SINGAPORE: Oppositionist fined and imprisoned for defending his right to freedom of assembly in defiance of police warning not to hold the rally for workers’ rights.


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-50-2002
ISSUES: Democracy, Freedom of assembly, Freedom of expression, Human rights defenders, Legislation,

SINGAPORE: Use of law to deny rather than protect citizens’ fundamental right to free speech and gathering.


On 8 October 2002, Singaporean Court sentenced Chee Soon Juan, Singaporean opposition leader, and Ghandhi Ambalam for five and four weeks jail for breaking Singapore’s Public Entertainment and Meeting Act by holding a public event without a permit, after they refused to pay a S$4,500 (USA$2,540) and S$3000 fine, respectively. Ambalam has since been released, as his family paid the fine, but Chee continues to be imprisoned.

Case Details:

Chee had applied for a police permit to hold a May Day rally to advocate basic human rights for workers worldwide, but was rejected on arbitrary grounds that the gathering would lead to potential law and order problems. He continued on to hold the rally to highlight Singapore”s unjust and unconstitutional law that censors free speech and public gatherings. Police arrested Chee and Ambalam on 1 May outside the gates of the presidential palace.

Chee, a neuropsychologist and secretary general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, has regularly spoken out against Singapore’s undemocratic practices. He faced a number of legal cases in the 1990s and was imprisoned twice before in 1999 for speaking in public without a permit. He was prosecuted for selling his book To be Free: Struggles against Oppression the public without a permit, and is currently facing two defamation suits after raising questions during the general elections in November 2001 about Singapore’s 1997 government loans to Indonesia. Chee is also under police investigation for breaking the rules at Singapore’s Speaker’s Corner by questioning the government’s prohibition of Muslim headwear on girls.


The Public Entertainment and Meeting Act (PEMA), requiring Singaporeans to apply for a permit to speak and gather in public, breaches Section 14 of the Singaporean Constitution, which explicitly guarantees Singaporeans freedom of speech, association and assembly. The PEMA undermines this constitutional guarantee and is repeatedly used to convict and imprison citizens who attempt to voice their opinions or criticism of the government’s handling of social and political issues, as Chee and Amdalam tried to do. For this reason, Chee refused to pay the fine as he maintains that it is his constitutional right to hold public gatherings and speeches. In particular, the PEMA has been targeted to silence political opposition; Chee states, “In any other country these laws will not be applied selectively on the opposition and not on the ruling party.”

The PEMA is only one of many laws the People’s Action Party (PAP)-ruled authoritarian state use to suppress opposing voices, hoard policing power, thereby crippling many constitutionally enshrined democratic principles. The Internal Security Act (ISA), an inherited legislation from the British colonial rule, allows for indefinite detention without trial of suspects thought to be involved in activities that might potentially threaten national security. An initial detention of 48 hours, can be extended to 28 days on the authority of at least a police superintendent, and can result in two years detention without trial, renewable ad infinitum, with the consent of the president. Though detainees have a right to be informed in writing of the reasons for their detention, they have no right to challenge the basis of the detention through the courts.

BG Lee, deputy Prime Minister, in 1999 argued that the Act was an important safeguard to allow the government to act immediately and decisively on a security problem before it got out of hand. But the lack of checks and controls on its use (i.e. how much right does the state have to infringe upon the freedom of its citizenry) has ultimately led to its abuse, violating freedoms of its citizenry. Instead of establishing laws that protect citizen’s fundamental human rights, the PAP has used the legal system to secure and broaden its own dictatorial power, legalizing means to suppress dissenting voices of opposing parties and individuals. Such sweeping acts give too much discretionary power to the one-party run Singaporean government, which lacks separation between the executive, legislative and judiciary, and must be abolished. An interesting note is that the PAP itself called for the repeal of the ISA when it was in the opposition, but since it has come to power, it has forgotten about that particular platform.


– Please write to the Minister of Justice of Singapore and your local consulate or embassy declaring your outrage at the continual abuse of democratic rights in Singapore under the PAP leadership. Please demand that the Public Entertainment and Meeting Act, ISA, and other repressive and unconstitutional acts be repealed.

– As part of an international campaign, please send continue to send a letter (a new one or the same letter) of appeal weekly till his expected release during the week of 12 November 2002.

– Please also write a letter of support to Dr. Chee that you stand in solidarity with his fight for the protection of democratic principles in Singapore.

Minister of Law


100 High Street #08-02 The Treasury Singapore 179434

Tel : 63328840 Fax : 63328842; Email:

Letters to Chee can be sent to


To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


(Sample Letter I)

Dear Minister of Law,

I write to express my outrage at the continuing democratic and constitutional abuse in Singapore through subversive legal means that is highlighted in the Court’s 8 October 2002 incrimination and imprisonment of Dr. Chee.

The court states that Dr. Chee and Mr. Ambalam violated Singapore’s Public Entertainment and Meeting Act on 1 May 2002, by attempting to gather a worker’s rally. They are charged with willful trespass and gathering without a license. The Public Entertainment and Meeting Act, however, is unconstitutional under Section 14 of Singapore’s Constitution, which explicitly guarantees Singaporeans freedom of speech, association and assembly. Therefore, I urge you to repeal the Public Entertainment and Meeting Act, release and exonerate Dr. Chee.

Additionally, it is disconcerting to know that the ISA still exists in Singapore. Nearly forty years have passed since Singapore’s political unrest, and there are no internal or external dangers that threaten Singapore to the extent to justify the need for a law like the ISA with its state sanctioned indefinite detention without trial. Instead, the ISA, like the Public Entertainment and Meeting Act, has been used to stifle political opposition and critics. Not only is the ISA contrary to the principles enunciated in the UDHR, it is also incompatible with Singapore’s commitment to democracy and civil society.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and doing your part in furthering democratic principles in Singapore,

(Sample Letter II)

Dear Dr. Chee,

I write in support of your commitment to further democratic principles in Singapore. Urgent Appeals are being sent on your care to the Minister of Justice and local consulates, demanding for the unconstitutional Public Media and Entertainment Act to be repealed and your immediate release and exoneration. It is outrageous that the Singaporean government continues to suppress liberties of speech and gathering that are fundamental to all humans.

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-50-2002
Countries : Singapore,
Issues : Democracy, Freedom of assembly, Freedom of expression, Human rights defenders, Legislation,