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Opposition politician Chee pays fine for selling book

Associated Press. March 31, 1999.

SINGAPORE opposition politician Chee Soon Juan was convicted today of selling his book on Asian dissidents without a license, and he paid a fine of US$347.

The free speech activist earlier refused to pay fines for speaking in public without a permit, for which he has been jailed twice in the past six weeks.

Chee told reporters outside the court that he paid today's fine because the case differed from the earlier public speech cases, which involved Singapore's constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. He had pleaded innocent to the charge.

The latest was "a very different situation, a different case altogether," Chee said. He vowed to continue making his public speeches in a bid to open Singapore's tightly controlled political dialogue.

Chee said in final arguments at his trial that he had sold two earlier books in public for five years without incident before he was summoned for hawking his latest book, To Be Free, Dec 22 in Singapore's busy Raffles Place town square.

"One can only assume that it is this present book ... that has somehow made the ruling regime a little bit more irate than the first two books," Chee said, complaining that Singapore's system discriminated against him.

The book details the lives of Asian dissidents, including that of a former Singapore political prisoner who alleges he was tortured.

Chee also said in his defense today that Singapore bookstores refused to carry his latest book, forcing him to sell it outside.

But District Judge Hoo Sheau Peng called such circumstances "irrelevant and immaterial to the charge," and noted that Chee had admitted selling the book without a license.

The judge found Chee guilty of violating the Public Environmental Health Act by selling goods without a license from the public health commissioner. It gave him a choice of the fine or three days in prison.

The public health commissioner in Singapore -- a country known for its orderliness and strict laws -- controls the sale of all items in the street, including books and newspapers.

Officers have served 1560 notices for illegal hawking in Singapore in the past six months, state television reported. Of these, 50 were for magazines, newspapers and books.

Chee's acts of civil disobedience are extremely rare in Singapore, where political activities are closely regulated. There are three opposition members in the 93-seat Parliament.

In his impassioned political speeches, Chee has complained that Singapore's long-ruling People's Action Party suppressed political dialogue and controlled the media.

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