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Freed politician Chee vows to fight on

Reuters. February 8, 1999.

A Singapore opposition politician Chee Soon Juan vowed on Monday to continue his campaign for greater free speech after spending a week in jail for violating a law against speaking in public without a permit.

"Short as it was, seven days in prison has been a difficult time," Chee told reporters as he walked free from the Queenstown Remand Prison and was greeted by his pregnant wife and party supporters.

"If anything, it has made me more resolute and determined to carry on fighting and to speak out and speak up for the people of Singapore, and it's important that this fight continues."

Chee was found guilty last week of breaking Singapore's strict public speaking laws by giving an unlicensed speech on December 29, 1998, and was fined Singapore $1400 (US$830) under the Public Entertainments Act.

Chee, who leads the Singapore Democratic Party, said the law violated his constitutional right to free speech. He refused to pay the fine and opted for seven days' jail instead.

He was due to appear in court on Tuesday to face a second charge for a similar offence. Legal experts say if found guilty he could face a stiffer sentence as a repeat offender.

His campaign has sparked fresh debate on free speech restrictions in the tiny city-state.

Chee, whose party has no seats in parliament, says the public speaking permit system he challenged, censorship laws and state control of key media in Singapore are designed to make it hard for the opposition to be heard.

The government says the permit law is a procedural matter necessary to maintain public order and does not substantively affect the right to free speech. It also says there are ample outlets for people in Singapore to express their views.

Chee could have been fined up to S$5000. A fine of more than S$2,000 would bar him from standing for election for five years under Singapore law.

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