Singapore activists stage rare pro-democracy march

By Koh Gui Qing

SINGAPORE, Dec 10 (Reuters) – Around a dozen Singaporean campaigners on Sunday managed to take a pro-democracy protest to the streets for the first time in years, attracting plainclothes police with video cameras as they demanded freedom of speech.

The activists walked to the Queenstown Remand Prison where Chee Soon Juan, leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), is serving a five-week term for illegally speaking in public before elections in May.

“Today, we want to celebrate whatever little freedom we have,” spokesman John Tan told reporters before the start of the march, timed to mark International Human Rights Day.

The campaigners walked in groups of four as Singapore bans public gatherings of more than four people without a police permit. Public speaking is also prohibited unless the speaker has been licensed by the government.

In September, Chee’s attempt to stage a pro-democracy march to the venue of the IMF-World Bank annual meeting in Singapore grabbed world headlines after police physically blocked him and fellow activists in a four-day standoff at the city-state’s little-used Speakers’ Corner.

On Sunday, authorities did not try to stop the march, but police in plain clothes trailed the group and filmed them with video cameras.

The 9-km (5-mile) march started at Speakers’ Corner and passed through Orchard Road, Singapore’s main shopping belt.

Some of the activists — who included Chee’s wife Huang Chih Mei and their three young children — wore yellow t-shirts carrying “Free to Speak” and “Free to Gather” messages. They were generally unheeded by the Christmas shopping crowd.

Chee’s sister, Chee Siok Chin, stopped at the office of President S R Nathan and asked an official to hand a flier to the president, to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and to his father, Lee Kuan Yew.

Chee, who has been bankrupted by libel suits brought by officials whom he criticised, was jailed after failing to pay a S$5,000 fine ($3,250) for speaking in public.

He has been jailed several times in recent years for similar offences and for questioning the independence of the judiciary. – Reuters

I was able to take these photos from 4pm on 10 Dec 2006…….

Foreign domestic workers on their day off get together at Hong Lim Park aka Speakers Corner. At least somebody’s doing something worthwhile these days at Singapore’s so called “free speech venue”!!! πŸ™‚

Reporters, both foreign & local, mingling with participants of Freedom Walk. The lady in black on your left is from the Straits Times while the guy in front of her in the white t-shirt is from TODAY. Your guess is as good as mine as to what will be published in this two government controlled newspapers. πŸ˜‰

Media taking photos of Chee Soon Juan’s eldest daughter in her Freedom Walk t-shirt.

A Freedom Walk-er

Participants gather to confer

John Tan, spokesman for the group of walkers

Gandhi Ambalam, who was just released from Queenstown Remand Prison after serving his 3 week sentence for exercising his constitutional right to free speech, with Chee Siok Chin, addressing reporters

Gandhi Ambalam speaking to the media with John Tan & Chee Siok Chin

The walk begins with these 4 participants

Walking along North Bridge Road with reporters in tow….

…handing out fliers as they go. Among other things, the main points of the leaflets say – “Freedom Walk is organized by a group of individuals who have come together to mark International Human Rights Day on Sunday, 10 Dec 2006”, “In Singapore, we will commemorate this day by walking through the busiest part of the city to raise awareness of human rights. In the process, we are also heeding the UN General Assembly’s call to disseminate, at least in part, the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights via this flier”, “We hope to pass on to fellow Singaporeans a message of hope and encouragement that the rights of all individual be respected and honoured in our nation….”

Walking past Raffles Hotel…..

…passing Cathay cinema towards Plaza Singapura, The Istana, Centrepoint….

and hooking up with the rest at John Little’s along Orchard Road

Some small talk….

…resting a bit and having some drink…

before continuing the walk.

Outside Wheelock Place.

At Tangling Mall before continuing onto Tanglin Road and finally to Queenstown Remand Prison at Margaret Drive. Unfortunately, I couldn’t accompany them further to take more photos as I had to rush off for another appointment. But I did find out that all of them reached their destination safe & sound and later dispersed to head home. For more photos & reports, you might want to take the red pill.