In Singapore, all bankrupts are required to apply for permission before travelling out of the country. When Dr Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), was invited to speak at the Oslo Freedom Forum (currently underway in Norway), he was denied permission to leave Singapore to attend.
The Associated Press reported that the “government’s bankruptcy office said in a letter earlier this month that it denied Chee permission to travel to the conference because he has failed to make a contribution to his bankruptcy estate.”
This prompted Thor Halvorssen, President of the Human Rights Organisation, to publish an open letter to Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, urging the government to grant permission to Dr Chee to attend the event.
Dr Chee declared bankruptcy in 2006 after he was unable to pay the fines imposed after he lost defamation suits initiated by Singapore’s then-prime minister Goh Chok Tong and then-senior minister Lee Kuan Yew. He was also convicted on charges of libel during the 2006 General Election after both Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong sued him for implying corruption in an SDP newsletter.
On top of not being able to travel out of the country, he has also been barred from standing for elections.
In his open letter, Mr Halvorssen wrote,
In the last 20 years he has been jailed for more than 130 days on charges including contempt of Parliament, speaking in public without a permit, selling books improperly, and attempting to leave the country without a permit. Today, your government prevents Dr. Chee from leaving Singapore because of his bankrupt status.
A general travel restriction aimed at preventing a bankrupt individual from defrauding creditors may be legitimate. However, in this case, the travel restriction against Dr. Chee is aimed at further curtailing the freedom of expression of an opposition leader. It is our considered judgment that having already persecuted, prosecuted, bankrupted, and silenced Dr. Chee inside Singapore, you now wish to render him silent beyond your own borders.
Dr Chee was still not granted permission to attend the Oslo Freedom Forum. However, he will still be able to address attendees, via a video recorded in Singapore and brought to Oslo by Martyn See, a local filmmaker who has been invited as a media observer.
The video address is expected to be streamed live from the Oslo Freedom Forum’s official website on 8 May 2012 at about 11pm Singapore time.