Singapore opposition leader escapes jail term
AFP) – Feb 10, 2011
SINGAPORE — A vocal opposition leader in Singapore Thursday escaped a jail term after an online donation drive raised enough money to pay a fine instead.
Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), had faced a fine of Sg$20,000 ($16,000) after being convicted of "making an address in a public place without a licence" in 2006.
Chee, 48, would have been imprisoned for 20 weeks had he failed to pay the amount by Thursday, prompting his political party to organise an online fund-raising drive.
"We are glad to announce that we have reached the target of Sg$20,000 in contributions for Dr Chee Soon Juan's fine," said a post on the SDP's website.
"More than just keeping Dr Chee out of jail, Singaporeans have rallied and sent a message that they will not sit idly by when the opposition is persecuted."
The SDP said many of the donors were "youths," and added the success of the drive was unprecedented.
"This is a historical development in that it is the first time that Singaporeans have rallied together to show such encouraging support for an opposition cause," it said.
"It is important that we continue to (use) cyberspace to increase political space in Singapore. This exercise has given civil society and the opposition a gauge on the power of the new media."
Kenneth Jeyaretnam, who heads the opposition Reform Party, said on his blog he had also contributed to the donation drive despite describing himself as Chee's "fiercely competitive political rival".
"This is a golden opportunity for all the opposition parties to demonstrate unity of purpose whilst maintaining our individual ideologies and present a real challenge to the behemoth that is the PAP (People's Action Party)," he wrote.
Jeyaretnam, son of the late veteran opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam, would not say how much he had donated, telling AFP the amount "wasn't small, but it wasn't a large amount either".
Chee was declared bankrupt in 2006 as he was unable to pay libel damages to top Singapore leaders.
He was then convicted on four counts of speaking in public without a permit after a trial lasting from 2007 to 2010. His final appeal against his conviction was dismissed by a high court on January 20 2011.
International rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) had on Wednesday slammed the sentence imposed on Chee, who has been jailed in the past for actions related to his struggle against the ruling PAP.
"The Singaporean government is once again abusing the justice system and trampling on basic rights to remove an opposition politician from the political playing field," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
"The government should end this persecution of Dr. Chee and show that free speech is not a dead letter in Singapore."
Singapore has maintained that its tough laws against public assembly are necessary to maintain peace and order, a bedrock of its economic prosperity.