Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Singapore's Funny Pages

Singapore blogger Jacob looks at how his country's constitution relates to an upcoming trial of some peaceful protesters. Take a look at what the document actually says about protecting Singapore citizens' human rights. It's good for a laugh.

Jacob writes:
18 individuals will face trial for a peaceful protest in March of this year outside Parliament House. The trial of the TBT (tak boleh tahan) 18 is scheduled to begin on 23 Oct 2008 at 9.30am in Court no.5 at the Subordinate Courts, till 7 Nov 2008.
I blogged about the arrest here.

Jacob quotes the sub-section on "Freedom of Speech, Assembly and Association," under the "Fundamental Liberties section" of the Constitution of Singapore:
14. —(1) Subject to clauses (2) and (3) —
(a) every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression;
(b) all citizens of Singapore have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and
(c) all citizens of Singapore have the right to form associations.
The above rights are, indeed, fundamental liberties. They are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (you can watch an interesting video about the Declaration here).

But in Singapore, people are not free to fully exercise these rights. Singapore residents are not allowed to assemble freely in groups. Environmental and various other kinds of organizations are illegal. Criticize the leaders of the city-state, and they will sue you (guess who wins).

If you read the next passage of Singapore's "Constitution" you will understand why; you will understand how the game is played:
(2) Parliament may by law impose —
(a) on the rights conferred by clause (1) (a), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence. . .
Section 14 of the Singapore Constitution does not read like any constitution I have seen before. They should call the document the "Funny Pages." Did you notice that the human rights of Singapore citizens can actually be taken away
in the interest of ... friendly relations with other countries . . . [!]
That's right, if you are Singaporean, your human rights are subject to the government's perception of what might be in the interest of friendly relations with other countries. In the case of some Burmese protesters recently charged and deported for unlawful assembly, that "other country" was none other than Myanmar. Myanmar! In practice, this can also mean your basic human rights will be taken away if doing so advances the business interests of a foreign corporation. Think the ban on environmental groups; think Singapore's petrochemical industry; think ExxonMobil.

The infringements upon human rights enshrined in the Constitution of Singapore happen to be illegal. Singapore, as a member of the United Nations, is subject to the International Bill of Rights, which has the force of binding international law on UN member states. The IBR includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Singapore's Constitution is a rights-grab, an illegal mechanism by which an unelected government usurps the human rights of its citizens through a legalistic maneuver.

Incidentally, the name of the group being tried next week for "peaceful assembly" is called
Tak boleh tahan which means "We can't take it any more!" No wonder. (watch a video of this activist group here.)

Outrage about price hikes were an integral part of the original protest movement. Now that Singapore's economy has slipped into recession, and many will have lost money in the bear market, I wonder how much longer the government of Singapore will get away with making a mockery of the human rights of Singaporeans.
Photo: More of my photos of Singapore signs here.


  1. Of course it's not a democracy, but I've been there and didn't have the feeling that people was "abused" on their human rights. They were a bit robotic, of course, but "abused" is another matter.
    By the way it's the safest, cleanest and most modern site I've ever seen. It's sanitized, of course, don't know really how. But for the residents I think it's a little oasis in asian chaos.

  2. "Abused" is the word I would use to describe what happened to the deported Burmese protesters residing in Singapore (see link in above post), or the 18 residents who had been protesting food price increases but now face court hearing.

    Irrespective of how great the quality of life is for the vast majority of Singaporeans, these cases matter.

  3. As long as you are not a threat to the establishment you are free to enjoy your "rights" which is really a privilege. The moment you challenge the ruling elites, you will find your world crumbling, the entire state machinery will be on you and you will literally be made to "crawl on bended knees".


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