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The talk that got Chee Soon Juan into jail

Talk by Dr Chee at Raffles Place on 5 January 1999.

                  This is the beginning, only the beginning of the long road in my struggle                  to bring democracy to you.

See other related reports on Dr Chee case

(1) I have a confession to make. Last week, when I came down here to give this talk, I was scared, not scared of what the government is going to do, but I was afraid that no one would show up, because all of you might be too fearful to come down. But, obviously, I was wrong. Judging by the crowd today, it shows that all of you are not only fearful, but you are very interested in hearing what I have to say. My fellow Singaporeans, ladies and gentlemen, I don't know if you realise this or not, but we have made history, because never in the history of Singapore, has so many of us gather at Raffles Place, the Central Business District, in such a civilised manner, in such a peaceful manner, talk about political issues.

(2) Now what I want to day to you today, it's got everything to do with you, I want to talk to you about your rights, your rights as citizens of this country. What it means to you. I'm going to do it in three parts. The first part is to ask what are rights? Then I want to ask, tell you how the PAP has systematically denied you of these rights. And thirdly, I want to tell you how important it is that you not be denied of these rights, not just in very vague terms but by denying you of these rights, it will affect our economic prosperity and development for the long term. But most of all, I want to tell you that not only must we demand our rights, we must also be mindful of the fact that we are responsible citizens who want our rights. And what do I mean by being responsible citizens?

(3) When we got together and talk like this, we don't want any trouble. We want to be able to gather peacefully and even to be critical of the government but never, never resorting to any kinds of violence. That is 'Rights and Responsibility'. We have shown last week, not only to the Singapore government, not only to PAP but also to the world, that we can gather together and have a more open society and not always have to worry that whatever we do politically will turn out into unrest. So, what are rights? What are your human rights? What are they actually? Rights are qualities, are aspects of your lives, qualities of your being that no one, no one can take away. You are born with it. It is just as good as your eyes, your mouth, your stomach, your legs. If anyone pokes you in the eyes and deprives you of your sight, they will have made you a lesser person than you normally are. And you have every right to prevent that person from depriving you of your sight. In a similar way, you must understand that your rights are yours, and that the government cannot take it away because if they do, they will affect you as individuals and as a society.

(4) We, human beings, are born with a brain and we need a brain to think, not only do we need a brain to think we need a brain to communicate. Communication is what makes us humans. If you take away our rights to be able to communicate with each other, and by communications, I just don't mean that the government talks to us and we listen, I mean the fact that we are able to gather together, to discuss, to listen, to argue and to be critical. That is communication. That is all part of our brain, which you cannot, which no government can take away.

(5) Now all these rights are all embedded in agreements, in written documents, in Constitutions. December the 10th, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations got together and they signed and proclaimed the universal declaration of human rights. Singapore was a signatory to this declaration, quarantees that all citizens in every country have the rights to freely associate, to speak and to assemble in a peaceful manner. The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore and I'll quote you some articles from it: 'Article 14(1) (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....'

(6) That is quaranteed to us by the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore. But, of course, the PAP, then goes to Parliament and they put in clauses to restrict us and passes it as law, saying that under certain conditions, these rights must be restricted. I said fair enough. But under what conditions? Those conditions existed in the 1960s when we were talking about secret societies, about triads and about communist insurgence. Tell me, today, which one of you will stand and say that are you communist and you want to change Singapore and revert back into communism? You don't have the government coming down on you. Everybody will be laughing at you. What we want to do is to exert our rights as respectful civilised citizens of this country.

(7) Let me tell you why I have not gone ahead and applied for a permit? Number one, they have done it repeatedly, over and over, either they won't grant us the permit or they will always delay until a few days before the event itself. How are you going to have a public conference in a hotel three days before the event, and then they let you know to go ahead with it. You have to send our invitations, you have to get your speakers, you have to rent your venues in the hotel.

(8) You have a situation whereby there are laws and then there are laws, laws which are unjust, laws which as undemocratic, laws that are put in place to prop up the ruling party. You have in place laws which protect the rights, interests of the ruling elite. Le me just give a few examples. You remember in South Africa, during the years of the apartheid, there were laws saying that the blacks, even though they are the majority, they cannot form the government, they cannot live in towns where the whites live in. You have in the 1950s, the segregation laws in the United States where laws tell the black that they cannot sit in front of the bus and if they do, when they see a white, they got to get up and move to the back of the bus. Then, you have laws in China where they tell the citizens that they cannot form an opposition party and those who do, like Xu Wenli, are given 13 years' imprisonment. Those are unjust laws; those are laws that are not meant to protect the interests of the people. Those laws must be opposed.

