Human rights watchdog criticizes Singapore for muffling opposition

Other News Materials 17 October 2008 09:52 (UTC +04:00)

An international human rights watchdog on Friday accused the Singapore government of trying to silence critics with unfair defamation lawsuits, reports dpa.

Elaine Pearson, Human Rights Watch's deputy director for Asia, said the lawsuits, used against opposition politicians and critical media, make "a mockery of Singapore's claim to be a model democracy."

"Opposition criticism of the government is an essential ingredient of a democratic political system," she added, urging the wealthy city-state to stop its limitations on free political speech.

Human Rights Watch referred to the latest verdict against Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), his sister Chee Siok Chin and the party itself. They were sentenced to pay about 416,000 US dollars in damages for defamation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, former premier See Kuan Yew.

The politicians had sued over a story published in the SDP's news sheet that drew parallels between a corruption scandal in a charity organization and Singapore's governance.

Human Rights Watch said the Singapore government had driven opposition leaders into bankruptcy in the past, the most prominent example being the late JB Jeyaretnam, the first opposition member of Parliament, who died in October.

Foreign media were also repeatedly sued after publishing stories criticizing the government, among them the Bloomberg financial news agency and the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune newspapers.

The Chees have been bankrupted by earlier lawsuits and are, therefore, prohibited from running for political office by Singaporean regulations.