Chee Soon Juan
Chee Soon Juan
|Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party|
|Preceded by||Chiam See Tong|
20 July 1962 |
|Political party||Singapore Democratic Party|
|Alma mater||University of Georgia|
Chee Soon Juan (simplified Chinese: 徐顺全; traditional Chinese: 徐順全; pinyin: Xú Shùnquán, born 20 July 1962) is a Singaporean politician. He is currently the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).
A figure in Singapore's political opposition, Chee has been arrested and jailed several times for his political activities, mainly for making speeches and staging public demonstrations without a police permit. He has also been sued for defamation on multiple occasions for comments he has made about members of Singapore's governing People's Action Party (PAP). He was previously barred from standing in parliamentary elections because he was declared bankrupt in 2006 after failing to pay damages from a lawsuit owed to two former Singaporean prime ministers, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. However, on 24 September 2012, Chee announced that he had raised the sum of S$30,000 needed to pay Lee and Goh. His bankruptcy has been annulled, paving the way for him to contest the next general election, due to be held by January 2017.
Chee joined the SDP in 1992, and became its Secretary-General following the ousting of the party's founder, Chiam See Tong (with whom Chee and the rest of the party's leadership have had a number of disagreements). The party had three Members of Parliament (MPs) at the time Chee took over as Secretary-General, but was reduced to no MPs at the 1997 general election and has not had any of its members elected to Parliament since then.
Chee is the Chairman of the Asian Alliance for Reforms and Democracy. He was awarded a Hellman/Hammett Writers Grant by Human Rights Watch in recognition of his courage in face of political persecution in Singapore, he is also a recipient of Parliamentarians for Global Action's "Defender of Democracy" award in 2003 and Liberal International's "Prize for Freedom" award in 2011.
Prior to entering politics, Chee was a psychology lecturer at the National University of Singapore (NUS). However, he was dismissed from this position in 1993 after being accused of misappropriating research funds. He has since served as a research fellow at the Monash Asia Institute (1997), the University of Chicago (2001), the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Program at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. (2004), and most recently as a visiting fellow at the University of Sydney (2014).
- 1 Biography
- 1.1 Entry into politics
- 1.2 Dismissal from the National University of Singapore
- 1.3 Rise to leadership of the SDP
- 1.4 1997 general election
- 1.5 2001 general election
- 1.6 Legal charges in 2002
- 1.7 Defamation suit and bankruptcy
- 1.8 Discharge from bankruptcy and running in GE 2016
- 1.9 2006 general election
- 1.10 Protests at the IMF and World Bank meetings in Singapore in 2006
- 1.11 Further legal charges and imprisonment, 2006-7
- 1.12 Tak Boleh Tahan arrests and trial
- 1.13 2011 General Election
- 1.14 International activities
- 2 Personal life
- 3 Documentary
- 4 Works
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Chee had his early education at Anglo-Chinese School in Singapore. He then trained as a neuropsychologist, earning a PhD from the University of Georgia in 1990. After completing his doctorate, he returned to Singapore to take up a teaching position in Department of Psychology at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Entry into politics
In 1992, Chee was recruited to join the Singapore Democratic Party by the party's founder and Secretary-General, Chiam See Tong. Chiam had become the party's first Member of Parliament in 1984 when he was elected to represent the constituency of Potong Pasir. At the 1991 general election, Chiam was joined in Parliament by two further SDP MPs (Ling How Doong as MP for Bukit Gombak and Cheo Chai Chen as MP for Nee Soon Central).
Chee was first introduced to the public as a member of the SDP's team to stand in a by-election in the Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency in 1992. Chee's candidacy attracted considerable public interest as it was the first time that an academic at a state-run university had stood against the governing People's Action Party in an election. However, the SDP team was unsuccessful in the election, with the PAP winning 72.94% of the votes, the SDP 24.50%, and other smaller parties 2.56%.
Shortly after the Marine Parade by-election, Chee became the SDP's Assistant Secretary-General.
