Human Rights Defender: Chee Siok Chin

7 Jun

The more oppressive this government becomes, the more determined I am to break the shackles of repression. The tyranny that exists here has also called up strength and will in me that I never thought I had – Siok Chin, ‘The best place to be during those 72 hours’

At the European Parliamentary Democracy Caucus hearing in Brussels, Belgium in March this year, Chee Siok Chin, a member of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) voiced out concerns about regional leaders such as Mr Nong Duc Manh of Vietnam, former Thai prime minister Thaksin, and Hun Sen of Cambodia of emulating Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his party’s authoritarian rule (CALD 2008).

While she has received less attention as compared to her brother, Dr Chee Soon Juan, her commitment to defending human rights in Singapore is equally outstanding.

Her foray into politics can be dated to 2001 when she became the only female Opposition to run in that year’s General Elections. There had been a hiatus of 10 years prior to that occurence – in 1991, SDP fielded another women candidate, Toh Kim Kiat against the ruling party. In that election, she had focused on educational issues for her campaign given her experience in the teaching service for more than 12 years. After working in the sector, she was obliged to voice out her dissatisfactions against its overtly elitist approach (Think Centre 2002).

Over the years, she had grown to become a more ardent critic of PAP and a outspoken activist who has engaged in non-violent actions and to highlight the regime’s repressive and autocratic rule.

In 2005, together with 3 other activists, they made history by conducting a silent lunch time protest outside the Singapore’s Central Provident Fund (CPF – a national pension fund scheme) building demanding accountability and transparency from the Singapore government, especially in the way it manages the national reserves.

As she relates the incident, after the police had arrived and confiscated their t-shirts, the whole protest was, in her opinion, ‘… Priceless because they will always remind us of the day the four of us found our courage and stood up to demand accountability and transparency from the Singapore government’ (Chee 2005).

A year later, she was also involved in the Singapore- IMF protests which culminated in a 72 hours standoff with the local police. The demands echoed her earlier calls – not just government accountability, but also to take care of the poor and respect citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and assembly (Chee 2006).

In the 2006 elections, she raised the stakes by taking the PAP government to court for conducting an undemocratic election. As she puts it, the ruling party has been using ‘threats and vote-buying tactics that are clearly unconstitutional. All these have been going on since 1997 and it is about time someone checks on how this government uses taxpayers’ money for its own electioneering purpose…’ (Wong 2006).

Her political activism and appeal to the Singapore government to be more open, accountable and respecting citizen’s rights to civil and political liberties has raised the ire of the authorities.

Together with her brother, Dr Chee (who is sentenced to 12 days), she has been convicted ‘for contempt of court’ and imprisoned for 10 days in their cross- examination of the Lees (the Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister, son, Lee Hsien Loong) for the court case in which the latter has sued for defamation (SDP 2008).

Her devotion to promoting human rights and democracy can be summed up in an IS magazine interview, “I want to create awareness among Singaporeans that they have rights that they should claim and exercise. Don’t let other people brainwash and control you. Own your own mind because if people don’t have a sense of ownership over their own country, then people will move away and we will lose valuable talent…” (IS Magazine n.d.).


Works Cited

CALD 2008, Chee Siok Chin in Brussels:Democrats need to pay attention to Singapore, created 5 March, accessed 5 June 2008

Think Centre 2002, Only Woman Opposition Candidate in GE 2001, created 12 January, accessed 5 June 2008.

Chee, S. C. 2005, ‘A Protest in Sunny Singapore’, Singabloodypore blog, 12 August, accessed 5 June 2008.

Chee, S. C. 2008, ‘Confessions of a Singapore Protestor III – The best place to be during those 72 hours’, Singapore Democrats, 5 October, accessed 5 June 2008.

Wong, F 2006, ‘Chee Siok Chin takes legal action against PAP’s electioneering, Reuters News, 24 May, accessed 6 June 2008.

‘PRISONER 5925 in good spirits at Changi Women’s Prison’, Singapore Democrats, 6 June 2008, accessed 6 June 2008.

‘How it feels to be a social activist’, IS magazine, accessed 6 June 2008.


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