Singapore, May 28:
Singaporeâ€™s leading civil rights activist â€” bankrupt after repeated lawsuits by the city-stateâ€™s top leaders â€” today backed Amnesty Internationalâ€™s allegations that the ruling party uses â€œpotentially ruinousâ€ defamation suits to crush its opponents. Leaders of the ruling Peopleâ€™s Action Party, or PAP, sue opponents â€œto silence selected opposition figures and remove them from public life,â€ the London-based human rights group said in its 2004 annual report, released on Wednesday. Singapore bars bankrupts from running for or holding a parliamentary seat.
â€œThe threat of potentially ruinous civil defamation suits against opponents of the PAP continued to inhibit political life and engendered a climate of self-censorship,â€ the report said. â€œItâ€™s true,â€ Singapore opposition politician Joshua â€œJBâ€ Jeyaretnam told The Associated Press. â€œThe frequency of libel suits and the crippling damages awarded by the Singapore court make Singaporeans think twice about making any statement or writing anything critical of the
The countryâ€™s leaders argue that they have the right to use defamation lawsuits to protect their reputations from false allegations, and say their legal moves donâ€™t stifle free speech. The Ministry of Home Affairs did not immediately respond today to a request for comment on Amnestyâ€™s report. Jeyaretnam â€” one of a scant handful of opposition politicians in this tightly controlled city-state â€” was declared bankrupt in 2001 after missing a single payment stemming from a 500,000 Singapore dollar (US$298,000) 1995 defamation lawsuit brought by ruling party members.
Another opposition leader, Chee Soon Juan, lost a defamation suit brought last year by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Singaporeâ€™s founding father Lee Kuan Yew. Amnestyâ€™s report also said Singaporeâ€™s continued detention without trial of 37 men with alleged links to terrorist outfit Al Qaeda is a violation of human rights. Singapore law effectively allows terror suspects to be held without charge indefinitely. The suspects are alleged members of Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah and the Philippines-based Moro Islamic Liberation Front terrorist groups.