Dismissal from the National University of Singapore
In 1993, a few months after Chee joined the SDP, he was fired from his position at the National University of Singapore by the Head of the Psychology Department, Dr S Vasoo (who was an MP for the PAP at the time), for allegedly using research funds to send his wife's doctoral thesis to the United States. Chee denied that he had misused university funds and claimed that he was the victim of a political vendetta. He staged a five-day hunger strike to protest his sacking.
Rise to leadership of the SDP
After initially backing Chee, Chiam became critical of Chee's hunger strike and his public comments condemning the PAP for his sacking. Chiam wanted to censure Chee for his comments, but the party's Central Executive Committee (CEC) backed Chee. Chiam then resigned as Secretary-General of the party. Chee, as the Assistant Secretary-General, then became the party's Acting Secretary-General (and was subsequently elected as Secretary-General).
After Chiam publicly criticised the CEC, they attempted to expel him from the party (which would have forced him to vacate his seat in Parliament), but Chiam won a court case to prevent them from doing so on procedural grounds. Chiam remained an SDP member and MP until shortly before the 1997 general election, when he left to join the Singapore People's Party (a party founded in 1994 by ex-SDP members who were supportive of Chiam).
After taking over as the SDP's Secretary-General, Chee began regularly travelling abroad and to talk about his views on the lack of democracy in Singapore to the foreign media. He also published his second political book, Dare To Change: An Alternative Vision for Singapore. In 1994, to respond to criticisms of the book made by Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Chee wrote a letter to The Straits Times. The PAP's Second Organising Secretary, Matthias Yao (a Parliamentary Secretary and MP for Marine Parade GRC), then wrote to the newspaper to reply to Chee's comments. This led to a two-month-long exchange of letters between Chee and Yao which were published in the paper, which ended with Chee issuing a challenge for Yao to stand against him in a single member constituency at the next general election. At Yao's request, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong agreed to separate Yao's MacPherson ward from the rest of Marine Parade GRC at the next general election so that he could take up Chee's challenge.
1997 general election
The SDP's first general election under Chee's leadership in 1997 proved to be a major setback for the party as they failed to win any seats in Parliament. Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen were both defeated in their bids to be re-elected as MPs. And Chee lost the high-profile contest in MacPherson to Matthias Yao by 6,713 (34.86%) votes to 12,546 (65.14%). Meanwhile, Chiam See Tong was re-elected as the MP for Potong Pasir, representing his new party.
2001 general election
At the 2001 general election, Chee stood as one of the SDP's candidates in the Jurong Group Representation Constituency. The SDP's team lost to the PAP team by 20.25% of the votes to 79.75%. The SDP's candidates were also unsuccessful in all the other constituencies in which they stood.
During the run-up to the election, Chee captured national media attention when he came across then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong while campaigning at a hawker centre, and used a megaphone to ask him: "Where is the S$18 billion that you have lent to (Indonesian President) Suharto?" The PAP took Chee to task for this, claiming that any accusation that Parliament had been misled about an alleged loan to Suharto was untrue, and demanding that he either apologise or face a defamation lawsuit. Chee apologised a day later, but later retracted his apology.
Legal charges in 2002
On 1 May 2002, Chee staged a rally in front of the Istana (the official residence and office of the President of Singapore), even though his application to the police for a licence to hold the assembly had been denied. Chee was later charged for trespassing and for attempting to hold a rally without a police permit, for which he was sentenced to five weeks in jail.
Defamation suit and bankruptcy
After the 2001 general election, Chee was sued for defamation by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and former Prime Minister and elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew for remarks he had made during the campaign about an alleged loan to Indonesian President Suharto. Chee lost the lawsuits and was ordered to pay damages of S$300,000 to Goh and S$200,000 to Lee.
On 10 February 2006, Chee was declared bankrupt by the High Court after failing to pay the damages owed to Goh and Lee.
As an undischarged bankrupt, Chee became ineligible to stand in general elections and was required to seek the Official Assignee's permission before making any trips abroad.
