Forum on death penalty and the rule of law
Forum on death penalty and the rule of law
31 March 2005
The Open Singapore Centre will hold a public forum entitled
The Death Penalty and the Rule of Law in Singapore
on 16 April 2005 (Saturday) at 2:00 pm
at Hotel Asia, 37 Scotts Road, Singapore 228229
A Malaysian by the name of Vignes Mourthi was convicted of drug
possession and hanged on 26 September 2003. Several questions were
raised regarding the conviction. For example, a handwritten note of a
conversation between Mourthi and an undercover police officer that
was tendered in court as evidence bore no date and was not produced
at the preliminary inquiry stage. This raised the possibility that
the note could have been written at a later time by the police to
secure a conviction. Not only was the note allowed as evidence, the
trial judge had apparently relied on it heavily to convict Mourthi.
When the defence counsel asked whether the system is such that an
innocent person could be hanged, the Chief Justice said: "Yes."
Mourthi had also asked the Chief Justice to let him know of the
grounds of decision for the dismissal his appeal. The Chief Justice
told the condemned prisoner that he "can read it in due course." But
Mourthi never got to read the reasons for the dismissal because he
was executed before they were written.
These issues about our legal system become even more pronounced when
one considers that Singapore has hanged more than 400 persons since
1991, the majority for drug possession. This is the highest number of
executions per capita in the world!
This forum will also bring up the case of Shanmugam s/o Murugesu,
another man who has also been condemned to die under our legal system
for possession of cannabis. He is expected to be hanged towards the
end of April 2005.
Amnesty International has pointed out that the people who are caught
and hanged are the poor in society who are often preyed upon by
druglords. While Singapore arrests these smalltime peddlers, drug
barons continue to operate untouched. One such druglord is Lo Hsing-
han, a Burmese heroin producer whom an Australian TV station has said
to have business interests in Singapore. In fact the US State
Department has said that "over half [of the investments in Burma]
from Singapore have been tied to the family of narco-trafficker Lo
Hsing-han." Author and expert on drug trafficking in Burma, Bruce
Hawke has also written that "The entry [of money from drug
trafficking] to the legitimate global system is not Burma but
On another matter, remisier Boon Suan Ban, has been remanded at the
Institute of Mental Health (IMH) at President's pleasure for
harassing the Chief Justice. Again many questions arise from this
matter. For example, does the District Court have the power to order
the detention of persons at a mental institute? What was the evidence
that was used to send Boon to IMH? What rights does the detainee Boon
have? What does this say about the rule of law in Singapore?
These and other questions will be tackled by a panel of speakers at
1. J. B. Jeyaretnam, Chairman, Open Singapore Centre
2. M. Ravi, Lawyer
3. S. Samydorai, Executive Director, Think Centre
4. Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General, Singapore Democratic Party
The Open Singapore Centre is presently in discussion with Amnesty
International to send a speaker to the forum.
It is long overdue that the issue of the death penalty and the rule
of law in Singapore be debated and the Government held accountable
for its actions. Make it a point to attend the forum on April 16. All
are welcome. Bring your family and friends.
--- In Sg_Review@yahoogroups.com, Sg_Reviewfirstname.lastname@example.org
Comments: Mellanie Hewlitt
22 March 2005
On the back of the latest ruling by Singapore's highly compliant
judiciary regarding the Chee Soon Juan case, we release several
reports (and a PDF file) which shows the dismal state of human rights
in an authoritarian state.
Do visit the link below which is a report from the Lawyers Committee
For Human Rights which highlights the double standards and twisted
logic employed by Singapore's bogus courts in defamation cases.
Singapore's Authoritarian Capitalism
by Dr. Christopher Lingle
Dr. Lingle began research for this book during his fellowship at the
National University of Singapore. Lingle's Singapore visit came to an
abrupt halt after he wrote a response to a previously published
editorial comment that appeared in the International Herald Tribune.
In his article, Lingle inferred that some regimes in East Asia are
able to thwart criticism by relying on a compliant judiciary. Within
two weeks he had been interrogated repeatedly by police detectives -
which prompted him to resign his position, flee the country and seek
refuge in the USA with nothing more than his overnight bag and
notebook computer. The Singapore government seized his property in
Singapore and sentenced him to jail in absentia.
