

“Yes, the gini coefficient is very high. Through housing, health care and education, we have tried to narrow the income gap, but not through wages,” National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan told Reuters in an interview last month.

“Welfare As A Dirty Word”

Singapore pays no employment benefits, no pensions and has no legal minimum wage, but education is cheap and excellent, health care is subsidised and the government gives subsidies to first-time buyers of government-built flats.

Last month, Singapore’s first parliament session since the May 6 poll was dominated by the inequality theme.

PM Lee ruled out the introduction of old-age pensions, a minimum wage or European-style welfare.

“We have treated welfare as a dirty word. The opposition, I think the Workers’ Party, has called for a ‘permanent unconditional needs-based welfare system’. I think that is an even dirtier five words,” he said in a speech on Nov. 13. (article19’s note: See below)

But he acknowledged that since the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the income gap had widened, and said that his government plans to “tilt the balance in favour of the lower-income groups”.

While Lee’s ruling PAP is in no danger of losing its stranglehold on parliament — where it has 82 out of 84 elected seats — the growing income disparity has hurt its credibility.

In the May 6 poll, the Workers’ Party scored its best result in years, with chairwoman Sylvia Lim winning 44 percent of the votes in a multi-seat ward. Lee lost 34 percent in his ward to a group of unknown candidates in their early thirties.

“They (the PAP) are concerned about the fallout if they don’t do anything about the income gap,” Lim, who entered parliament as a non-voting MP under a best-loser provision, told Reuters.

In parliament, Lee said he plans to improve healthcare and boost housing subsidies for low-income families. He added that he wants more “workfare” schemes, under which the state tops up low-income workers’ pay.

On May 1 — five days before the election — the government paid out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers, and Lee promised a similar package for next year. Details would be released in the 2007 budget on February 15.

“Marie Antoinettes”

Critics say that much of the outrage about the teenage blogger’s comments is due to a perception that Singapore is ruled by a privileged elite that’s out of touch with the people.

The road to a top job in the Singapore government or civil service leads through elite junior colleges and prestigious government scholarships for university studies abroad.

While access to these schools and scholarships is open to all and based on academic grades, critics say the children of the elite are well represented. Wee Shu Min attends a top school, Raffles Junior College, as did her father, an MP and a top executive at state-owned arms maker ST Engineering.

In a report about “elite envy”, the Straits Times daily quoted official data showing that in the last five years, one in three students on government scholarships came from families with incomes of more than $$10,000 ($6,500) a month, while such families make up just 13 per cent of all Singapore households.

Students from households on incomes of less than $2,000 made up only 7 per cent of scholarship winners, the paper added.

Colin Goh, founder of satirical website TalkingCock.com, said that while the first generation of post-independence PAP leaders was seen as close to the people, this is no longer the case.

“The source for much invective in the Wee Shu Min case is that there is a real sense the PAP is composed of people in ivory towers; that they are a bunch of Marie Antoinettes,” he said. – Reuters

***********

Before you proceed, you might be interested to read (or read again, for some) The New Poor by James Gomez which was published in 2001 in the Workers’ Party’s newsletter The Hammer .

This was the response by the Secretary-General of the Workers’ Party , Low Thia Khiang, to the PM’s speech at a parliament sitting on 13 Nov 2006…….

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang): Sir, I do not quite understand why welfare is a “dirty” word. What is wrong with providing welfare to the people and looking after them?

Sir, the Prime Minister has said that he spent about $10 billion before the last elections for whatever help packages, some of which I understand were only dished out when the elections were coming – the New Singapore Shares, Progress Package – where even people with a million-dollar income would still receive $200. Was that an equitable way of helping the people, the model that the PAP Government is talking about? I do not know.

Sir, that is why we think that it is better for us to have a needs-based welfare safety net with permanent features, ie, arising from the change in circumstances of globalisation, people are uncertain when they will lose their jobs, and what will happen. We need to give some confidence to the people that there will be help if they are in need of help. Will the kind of system that the Worker’s Party has proposed bankrupt the country? I do not think so. Sir, we are not talking about a welfare system like the UK where you provide retirement pensions or a weekly allowance. We are talking about helping the needy, which I think is more focused.

Sir, the Prime Minister also talked about the increase in GST and the offset package, but I am sure he will agree that the offset package is for a period of time. And once you come to the end of the period of the offset package, the people are stuck with the increased GST. Has the Government considered the impact of another extra 2% increase of GST on the people, not only on the lower-income group, but also on the low-middle and middle-income? As what the PM has said, we had better do it earlier because the economy is good. But if the economy is bad, if it turns later on, what are we going to do? People are going to be stuck with a heavier cost of living.

I would urge him to consider carefully about the increase in GST, bearing in mind that though you have the offset package, our GST does not exempt anything. It practically taxes on everything under the sun. That also means essential things. How does that part of taxing on everything impact the lower income although you provide an offset package?

Source: Singapore Parliament Reports

Hey You! Yeah You! You Better Read This… Sunday, Dec 17 2006 

Pointing finger

A few hours ago You were named as TIME magazine’s Person of The Year 2006. Congratulations! Especially to those Singaporean bloggers and others who have utilised the Internet in remarkable ways in order to even the field, so to speak. And continue to do so. You know who you are. 😉

Photos of CSJ’s Release Sunday, Dec 17 2006 

csj1
Chee Soon Juan, leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), smiles as he leaves Queenstown remand prison in Singapore December 16, 2006. Rights group Amnesty International called on the Singapore government to stop using stringent laws and defamation suits to muzzle critics. The call comes as Chee ends on Saturday his five-week jail term for failing to pay a S$5,000 ($3,250) fine for illegally speaking in public before elections in May. REUTERS/Nicky Loh (SINGAPORE)

csj2
Chee Soon Juan kisses his daughters after leaving Queenstown remand prison in Singapore December 16, 2006. REUTERS/Nicky Loh (SINGAPORE)

csj3
Chee Soon Juan hugs lawyer M. Ravi after leaving Queenstown remand prison in Singapore December 16, 2006. REUTERS/Nicky Loh (SINGAPORE)

csj4
Chee Soon Juan takes a group photo with his family outside Queenstown remand prison in Singapore December 16, 2006. REUTERS/Nicky Loh (SINGAPORE)

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