Chee heads to jail for unauthorised
South China Morning Post Feb 2, 1999
OPPOSITION activist Chee Soon Juan was found guilty on Tuesday of violating a law against giving public speeches without a permit.
A court slapped a S$1400 fine or seven days jail on Chee, who had argued that the law violated his constitutional right to free speech.
Chee, the 36-year-old head of the Singapore Democratic Party, said before the trial that he would rather go to jail than pay any fine because he felt the law was unjust.
The judge rejected Chee's arguments that the law was unconstitutional. ''The charge has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly the accused is found guilty and convicted,'' District Judge See Kee Oon said. The finding came after a short trial that began on Monday.
A fine of more than S$2000 would have barred Chee from standing for election for five years.
Chee was escorted from the small courtroom by three policemen. His attorney said he was taken to jail immediately.
Chee vowed before the trial that he would continue his campaign of public speeches criticising government policy and demanding transparency.
He faces a second trial on the same charge next week for giving a second speech at Raffles Place in the central business district.
Chee's Taiwanese-born wife, Ms Huang Chih Mei, said her husband had decided not to pay the fine "as a matter of principle".
"I am not just supportive, I am very proud of him," Ms Huang said.
She also said Chee would again refuse to pay a fine if convicted again.
''Despite the ruling today in court, my belief and conviction remains undiminished,'' Chee said in a statement handed to the press by party colleagues after he was removed by police.
''My right to free speech, guaranteed in the Singapore constitution, has been violated by an unconstitutional and undemocratic law put in place by the ruling regime to deny the opposition from effectively reaching out to the people.''
His wife, eight months' pregnant, told reporters: ''I think one day when our child is old enough to understand all this, he or she will be very proud of what their father is doing today.''
Chee was convicted under the Public Entertainments Act for addressing a lunchtime crowd on December 29 at Raffles Place. His second charge involves a January 5 speech in the same place.
He said he resorted to the public speeches without seeking permits, because in the past they had been denied, or delayed until it was too late to make arrangements.
Chee's party holds no seats in the 84-member parliament, where the opposition has only three seats.
The People's Action Party has dominated Singapore for 40 years and maintains that its tight controls on speech, assembly, the press and other aspects of civic life are necessary to avoid unrest in the multi-racial and multi-religious city-state of 3.1 million.
Chee and his lawyer, fellow opposition politician Joshua B. Jeyaretnam, did not dispute that Chee gave the December 29 speech without a permit.
But they argued the offence fell outside the scope of the Act and constitutional violation voided the charge, sparking debate on Singapore's free speech restrictions.
''Once you impose the need for a licence, then you're taking away the right'' to free speech, Mr Jeyaretnam said.
Mr Jeyaretnam also argued that the authorities discriminated against opposition parties by denying permits or delaying them, a policy he said was also unconstitutional.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Bala Reddy shrugged off the allegations of unfair treatment, saying: ''Where is the evidence?''
''The right to free speech and expression . . . is subject to inherent limitations and is thus not an absolute and unqualified right,'' Mr Reddy said.
He cited case precedents and the constitution, which allows for restrictions ensuring public order and national security.
Observers such as Amnesty International and the US State Department have accused the Singapore Government of using legal means to stifle political opposition and frees speech. The Government denies that it violates human rights.
Published in the South China Morning Post. Feb 2, 1999