On 24 February 2006, Singapore's Attorney-General filed contempt of court charges against Chee for refusing to answer the court's questions and scandalising the Singapore judiciary during the bankruptcy petition hearing on 10 February. As a result, Chee was sentenced to one day in jail and a fine of S$6,000, but he failed to pay the fine and was thus jailed for an additional seven days.  He was released on 24 March 2006.
In April 2006, Chee was stopped at the airport as he was preparing to board a flight to Istanbul because, as an undischarged bankrupt, he could not leave Singapore without official approval of the Official Assignee, which he had not obtained.
Another defamation lawsuit was brought against Chee following an article published in the SDP's party newspaper, The New Democrat, which questioned the role of the Singapore government in the 2005 National Kidney Foundation scandal. Chee was ordered to pay damages to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as a result of this.
On 24 September 2012, Chee announced that he has raised the S$30,000 from the sale of his latest book, Democratically Speaking, and will be making payment to the Official Assignee in the course of that week.
Discharge from bankruptcy and running in GE 2016
On 23 November 2012, Chee was formally discharged from bankruptcy in court. This means that he can travel freely outside of Singapore, and can run in the next General Election due in 2016, which he has stated he intends to do.
2006 general election
Chee was unable to stand in the 2006 general election. The SDP did enter candidates in some constituencies, but none were elected.
Despite a rule in Singapore that bans podcasting during elections, Chee released a political podcast on 23 April 2006. However, on the order of the Elections Department, it was taken down by 25 April 2006.
Protests at the IMF and World Bank meetings in Singapore in 2006
On 22 August 2006, Chee announced that he was planning to hold protests in Singapore during 61st Annual Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group in September 2006 (as part of Singapore 2006), to protest against the rising income gap and raise awareness of the hardships of working-class people in Singapore. The application for a police permit for the protest was rejected on 30 August 2006. Even without a permit, Chee still used the SDP website to continue to urge people to participate in the protest.
On 9 September, Chee was distributing leaflets for an upcoming "Empower Singaporeans Rally and March", when he was stopped by the police for doing so. The police warned the public that anyone participating in Chee's planned rally and march would be committing an offence.
On 13 September, Chee invited both World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and IMF managing director Rodrigo de Rato y Figaredo to his planned rally. At a press conference the next day, Chee announced that his application to be a civil society representative to Singapore 2006 as a representative of the Open Singapore Centre was rejected by the IMF and World Bank. An application by his sister, Chee Siok Chin, to represent the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia was approved by the IMF and World Bank but was rejected by the Singapore government. On 15 September, Chee released a podcast that warned Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that the Singapore 2006 event was a "public relations disaster" for Singapore.
On 16 September, Chee started off the "Empower Singaporeans Rally and March" at 11.00 am at Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park, but was stopped by the police who formed a human barricade around him. He then announced that there would be a rally the following day in front of Parliament House. But the police refused to let him leave the park until he called off the protest, so he remained in the park with his supporters.
On 17 September, Chee announced his plan to continue his protest by remaining in Hong Lim Park until the start of the IMF and World Bank meetings which were two days away. On 18 September, after hours of negotiations with police, Chee went to Raffles City to hand out pamphlets to the public and then returned to the park. He stopped the protest at noon on 19 September, and proclaimed that the protest had achieved its purpose. He further announced that the 72-hour protest was just a start, and that over the next few months he intended to recruit and train more activists for a campaign to bring pressure on the Singapore government to reform.
Further legal charges and imprisonment, 2006-7
On 20 June 2006, Chee was charged in court for eight counts of speaking in public without a licence between 13 November 2005 and 22 April 2006 in violation of the Public Entertainments and Meeting Act. Two other SDP members were also charged.
