Speakers shy away from Singapore's "free speech" corner

  Agence France Presse
June 15, 2003

A TIGHTLY controlled area allowing Singaporeans their only venue to "speak freely" about politics and other local issues is attracting fewer than four speakers a week, a media report said Sunday, June 15.

There have been just 140 speeches in the past nine months at Singapore's Speakers' Corner, based on London's famous forum in Hyde Park, the New Paper said, citing police figures.

This is down from more than 1000 speeches in the first nine months after it opened in September, 2000.

"It shows that Singaporeans are just a resigned lot who feel that nothing can be done," the New Paper quoted Chandra Mohan, a local lawyer and politician who had pushed for the opening of Speakers' Corner, as saying.

The People's Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since the country was founded in 1965, has long banned citizens speaking publicly about issues such as politics without a permit.

The opening of Speakers' Corner was greeted with the hope that locals would be able to speak openly there about sensitive topics.

But critics of the experiment have said Speakers' Corner has failed partly because of tight restrictions placed on the Hong Lim Park venue.

Those seeking to speak there have to first register with the police and their speeches must avoid religion or any issues that may incite racial hostilities.

And speaking at Speakers' Corner does not exempt people from Singapore's strict defamation and slander laws, which have bankrupted opposition politicians and other government critics.