(9) You have a situation in Singapore where laws are put in place to make sure none of us can ever gather together so that the government can always tell you, like what George Yeo did last week on TV, "Singaporeans are not interested in political freedom, Singaporeans are not interested in democracy." How does he know? As long as he can keep you divided, you'll think that others are not interested, everyone thinks that they are in the minority, no one can ever gather together and see what the commonality is. You have a serious problem. Even as I talk about laws, about not breaking laws, you have a situation whereby the PAP themselves break law. I'll give you a few examples.

(10) In 1996, the government always says that if it is not during election times, you cannot put up your party's flags or display your party's logos without permission. So when our party decided to put up some banners congratulating Singapore on National Day, the Public Works Department very promptly came down and removed all our flags. We went to a neighbouring constituency and we saw the PAP flags fluttering away. And they tell us that what you need is to have permits to speak. So we applies for one for the MP of the constituency to speak to his residents on National Day. They said no, no permit granted. A few days later, Lim Boon Heng came down to the SDP's constituency and gave a most public address.

(11) Then you have a situation where the PAP says, "during the elections, 1unauthorised personnel are not allowed within 200 meters of the polling station." I know, because the Police stopped me when I was about to walk into one in the constituency that I was contesting in. They said, 'Dr Chee, you are not allowed to enter without your identification sticker.' I said I'm sorry. Fair enough. I went back out and put on my sticker and he allowed me through. You know what happened? I saw Goh Chok Tong walking out of a polling station in my constituency, without a sticker, and he was not even a candidate there. When we brought this up, the Attorney-General said they cannot be prosecuted because they are 'inside' of the polling station, not outside of it.

(12) And you remember Tang Liang Hong? Now, what happened was that Tang Liang Hong lodged a police report. That report was handed over to the Minister of Home Affairs which was then handed over to the Prime Minister. And that police report was then used against Tang Liang Hong to sue him. But they didn't sue him as a Prime Minister and Ministers. They sued him in their own personal capacities. How can that be?

(13) And you have a situation whereby political prisoners are tortured when they are detained. We have repeatedly called for inquiries, Commission of Inquiry to find out who is responsible, who authorised these tortures, because it is against the law. Up until today, the government has not been willing to convene any kind of commission to look into this matter and to find out who were responsible.

(14) If you tell me that I am breaking the law that my Constitution guarantees me. It doesn't make sense at all. But what are these rights? How are these rights taken away from you? Those of you who are here last week, you heard what I said. You heard me talking about our investments together with the drug lord Lo Hsing Han. Our government funds, our public funds, are invested together with this drug lord. Our government is supporting a regime that raped the women of Burma, murdered its people and does not allow the democratic elected-government to take power. I talked about the investment in Suzhou. How much we have lost? More than 30 billion dollars. I asked a question. Who is responsible for this? Who is responsible for making the decision? And then I talked about our government's loan. Goh Chok Tong went over to Indonesia and pledged 10 billion US dollars, 17 Singapore billion dollars, to a corrupt Suharto regime. You know what the newspaper said? You read it yourself. Even until today, it refuses to publish a single word. All it said is that Chee has criticised Singapore's investment in Myanmar and Suzhou and Singapore's financial aid to Indonesia.

(15) I never questioned or criticised our financial aid to Indonesia. You've got to draw this distinction where Singaporeans donate money to help the Indonesian people. It's very different when Goh Chok Tong, without consulting Parliament or the people, takes 17 billion of our money and goes over to pledge into the Suharto government which has known to be corrupted over and over again.

(16) Why up until today won't the Straits Times publish this? Why won't the TCS report any of this? Let the people know because the people have a right to know. You take away that right, you take away our citizenship. Do you understand what I'm saying about rights? If you don't bother with what your rights are today, it's going to be tremendously difficult from here on now, for us to be knowledgeable about what happened in our country.

(17) I want to talk to you also, about why these rights will affect your pockets. When we talk about rights we are not just talking about ideals that we cannot touch, that we cannot feel. I want you to think because you are denied of this information, you cannot hold the government accountable. What happens is that they pass policies and they keep telling you only one side of the story. You don't know know to think, you don't know what to think.

