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Singapore June 29, 2006
H.E. Lee Hsien Loong
Office of the Prime Minister
Republic of Singapore 238823
Fax: (011.65) 835-6621
We were highly encouraged several months ago to read that Singapore, in order to attract world-class scientists to its BioPolis science center, had decided to become less authoritarian in its policies and more tolerant of political dissent. It certainly seems a wise policy, and a necessary one if leading scientists from around the world are to be persuaded to live and work in Singapore. More recently, we read that your efforts are succeeding, and that more than 2,000 eminent scientists are now working at BioPolis.
In that light, we are dismayed at the recent news from Singapore indicating that you have returned to the repressive tactics that have been so effective in the past. We understand that you and your father, Singapore Minister Lee Kuan Yew, have filed criminal defamation charges against the executive committee of an opposition newspaper, The New Democrat, and have threatened to file similar charges against the company that prints the paper, Melodies Press Co. The story that offended you criticized the government for its handling of a recent corruption scandal at the National Kidney Foundation, adding that the government itself had created a “secretive and non-accountable system” for which higher-level officials should be held responsible.
We also understand that you are charging a blogger, who has been identified only by his pseudonym, Char, with criminal sedition for posting four cartoons of Jesus on his Web site. According to Reporters Without Borders, police forced him to take down the four cartoons, which he had found elsewhere on the Internet, and confiscated his computer. At worst, the blogger was guilty of bad taste, and it is almost ludicrously excessive that he faces three years in prison for this expression of opinion. It becomes evident that nothing has changed since 2004, when Lee Kuan Yew told Reporters Without Borders, “You are not going to teach us how we should run the country. We are not so stupid. We know what our interests are and we try to preserve them.”
Your Excellency, as we have written many times in the past, we believe that your policies of repressing dissent are profoundly wrong and contrary to the standards of international democratic institutions. But we also believe they will be counterproductive to your goals in setting up BioPolis and attempting to take the international lead in biological research. The minds you hope to attract prize nothing more than freedom of thought, and we predict that they will feel a profound chill when they begin to understand the price of dissent in Singapore. Some may decline your invitation; others may reconsider their decisions to join your community. In letting it be known that your government was to become more tolerant, you — or whoever spread this word — showed that the importance of freedom of expression in the scientific community was understood, and that it would be accommodated. That was surely the right policy, and we strongly urge that you return to it.
Thank you for your attention. We would appreciate a reply.
Norman A. Schorr
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee
Chan Heng Chee
Ambassador of Singapore to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of Singapore
3501 International Place, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 537-0876
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Singapore to the United Nations
231 East 51st Street
New York, NY 10022
Fax: (212) 826-2964
Patricia L. Herbold
U.S. Ambassador to Singapore
Embassy of the United States of America
27 Napier Road