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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Singapore and the Culture of Fear

"A lecturer in psychology at the National University of Singapore, [Chee Soon Juan] was sacked for improperly using research funds. The charge was filed by Chee’s departmental chair, who was also a PAP member of Parliament. Chee had used research funds to pay for courier services to deliver his wife's doctoral dissertation to an American university. The sum involved was $226. Chee and the university disagreed as to whether this use of funds was improper. At a later date, the head of Chee‘s former department brought charges of defamation against Chee. The Social Democratic Party and other Singaporeans perceived the action as a warning to professionals to avoid the opposition (Fong 1993). Reporters from the Straits Times talked with a small number of university academics, most of whom sympathized with Chee. All spoke on condition of anonymity because, as the reporter noted, according to “their terms of employment, they cannot comment on university policy“ (Insight 1993:14).

A Singapore judge found Chee guilty of defaming three university people, including Chee‘s former boss; damages and court costs to be paid by Chee amounted to about U.S. $156,000. At the time of the decision, Chee was broke and without a regular job (Straits Times Weekly Edition, 23 April 1994).

The same year as Chee's sacking, at a seminar concerning how to get young people politically involved, the discussion was dominated by expressions of fear for the fate that awaits critical Singaporeans. A Government spokesperson said such fear was unjustified. However one participant pointed out that even professors who were critical of the Government were harshly treated, and another noted that student unions at universities were forbidden to make political statements (Straits Times Weekly Edition, 10 July 1993).

Several newspaper personnel were tried in 1993 for violating the Official Secrets Act. At the time, “[a]lthough a number of reporters and editors expressed anger over the prosecutions, none would allow their name to be used, saying they feared retaliation from the Government" (Shenon 1993:Y12)."

--- The Struggle Over Singapore's Soul: Western Modernization and Asian Culture / Joseph B. Tamney (1996)
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