While in prison in November 2006, Chee reportedly became ill, leading to speculation from the SDP that he had been poisoned. A statement released by the SDP noted that Chee was feeling nauseous and dizzy, and was unable to sleep. Four days later, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) asserted that Chee was treated the "same as other prisoners", and that the SDP's claims were "baseless, malicious and seek to undermine the reputation of the Singapore Prison Service". On 3 December 2006, after the doctor at the Queenstown Remand Prison had found traces of blood in Chee's urine, he was admitted under guard to Changi General Hospital. On 10 December, about a dozen of Chee's supporters, including members of his family, held a protest march starting at the Speakers' Corner and ending at Queenstown Remand Prison, where Chee was incarcerated. Several foreign non-government organisations released statements expressing concerns about Chee's health and treatment in prison.
Chee was released on 16 December, two weeks short of his full sentence as a result of good behaviour in jail. Two days later, he published a statement on what happened during his stint in prison. He claimed that his food tray was marked, and that the light in his cell had remained on during the night, causing sleep deprivation. Two days later, the MHA replied to this, claiming "Chee's insinuations about being the victim of a food conspiracy are ridiculous and a product of his own mischief...", and that "Chee's purported 'ailment' in prison served only to provide an expedient story for his associates and foreign supporters to faithfully distort and exploit for political mileage". Chee immediately released another statement rebutting this, claiming "the MHA's statement is riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and outright lies".
On 8 January 2007, a hearing began for charges that Chee had attempted to leave the country without a permit despite being a bankrupt. As a result of this, he was jailed for three weeks.
Tak Boleh Tahan arrests and trial
On 15 March 2008, the SDP decided to stage the "Tak Boleh Tahan" (Malay for "Can't take it anymore") protests. On 15 March 2008, Chee and 17 others were arrested at a demonstration held outside Parliament and later charged with unlawful assembly. The trial began on 23 October 2008.
2011 General Election
Chee was similarly not eligible to run for the 2011 General Election due to his undischarged bankruptcy.
Chee's party has been granted observer status to Liberal International, a world federation of liberal political parties. "SDP has signed an agreement with the Commonwealth countries, where Singapore is a party, to include respect for fundamental human rights and civil liberties," said Chee, who had also hired Amsterdam & Peroff to take up his case against the government,  whose members have filed lawsuits against news publications that have run Chee's critical comments. "We are trying to pursue this and some of the international community would hopefully pay more attention and encourage Singapore to be part of the civilized world."
Chee is married to Huang Chih Mei. The couple have three children.
In 2004, Martyn See directed a documentary on Chee called Singapore Rebel. It was supposed to be screened at the Singapore International Film Festival, but was withdrawn from the festival and later banned by the Singapore government because of its political content. Singapore's Film Act forbids the production and distribution of "party political" films, which are defined as films "made by any person and directed towards any political ends in Singapore". The ban on the film was lifted on 11 September 2009.
Chee has written the following books:
- Dare to Change: An Alternative Vision for Singapore (Singapore Democratic Party: 1994) Out of Print
- Singapore, My Home Too (1995) Out of Print
- To Be Free: Stories from Asia's Struggle Against Oppression (Monash Asia Institute: 1998) Out of Print
- Your Future, My Faith, Our Freedom: A Democratic Blueprint for Singapore (Singapore Open Centre: 2001) Out of Print
- The Power of Courage: Effecting Political Change in Singapore Through Nonviolence (2005)
- A Nation Cheated (2008)
- Democratically Speaking (2012)
- Teacher, Thinker, Rebel, Why? Portraits of Chee Soon Juan (2015)
- Steering Committee, asiademocracy.org. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
- Chee to be Visiting Fellow at Sydney University, Singapore Democratic Party. 23 May 2014.
- Is there a Singapore alternative?, Singapore Democratic Party. 12 June 2014.
- "Amnesty International – SINGAPORE: Bankrupt opposition leader now faces possible imprisonment". World Movement for Democracy. 14 March 2006.
- "Where We Came From". Singapore Democratic Party. Retrieved 31 May 2008.
- The case of opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan, robertamsterdam.com, 3 November 2009
- "Singapore to Dissident Leader: Shut Up". Asia Sentinel. Retrieved 31 May 2008.
- "Trying to Prise the Singapore Political System". Singapore Window. Archived from the original on 16 April 2008. Retrieved 31 May 2008.