(18) They tell you, for example, HDB flats are subsidised, that's why it's so cheap. Do you believe it? We ask them over and over again. Account for your building material costs, account for you labour costs? They won't tell us. You know what they'll say? Their explanation is this, "Because HDB buys land from the government, we pass on these costs to the buyers." Make sense, doesn't it? For what the newspaper doesn't tell you, what the government doesn't tell you is that the government acquires land for little or no money. I have people coming up telling me that their lands they had owned in Lim Chu Kang, Choa Chu Kang, both pieces of land, the government has acquired from them for about as little as 35 cents per square foot, some were for as little as a dollar per square metre. And then what happened is that the government puts it up for tender and then the HDB buys them from the government at a subsidised rate from the market value. A piece of land, a square foot or square metre in Bedok or Tampinese would cost you about 60 or 70 dollars, if I am not mistaken. The you tell me, did the government pay 60 or 70 dollars per square foot or square metre? They didn't, but it's pass on and build in as your costs.

(19) So what's happened is that you get these costs going up, you paid for it. You say but it's OK, it's my CPF money. And let me tell you. If you were going to use your CPF money for all these HDB flats, what are you going to use when you're old? Your CPF is your retirement fund. The government is going to retain it. Why do you think the government wants to retain it? And if the CPF funds run out, what is the government going to say? We have run our of CPF funds? They are going to start a riot if they do. If they begin to tell you that CPF funds are dwindling, they're going to be in a lot of trouble. So what did they do? They tell you that you cannot squander your money when you retire. The government is afraid that you squander your money and so it puts in now, a new policy to retain your CPF funds, in what we call the minimum savings fund. And now even when you retire, you cannot draw your money out. You got to retain $80,000 by the year 2003 and it's increasing every year. The government will continue to hold onto your money.

(20) Your rights have been deprived because you don't have that information. How are you going to make a decision? How are you going to make an informed choice when it comes to an election? And let me bring up another point. It's a favourite among all of us, those of you who drive. The COE. Just a couple of months' back, newspapers reported that now the government is rethinking its COE policies. Let me read to you.....It says here in the Straits Times, "Nothing is sacred in the current system, in the current review of the vehicle quota system, not even doing away with certificate of entitlement for vehicles altogether." And then the chairman of the GPC says that relying purely on market forces is not necessarily always the best way of doing things in this case. And it goes on to add, "A question is how to allocate the limited supply of the right price and also keep in mind other needs like being fair". We've said these for years and years. And now the government is coming up and telling us that it may not be fair. Now, think about it. If it is not fair, how many of you have been paying forty, fifty thousand dollars for your COE? What has the money gone to? Does it make sense to you?

(21) You must realise that before they came up with this whole thing, all the MPs, all the PAP minsiters, they were defending he policies like crazy. And because the media was controlled, they kept telling you, they never give you the right information, they never give you any analysis. How do you think? Your rights as a citizen has been deprived. And because of that, it hits you right in the pocket. Now, let me tell you. It's not only now, you think about the situation right before. This is very distasteful when you think about things that affect you. If you don't drive a car, well you say, I don't care.

(22) In other ways and means, they'll come back round to you. You remember the Silk Air crash? The government said that they will compensate or Silk Air will compensate families of the victims $75,000. Few months later, China Airline crashes as well. Taiwanese immediately compensated the people $400,000 dollars each family. And then our government now wants the people, the families, to fill up questionnaires. Are we worth that little? Whilst the government collects, the ministers collect $100,000 a month for salary. Three patients contracted Aids because of the blood transfusion process at Singapore General Hospital. The government came out and said that they would give them $20,000 each a year for treatment.

(23) And what happened also, is that I think, one of the Singapore Government-Linked Companies (GLC) had to close its plants. They have a plant in Bangkok and also a plant in Singapore. Now all the workers were retrenched. Guess who were compensated more? The workers in Thailand. Even though our costs of living in Singapore is so much higher. The compensation and benefits to the Thai workers were a lot more than what we got it here in Singapore.

(24) It is important, ladies and gentlemen, to be mindful that the government cannot deprive you of the right to a free flow of information. Let me also tell you why it's important for our future. When you take a look what Alvin Toffer, the futurist, said, "Today, in the fast changing affluent nations, despite all inequities of income and wealth, the coming struggle for power will increasing turn into a struggle over the distribution of and access to knowledge. It is why, unless we understand how and to whom knowledge flows, we can neither protect ourselves against the abuse of power nor create a better, more democratic society that tomorrow's technology promised." If we are talking about the future, it is important that we have a free flow of information, not just only for ourselves, but for our society, for our nation to be able to compete with other countries.

(25) Alvin Toffer goes on to say, "The more any government chokes or chills this rich flow of data, information and knowledge, including wild ideas, innovation and even political dissent. The more it slows down the advance of a new economy, the fight for free expression once the province of intellectuals does becomes a matter of concern to all who favour economic advance like adequate education and access to the new media. Freedom of expression is no longer a political nicety but a pre-condition for economic competitiveness."

