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Singapore bars outspoken opposition leader Chee from holding rallies


AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE in Singapore
August 5, 1999

A SINGAPORE opposition leader, jailed twice in his bid to test free speech here, protested Thursday that police had refused him permission to hold two public rallies.

Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the tiny Singapore Democratic Party, accused the police of discrimination and violating the right to free speech after refusing his application to hold rallies on August 12 and 15.

He had planned to address the topic of "the need for political openness in Singapore."

The application was rejected because the venues were outdoors, and there was "a potential for trouble" and public "inconvenience," said Khor Chor Huat, the head of the police licensing division in a letter to Chee.

But in a letter to the home affairs ministry, Chee said officials and MPs from the ruling People's Action Party "routinely give political speeches in outdoor areas."

"Why should the law not treat all parties equally?" he said.

"By making such arbitrary decisions, the authorities have egregiously violated my rights as well as the rights of all Singaporeans to free speech. I urge you to treat this matter with gravity and reconsider the decision to ban political speeches in outdoor areas," he added.

The police said they would reconsider his application if the rallies were held indoors.

Chee, 36, was jailed twice in February and initially disqualified from contesting general elections for five years after refusing to pay fines incurred for holding illegal public rallies earlier this year.

In May, Singapore's Chief Justice Yong Pung How reduced the fines imposed on Chee enabling him to stand for future elections.

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