In March, 1996 Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's lawyer urged the High Court of
Singapore to order Lingle to pay substantially more than $300,000 in
damages for libelling the Senior Minister. Justice S. Rajendran
handed down a $70,000 judgment against Lingle.
Dr. Lingle comments: "I am not surprised by the Singapore judge's
ruling. I guess the courts didn't see the irony in the judgment
against me. As far as I can see it, the judgement vindicates me and
supports the criticism that Singapore's rulers use a compliant
judiciary to bankrupt their critics .. whether they are the political
opposition or news media or foreign nationals."
Dr. Lingle has held university professorships all over the globe
including the continents of Asia, Africa, Europe and America.
In his book, Dr. Lingle identifies Singapore's "authoritarian
capitalism" as combining a selective degree of economic freedom and
private property rights with strong-armed control over political
life. According to him, political loyalty is the ultimate determinant
of success rather than the efficient utilization of resources, and
sycophantic business relations replace the growth-inducing actions of
true entrepreneurs. Singapore's Authoritarian Capitalism questions
the long-term survival of the People's Action Party (PAP) and its
capacity to sustain Singapore's "miracle" growth record due to
internal contradictions arising from the imposed institutional
Date: Wed Mar 16, 2005 3:50 am
Subject: The Propaganda Way.
The Propaganda Way
From Foreign Affairs, May/June 1995
Summary: Far from essential to economic growth, as Kishore Mahbubani
of Singapore's foreign ministry has argued, Asian values are an
illusion created to foster obedience.
Christopher Lingle, an economist, served as a Senior Fellow in the
European Studies Program at the National University of Singapore.
A great deal has been made of the World Bank's announcement that the
high rates of economic growth in the East Asian miracle economies
stem from getting the fundamentals right. While that observation
emphasized astute macroeconomics, various commentators have asserted
that these fundamentals relate to unique Asian values. Kishore
Mahbubani ("The Pacific Way," January/February 1995) implies that a
fusion of Western and Asian cultures defines what he terms
the "Pacific way."
Despite this presumed fusion, Mahbubani's essay points almost
exclusively to the beneficial consequences of these Asian values.
Beyond satisfying the self?serving political considerations of
apologists for ruling regimes, this one?sided approach reflects an
important trait arising out of Asian customs. The values said to
promote prosperity stifle self?critical introspection. Wondering
aloud about the cultural and political order is too often treated as
an unacceptable sign of weakness in leaders. In others, it is an
Commentary not unconditionally full of praise for the Asian political
status quo provokes a strong response from the powers that be.
Authoritarian East Asian regimes take a variety of steps against
ordinary citizens, academics, journalists, opposition politicians,
and even outsiders. The treatment might involve a mild rebuke,
citation for criminal defamation or libel, and perhaps detention
In light of severe restrictions on freedom of speech, citizens have
few opportunities to communicate with leaders. Similarly, for critics
to air their views is difficult. The rules governing civic discourse
in East Asia limit discussions of the Pacific way to its promoters
and foreign critics. Communication between rulers and ruled tends to
be a one?way, top?down procedure. And rather than the glue that holds
Asian societies together, Asian values may be an illusion concealing
the iron grip of petty despots.
Meanwhile the failures and problems in Europe and other parts of the
West are discussed ad nauseam in a remarkably free atmosphere. Little
in Mahbubani's observations about Western culture is novel or
insightful. By joining the chorus of Western self?criticism, he and
other outsiders might imagine that Western institutions involve only
a self?destructive cycle. However, civic discourse and communication
in the West involve a free?for?all of individual opinions expressed
as a matter of constitutional right and cultural conviction.
A paternalist approach to political rule often gives way to
authoritarianism, leading many Asian regimes strongly to resent
direct criticism. However, while Asian cultures generally rely on an
indirect method of dealing with problems, their approach does not
work with thin?skinned government officials. Dialogue with Asian
regimes has strict limits, and resentment is not limited to outside
critics. Criticism from the citizens of Myanmar, China, Indonesia,
Malaysia, or Singapore is no more welcome. Despite remarkable
advances under some Asian regimes, the rigid intolerance of these
authoritarian capitalist states bears a troubling similarity to
Singapore's rulers have provided a recent example of intolerance. In
a celebrated case, I was tried in the High Court of Singapore for my
remarks in the International Herald Tribune.(1) I was responding to
Mahbubani's views in the same newspaper, which were similar to his
Foreign Affairs article. He suggested that European leaders follow
the success stories of East Asia. I responded that certain repressive
tactics may have made the model unacceptable for Europe.
