AFP, 8 Dec 2006

A group of marchers plan to test Singapore’s tight restrictions on public protests by marking international Human Rights Day Sunday, an organiser of the protest said.

Chee Siok Chin, the sister of jailed pro-democracy activist Chee Soon Juan, told AFP that up to 12 people planned to march in groups of four.

Any public protest of five or more people without a police permit in Singapore is deemed illegal.

“We are keeping it to four at a time so we avoid flouting any of these rules here,” Chee said.

But she added she still expects scrutiny from the police.

“We are expecting some queries and some questions. They might not even allow us to go on.”

The rally is to begin at 0800 GMT at Hong Lim Park and end at Queenstown Remand Prison where Chee Soon Juan is detained.

Chee was jailed for five weeks on November 23 after declaring he would not pay a fine of 5,000 Singapore dollars (3,200 US).

The fine was imposed after he was convicted for speaking in public without a police permit ahead of May 6 general elections won overwhelmingly by the conservative People’s Action Party (PAP).

US-based rights group Human Rights Watch said Thursday that Chee “is being arbitrarily detained for exercising his right to free expression and should be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Chee Soon Juan is one of the few people in Singapore to have spoken out against the PAP, which has ruled since 1959.

Since independence in 1965, Singapore has grown from a third-world country to an Asian economic powerhouse.

But critics say this has come at a price, in the form of restrictions on freedom of speech and political activity.