(26) If you want us to continue to progress economically and financially, there is no way that this government can run this country like it did in the past three decades. Times are changing. We are now entering into a world where we have to compete on ideas, on innovation, on creativity, to be able to talk freely, to be able to exchange views, to have arguments, counter-arguments, actions, counter-actions, questions, answers and have more questions. That will put us ahead. Not his continued stifling of information.

(27) And if you think that I'm talking nonsense, then let me quote you also one of the biggest corporations in the world. I think they are very well represented here in Singapore as well. I have here in my hand a copy of this brochure called "Profit and Principles: Does there have to be a choice?" published by the Shell Group Petroleum Company. What is this report about? It says, "This report is about values. It is a matter, it describes how we, the people, companies and businesses, that make up the Royal Dutch Shell Group, are struggling to live up to our responsibilities - financial, social and environmental. It is also an invitation for you to tell us what you think of our performances and in this way participated in the global debate about the role and responsibilities of business."

(28) In this book here, as one of the core values of Shell, it has a page on, surprise! surprise! 'Human Rights". It say, "Governments are held responsible for the protection of human rights. They must protect the life, liberty and security of the citizens. They should guarantee that no one is enslaved or subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or torture. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial. The right to freedom of thought, of conscience and religion and the right to freedom of expression are to be protected." And this is the most important part. "The violation", this report says, "the violation of human rights often leads to civil instability and uncertainty in the investment climate. And even in stable times, a lack of positive actions from the company in this regards can damage corporate reputations." This comes from Shell. Human rights has got nothing just to do with ideals of activists. More and more, if we are talking about moving into the 21st century, it is important that we don't deny our citizens the basic fundamental human rights and to move straight head long into democracy.

(29) If you don't consider anything else, consider this one statistic that I have given you. If you look at history, never has a war been fought between two democracies. Think about that for a little while. Why is this the case? Simply because people by their very instinct, they don't want trouble, they want peace. But why then do nations go to war? It's because leaders, dictators, autocrats, when they begin to feel they lose their ruling powers, they will try to identify an external enemy. They will arrest several rebels. They will begin to get the people afraid in order to get them united behind them. That's why if they can get to go to war, they'll gladly sacrifice your blood. That's why, ladies and gentlemen, my fellow Singaporeans, it is just so important for us to be thinking more about democracy, more about the democratic process and more about democratic values.

(30) Just the other day, the CNBC interviewed Lee Kuan Yew and the reporter asked him, "Don't you think younger Singaporeans find Singapore too managed, too regulated? Don't you think they want a little more freedom, more political space?" And he said, "Fine. Singaporeans are free to come together, they are free to question, they are free to form their own political party." But then he added, "But be prepared to be demolished." No, I said no. I tell Mr Lee to stop living in his memoirs. This is 1999, not 1959. We don't want to talk so much about confrontation. What we want to talk about questioning. We want to talk about innovation and creativity. And the only way that all these qualities come about is when we begin. It's when the government begins to realise that the people, that you and I, are a lot more intelligent and a lot more responsible than they think we are. And I am saying this not because I want to please you right here when you are standing in front of me.

(31) They keep pointing to our economic malaise right now and say, "But look, Indonesia is worse, Malaysia is worse." You will always be able to find someone or some countries that is worse than us. Take a look at Taiwan. Taiwan is one of the most democratic and open societies in Asia today, and while they are registering a 5.3 percent growth this year, in 1998, I'm sorry. We are going into a recession. The government keeps saying, "You have democracy, you won't get economic growth." Look at Taiwan, the reason why Taiwan is facing this economic crisis so well as compared to Singapore is because - and I have spoken to many Taiwanese leaders and Taiwanese citizens, they tell me that it's because the government lets the people run the economy. They don't handle the economy, they don't compete with the citizens. Taiwan economy is strong because of its small and medium enterprises. They grow up, they compete, they have an entrepreneurship. And our Government-Linked Companies (GLCs) are suffocating Singaporeans. They are stifling our abilities to innovate, to create. And our Singapore Democratic Party's policy is always to tell the government to scale back, let people take the lead. Only then, can we begin to talk about being a competitive society, a competitive nation to get us into the 21st century.

(32) I was charged in Court yesterday and I tell you that this is the beginning, only the beginning of the long road in my struggle to bring democracy to you. But as long as you are with me, I will take whatever comes in my way. To continue to be able to defend your rights. To be able to continue stand up for you. When the time comes, I ask you to stand up for me. Until then, I say good bye. Thank you and God bless. Thank you very much.

Chee Soon Juan
January 5, 1999.

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