Specifically, I said that some East Asian governments relied on
a "compliant judiciary to bankrupt opposition politicians." While I
did not identify a particular country, in attempting to link my
remarks to his country, Singapore's prosecutor may have confessed the
guilt of his regime. He admitted that members of the ruling People's
Action Party of Singapore and its founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, had
an established track record of suing opposition politicians for
defamation. He insisted that "there is no such other country" where
this has happened and identified 11 major political opposition
figures whom legal actions, initiated by members of the ruling party,
had financially ruined. I was found guilty of statements contemptuous
of the Singaporean judiciary. The court assessed stiff fines and all
court costs to the defendants, and the editor, publisher, printer,
and distributor of the Herald Tribune were convicted for publicizing
Meanwhile, the Western media openly air the views of Singaporean
officials, who demand a right of unedited reply from publications
that circulate in Singapore. For example, when it abbreviated a wordy
statement from the Singaporean government, The Economist found its
circulation severely curtailed.
Mahbubani relies on a dubious cause?and?effect connection between the
material success of Asian economies and the authoritarian repression
that may have accompanied that success. His arguments insist that
restraints on individual freedom are necessary for economic progress.
Meanwhile the West, having lost its moral compass due to an
irrepressible fixation on individual rights, suffers low economic
performance. This viewpoint implies the unimaginative assumption that
material gratification is the only or most worthy goal of humankind.
In any event, his arguments overlook how the economic life cycle
partly explains the weak growth in the West. That the United States
and Europe compare unfavorably with the vibrancy of nascent East
Asian economies is unsurprising. Eventually the tiger economies too
shall be tamed.
Contrary to Mahbubani's claims that Asian values contribute to
political stability and deter open aggression, East Asia has just as
many unsettled border disputes, outrages against humanity, and
conflicting geopolitical claims as Europe. Perceptions to the
contrary are an outgrowth of the muted press of East Asia and the
openness of the media in most parts of Europe.
While the carnage in Chechnya is televised across the globe, there
was little coverage of the Dili massacre in Indonesia and no on?site
reporting of human rights outrages in Myanmar. In 1994, the lack of
concerted action on or criticism of immense, smoke?spreading forest
fires in Indonesia reflected another Asian value. So as not to
embarrass the Indonesian authorities, neighboring governments were
disinclined to offer aid or criticize the handling of the fires.
Saving face was more important than saving lives or protecting the
In contrasting the exclusion of East and Central European nations
from the institutions of Western Europe versus the inclusiveness of
Asian economic relations, Mahbubani is comparing apples and oranges.
While establishing free trade between all countries of Europe is
desirable, the EU involves a different set of commitments than, for
example, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The European
Union requires acceptance of shared values, political commitments,
and pressure from other members. If fires in the Black Forest were
causing regional pollution, France would certainly have assisted
Germany or insisted on German action. Moreover, in purely economic
matters, members of the EU allow trade with Eastern and Central
Europe with few more restrictions than asean members impose on
Vietnam or Myanmar.
At present, promoters and antagonists of an Asian model are engaged
in a dialogue of the deaf. While much about Asian values should be
emulated, much should be challenged. An appropriate method of
communication between East and West needs to be discovered, and
outlining the differences is a first step.
In collectivist Asian regimes, those wielding political power set
rules that the polity must unquestioningly accept. Individualist
Western regimes attempt to apply reason to resolve private and social
interests. Consequently, cultures based on individualism tend to have
an outspoken citizenry, while collectivist cultures rely on reserved
While the great Western political contribution is democracy, the
great contribution of the East is bureaucracy. Whereas liberalism and
individual freedom found fertile ground in the West, Asian
institutions grew along conservative and collectivist lines. So the
West evolved liberal capitalism, and Asia has tilted toward
authoritarian capitalism. That the Philippines, South Korea,
Thailand, and Taiwan are moving toward multiparty politics is
encouraging. However, Myanmar, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore,
and Vietnam practice authoritarian capitalism that keeps ruling
parties in power by preserving economic growth. The cynical
suggestion that exclusively Asian values explain economic success and
politically opportunistic assertions that individual freedom and
pluralistic democracy are alien concepts deflect liberalizing
institutions that might weaken the authoritarian rulers' grip on
power. Those rulers benefit from praising respect for authority as a
component of Confucianism or other so?called Asian values.
