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  • Writer's pictureJulie O'Connor

Hypocrisy and Cancelling Out Dissent

A valuable difference between a liberal democracy and an autocracy is that we should be free to criticize government officials without fear of reprisal. Sadly, that isn't the case in many countries, especially so in Singapore where arguably dissent is quelled by killing the chickens to scare the monkeys. Government officials, including the Prime Minister have sued ordinary citizens which will of course scare others from speaking up. This goes very much against the public promises made by the Singapore establishment of a zero tolerance to corruption, no cover-ups allowed and no-one being above the law, because citizens would be scared out of their wits to expose any wrongdoings of those in the highest echelons, or their cronies for fear of being subjected to such persecution. The best you can hope for is that corruption is exposed internationally, then for optics the Singapore's establishment must be seen to be doing something, even if it turns out 5-years later to be a stern warning for the anonymous individuals implicated in a US$55M bribery scandal.

In August 2022 the Singapore Law Minister said, “People ought to be free to express their views without fear of being attacked on both sides,” but as is usually the case in Singapore, you need to look at the actions of politicians and not listen to their propaganda speeches! And we didn't need to wait that long...

With impeccable timing, just after voting had closed for Singapore's Presidential election last week, the press disclosed that the above Law Minister and another senior Cabinet colleague had decided to sue Lee Hsien Yang, who is the Prime Minister's brother, for defamation. Lee Hsien Yang and his sister had earlier claimed that their Prime Minister brother had abused his power and what followed was seen by many as the persecution of Lee Hsien Yang's wife and his son by the establishment, which led to the family being forced into exile.

As a prominent Singaporean, being the youngest son of Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Yang has a powerful voice and like many others including opposition figures, he raised serious concerns about the conflicts which existed when the Law Minister and his senior colleague had rented properties from the Singapore Land Authority, which is an entity overseen by the Minister of Law. There was to be no transparent Commission of Inquiry, instead there was a closed-door investigation undertaken by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, the head of which reports to the Prime Minister.

The two Ministers have now claimed that Lee Hsien Yang has accused them of corruption, I didn't see it that way and others agree, Lee Hsien Yang was raising concerns which he felt had not been adequately addressed during an investigation, which many argued was not independent. The two Ministers demanded that Lee Hsien Yang apologizes, withdraws his allegations and pays damages. We saw similar tactics used against the whistleblower in the City Harvest Church case, when he acceded to the threats made by the Church to publicly apologize in the press at great expense, even though he was later vindicated as telling the truth. Many are pleased to see that Lee Hsien Yang has not gone down on bended knee to these two Senior Ministers..

Questions will now undoubtedly be raised whether this action against Lee Hsien Yang is just a strategy by the ruling party to stop people from commenting on the subject of these properties in the lead up to the next General Election. Also, to ensure that Lee Hsien Yang and his family never return to Singapore, thereby neutralizing any threat to Singapore's leadership.

Let's not forget that politicians are there to serve the electorate and should not be beyond reproach. If anything, they should be held to a higher standard than others. But how does anyone know if there is an abuse of power or corruption in the highest echelons of Singapore, when there's no whistleblower protection and arguably no independent watchdog? The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau reports direct to the Prime Minister and the Attorney General is the former personal lawyer of the Prime Minister. With the Prime Minister also advising on the appointment of the Judges, this makes for a good case that politicians should be barred from launching defamation suits while in office, because it may be seen as abuse of power and used as a weapon to curb dissent and hang on to power.

Further it’s an unfair advantage as politicians can defame others in parliament since they have parliamentary privilege. For example, it was claimed in Parliament that Lee Hsien Yang and his wife Lee Suet Fern had absconded. Those allegations made in Parliament, even though untrue, were probably enough to disqualify Lee Hsien Yang for running for President and of course attempt to destroy his credibility, with no repercussion for the person who uttered those words.

I can empathize with Lee Hsien Yang, his family and the others who have spoken up against those connected to the power structure, and have been gaslighted or much worse, because I have seen how the system works to cover up. I was one of three parties offered a share of A$3.5M if we agreed to cover up allegations of fraud which implicated a client of a PAP MP (now Minister), a 'client' of the law firm headed up by the current Attorney General. The authorities have refused to INVESTIGATE the numerous serious concerns which were raised prior to the collapse of what had been a billion-dollar group, claiming insufficient evidence. If that were the case the client could have held on to his A$3.5M and not repeatedly misled investors.

The Attorney General who is conflicted holds the powerful prosecutorial discretion card which arguably can be utilized to ensure no investigation takes place into his firm's former client. Conversely that powerful weapon can be utilized to investigate those who might oppose the establishment or its cronies. But what independent body do you complain to if you are concerned that a conflict of interest may have led to an abuse of power in Singapore's highest echelons? There is none.

Given my own concerns in relation to a legal system that could be subject to abuse, I raised concerns with the Chief Justice at what I saw was an inequitable legal system. I referred to the prosecutions involving an Indonesian maid and the Prime Minister's family members. But once again the chicken would be killed to scare the monkeys to quell dissent. The Singapore journalist who shared my letter would be charged and found guilty of Contempt of Court, whilst the authorities made no effort to contact me to enquire why I had sent the letter or ask me to remove it.

Will Lee Hsien Yang receive a fair trial in Singapore whether he takes the risk to attend or not? Highly unlikely if what Freedom House has written in answer to the question "Is there an independent judiciary", is true, and I have no reason to believe otherwise.

"The country’s top judges are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister. The government’s consistent success in court cases that have direct implications for its agenda has cast serious doubt on judicial independence. The problem is particularly evident in defamation cases and lawsuits against government opponents." Freedom House 2023

Ironically, I finished my letter to Singapore's Chief Justice with the sentence "If Lee Hsien Yang’s family members are not safe from persecution, then who is? Just how equitable is the system of justice in Singapore?" Now it is Lee Hsien Yang who will be on trial.

We can only hope that those powerful bystanders who former President Devan Nair described as keeping their heads down to protect their handsomely buttered bread, find the courage and integrity to speak up. Also, that the international press aid Singapore whistleblowers like Lee Hsien Yang by giving them a voice, and publicly calling out those who silence whistleblowers to hide the dirt.

The latest!

It would be laughable if not so serious.


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