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Activist Chee 'feeling degraded in jail'

Hong Kong Standard and. South China Morning Post reports. Feb 4, 1999.

A SINGAPORE opposition leader jailed for a week for holding an illegal public talk felt degraded by his prison sentence, his wife said yesterday as an independent group pressed for free-speech venues.

Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the tiny Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), began serving a seven-day prison term on Tuesday after refusing to pay a S$1,400 fine for defying the law as part of a campaign to promote free speech.

He was charged after holding a talk on 29 December in the heart of the financial district without a police permit, in a deliberate move to test the limits of public discussion in the tightly-ruled city state.

``For someone who was used to professional life, this kind of experience is very degrading and humiliating, but he says he just has to toughen up despite the political injustice,'' Huang Chih Mei said after a 30-minute meeting with Mr Chee in prison.

``He said he was treated like any democrat would be treated in an authoritarian state,'' she added.

``This is not something that those who advocate democracy should have gone through,'' said the Taiwan-born Ms Huang, who is due to give birth to the couple's first child this month. The couple are both psychologists.

Meanwhile, a letter to the Straits Times yesterday urged the government to reconsider a proposal to establish ``free speech venues'' as part of an ``evolutionary approach to expanding freedom of speech in Singapore.''

``What we are calling for is an equally sophisticated approach to the regulation of political debate, recognising that not all such debate will unravel our racial and religious harmony,'' wrote Zulkifli Baharudin and Kevin Tan of The Roundtable, an independent group promoting free discussions.

The home ministry earlier rejected the proposal, citing possible dangers to ethnic and political harmony in the multi-racial island.

Barry Porter for the South China Morning Post reported (Feb 4) the jailed opposition activist said he would not be appealing against his seven-day sentence.

After visiting him in jail yesterday, Huang Chih-mei, the pregnant wife of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) secretary-general, said: "What he said was that, as someone used to a professional life, this kind of experience was degrading and humiliating."

Mrs Huang, 36, acknowledged her husband had been treated no differently to other inmates.

After sentencing on Tuesday, Chee, a neuropsychologist, was handcuffed to another prisoner before both were taken to jail.

At Queenstown, he was made to change into prison garb and put into a cell, isolated from other inmates, with only a mat and blanket, Mrs Huang said.

"He doesn't know the time of day. When the light goes off he knows it is time to go to sleep. They use sirens in the morning to wake them," said Chee's wife, who took him some books, including the Bible.

SDP vice-chairman Ghandi Ambalam, who also visited Chee yesterday, said the leader would not appeal against his sentence and accepted this was the price he had to pay for standing by his principles.

"It is not that he is satisfied," said Mr Ghandi. "He does not want to legitimise an unjust law."

Chee will be released on Monday, ready to attend court on Tuesday to face a second charge of public speaking without a police permit and a separate charge of hawking his book without a licence.

 Published in the Hong Kong Standard Feb 4, 1999

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