These individualist and collectivist tendencies also affect business
activity. Individualist cultures encourage and reward innovation by
free?spirited entrepreneurs who are as likely to challenge the
political status quo as to upset market arrangements. Most Asian
economies, however, have either attempted autarky or have relied upon
imitation, requiring access to open markets of more advanced
economies. But the considerable success of many so?called miracle
economies may not last. Unless they produce homegrown entrepreneurs
and technological change, the technological gap will widen as
innovators seek greater political and economic freedom outside the
East Asian authoritarian capitalist regimes cannot last forever.
Individual choice will sweep aside archaic institutions. Despots,
autocrats, and their dynastic heirs are mortal, and modernization
stemming from economic prosperity will undermine their authority.
Global economic progress depends on free trade. Similarly, cultural
progress requires an open competition among political and cultural
institutions. Asian authoritarian regimes are attempting to impose
cultural protectionism to isolate their communities from infectious
liberalizing Western influences. By restricting information, cultural
protectionism deals a double blow to emerging economies. Just as
trade protection inhibits economic growth, so cultural protection
inhibits cultural progress. But cultural protectionism will also
retard the formation of an information?based economy and curtail
economic growth. Unless rulers of Asian regimes take note of this
process, the notion of the much?heralded Pacific century may be a
(1) "Smoke over Parts of Asia Obscures Some Profound Concerns,"
International Herald Tribune, Oct. 7, 1994.
March 12, 2003
All hail SingTel Optus chief, a modest profit
Eric Ellis, Singapore
ONE swallow does not a summer make. But Singapore Inc seems
determined to turn that old axiom on its head with regard to one of
its favourite sons - SingTel Optus chief executive Lee Hsien Yang.
Lee - the 42-year-old youngest son of Singapore's political
strongman, Lee Kuan Yew - is enjoying a purple patch of positive
publicity since SingTel's Australian operation, Optus, turned a
modest $22 million profit in the December 2002 quarter.
Unsurprisingly, much of that publicity has been generated by
Singapore's government-controlled media, the same government that
owns 67 per cent of SingTel Optus.
While the prospect of continued Optus profits has been well received
by analysts, it is a moot point whether the modest December quarter
figure yet justifies the $14 billion-plus purchase price SingTel paid
for Optus two years ago.
The acquisition has been a major negative for SingTel shares, which
have slumped by about 60 per cent since the deal.
And, while Singapore's compliant journalists might like the Optus
contribution, the market is less impressed. SingTel Optus shares have
flatlined since the profit announcement last month.
But that seems to be a mere detail amid the lavish praise heaped upon
Lee, long regarded as his father's less favoured son behind Singapore
Deputy Prime Minister and political heir-apparent Lee Hsien Loong.
Singapore's English business daily, The Business Times,
gushed: "SingTel chief proves critics wrong as telco surprises with
"After years of barbs and criticism over his foreign forays, SingTel
president and chief executive Lee Hsien Yang brought home the bacon."
Not to be denied, Optus chief executive Chris Anderson also got in on
"The best thing that's ever happened to Optus - and I've been there
six years - is SingTel's ownership," he told The Business Times.
Mr Anderson paid tribute to Mr Lee's leadership. "We see a lot of
Hsien Yang, who gives quite inspirational direction," he said. "He is
a very considerable regional business leader."
Attracting less attention, and praise, are the bankers who have been
called in to review financing of SingTel Optus's struggling $3.5
billion undersea data cable play, C2C - one reason why SingTel's
share price is proving stubbornly unresponsive.
C2C's dramas formed part of the same information avalanche that
included the Optus profit, but received rather more modest attention
in the BT. News that bankers were called in over a $US650 million
secured financing facility when C2C missed a revenue target rated
just one paragraph.
Analysts believe C2C, 60 per cent owned by SingTel, faces higher
interest costs after missing the targets. The company has said it has
generated about $US800 million in sales for C2C - well below the
$US2 billion SingTel and partners have invested in the 17,000km
submarine cable linking East Asia with India and Europe which has
faltered as bandwidth demand has failed to take off.
--- End forwarded message ---