Human Rights Defender – a tribute to J B Jeyaretnam

1 Oct

Many things have been said about the iconic opposition figure in Singapore but no one can dispute that Mr Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam is anything but a stalwart supporter of human rights and democracy.

Though I have never personally had a lengthy conversation with the man nor knew him well, I have always detected the clarity of thoughts and sense of determination from the many forums that I have had the privilege of hearing him speak.

Though a trained lawyer and a district judge and First Magistrate in the Subordinate Courts, Mr Jeyaretnam was always able to translate legalese for the common man on the street in his speeches. His attack of the PAP system at these times, cover a wide range of topics from the death penalty to the ISA. His appeal? Rationality and the much PAP- despised language of human rights.

It is henceforth, not surprising that Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the proponent of Asian Values, always considered him a threat to the authoritarian regime that he believed he himself had single-handedly built up. As Lee Kuan Yew once infamously quipped of the man,

If I want to fix you, do I need the Chief Justice to fix you? Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac.

The Hatchet Man would became the title of the book that Mr Jeyaretnam personally wrote, detailing one of the series of PAP defamation suits against him. For another in-depth look of the battles between Mr Jeyaretnam and Lee, Lee’s Law by Chris Lydgate comes to mind.

At a time when being an Opposition was considered subversive and suicidal for one’s career, Mr Jeyaretnam toiled the path less trodden to become the first Opposition politician to break the PAP monopoly stronghold and become an elected member of parliament.

When I received the news that Mr Jeyaretnam had passed away this morning, I was filled with a sense of loss. For Mr Jeyaretnam showed us it was humanely possible to fight for justice and human rights even when the system is stacked up against the individual.

He might not have lived to stand for the next elections or see his Reform Party made substantial changes to the vision he had. The legacy he has left behind is however inspirational. He taught us what textbooks fail to do – that one can fight for what one believe until one’s last breath, that the language and sanctity of human rights is universal; and that the pursuit of justice and aspiration for democracy is to be found in all civilised societies.

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One Response to “Human Rights Defender – a tribute to J B Jeyaretnam”

  1. CWI October 5, 2008 at 1:48 pm #

    Since the PAP came into power, it has toughened its state machinery to subjugate the population and prevent the emergence of any radical opposition, progressive groups or labour movement in Singapore society.
    http://asocialistmalaysia.blogspot.com/

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