ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Singapore: Outdoor protests allowed with limitations
For the first time in decades, Singapore will allow its citizens to stage outdoor protests by doing away with the need for police permission for demonstrations held at a designated spot, according to details released Monday of the government's plan to create greater political openness.
Kyodo news agency quoted Singapore’s National Parks Board as saying Monday that outdoor protests can be held at Speakers' Corner, a public park in Singapore's central business and financial district, without requiring any police permit from Septemper 1.
"The latest change to allow demonstrations at Speakers' Corner is another step in the government's overall direction towards a more open and accommodative society," it said in a statement posted on its website.
The move came after Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day rally speech Augugust 17 that the government should ease the ban on outdoor demonstrations.
The wealthy Southeast Asian country's draconian rules against public demonstrations currently require a police permit for the staging of public protests anywhere in the city-state. As these are almost never granted and any assembly or procession of five or more people without a police permit is regarded as illegal, this has effectively banned public protests.
The government has frowned on such activities since the 1960s racial riots, saying such protests could derail stability and order. The latest move to ease these restrictions appears to be a response toward the Internet era when it is becoming increasingly difficult for any government to control the spread of dissenting views.
"Our rules governing politics also must be kept up to date," Lee said in his annual National Day Rally speech that was televised nationwide last week.
"Our old rules are way, way out of date. It means we have to change to new rules, liberalize to allow people to participate more actively and flexibly," Lee said.
The government established Speakers' Corner in 2000 to allow Singaporeans to voice their views, including dissenting political view. Under current guidelines, speakers have to first register at a nearby police station before speaking. However, the use of voice amplifiers and the staging of public demonstrations had not been allowed.
Under the new rules, the stifling hand of the police will be removed as the park authority will take over the administration of Speakers' Corner from the police, and speakers will only have to register at the Board's website.
"The demonstration may relate to anything except for matters concerning race and religion," the Board said.
Singapore's state-run television station Channel NewsAsia reported that all groups, even those that run counter to the establishment, will be allowed to demonstrate, including gay rights groups, and demonstrations will be allowed at any time of the day. Amplification devices will also be permitted.
However, Speakers' Corner failed to draw interest after the initial thrill fizzled out and the number of speakers and spectators has since dwindled.
Political activists have been arrested or hauled to court for breaching Singapore's ban on outdoor protests. Last week seven political activists were charged in court, mostly for taking part in illegal protests during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in September 2006.
In recent days, Myanmar nationals based in Singapore have complained that some Myanmar nationals who had been active in anti-junta protests have been rejected by Singapore authorities when they applied for visas.
The board said foreigners will still have to get police permit to engage in any activities at Speakers' Corner.