- 1997 Parliamentary General Election Results, elections.gov.sg
- "MacPherson --- GE1997". Singapore Elections. Retrieved 31 May 2008.[dead link]
- "CNN Interview". Singapore Window. Retrieved 31 May 2008.
- "Won't Get Fooled Again". Big 0. Retrieved 31 May 2008.
- "SDP's Chee Soon Juan declared bankrupt, cannot stand for elections till 2011". Channel NewsAsia. 10 February 2006. By Farah Abdul Rahim.
- "Opposition leader charged for court contempt". Reuters. 1 March 2006. Posted on www.singapore-window.org.
- "SDP leader jailed 7 more days for not paying fine for contempt of court". Channel NewsAsia. 17 March 2006.
- Justice for Dr Chee Soon Juan, Singapore's prisoner of conscience: Dr Chee Soon Juan released from Prison
- "Chee case adjourned while he briefs new lawyer". Today. 4 January 2007.
- "Singapore's ex-leaders write off political rival's huge debt from defamation case". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
- "Podcasting is not allowed in elections". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 31 May 2008.
- "SDP pulls podcasts after Elections Department ruling". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 31 May 2008.
- "Singapore police mull alternatives sites for World Bank protests". Deutsche Presse Agentur. 23 August 2006.
- "S'pore asked to waive protest ban". Today (Singapore newspaper). 23 August 2006.
- "Media Release: Singaporean activists to hold protest march during WB-IMF meeting". 22 August 2006.
- "Singapore police deny protest permit". Today (Singapore newspaper). 30 August 2006.
- "Peaceful assembly the key to change in Singapore". Singapore Democratic Party. 30 August 2006.
- "Media Release: Singaporean activists to hold protest march during WB-IMF meeting". Singapore Democratic Party. 22 August 2006.
- "Govt harassment begins: Police steal flyers from activists". Singapore Democratic Party. 30 August 2006.
- "SDP's Chee Soon Juan stopped from handing out pamphlets urging outdoor rally and march". Channel NewsAsia. 30 August 2006.
- "Chee Soon Juan to go ahead with planned march and rally on Saturday. However, Wolfowitz reportedly commented later that "Enormous damage has been done, and a lot of that is to Singapore. It could have been an opportunity for them … to showcase their development."". Channel NewsAsia. 30 August 2006.
- "S'pore Govt revokes Chee Siok Chin's WB-IMF accreditation". Singapore Democratic Party. 14 September 2006.
- "Police, protesters face off in Singapore". Singapore Democratic Party. 16 September 2006.
- "SDP's Chee slapped with 8 charges of speaking in public without licence". Channel NewsAsia. 20 June 2006.
- "Singapore jails opposition leader over public speaking". Reuters. 23 November 2006.
- "Urgent: Dr Chee Soon Juan's health deteriorates in prison". Singapore Democratic Party. 28 November 2006.
- "Chee treated 'same as other prisoners'". The Straits Times. 2 December 2006.
- "Dr Chee Soon Juan admitted to hospital". Singapore Democratic Party. 4 December 2006.
- "S'pore govt allows rally by pro-democracy activists". Reuters, Gulf Times. 11 December 2006.
- "Ministry of Home Affairs Response to Misinformation in Statements Issued by Chee Soon Juan on the SDP Website". Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. 20 December 2006.
- Chee Soon Juan (18 December 2006). "What really happened in prison". Singapore Democratic Party.
- "Point-by-Point rebuttal to Ministry of Home Affairs' statement". Singapore Democratic Party. 21 December 2006.
- "Chee's trial begins on 8 January". Singapore Democratic Party. 31 May 2008.
- "Tak bolek tahan!". Singapore Democratic Party. 12 March 2008. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- Sitathan, Tony. "Crisis-hit Singapore tightens grip". Asia Times Online. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- "Without Freedom There Is No Free Trade". Huffington Post. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- Tan, Jeanette, "A peek into the life of Chee Soon Juan", sg.news.yahoo.com, 27 February 2012.