J.B.Jeyaretnam: Defender of Human Rights

Posted by Sinapan Samydorai under Features on 21 November 2003

Think Centre is conferring a honorary award to J B Jeyaratnam - arguably Singapore' most fearless and famous human rights activist. Think Centre aims to confer the HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS AWARD to outstanding Singaporeans who have contributed to the promotion and defence of human rights.

Mr.J.B. Jeyaretnam, 78, is the former Secretry-General of the Worker's Party and Member of Parliament.

Elected to parliament in 1981 as the first non-People's Action Party (PAP) MP since independence in 1965. In 2001, he lost his parliamentary seat after being declared a bankrupt for not paying the massive damages awarded to PAP members in a series of defamation suits. Due to this, he is also barred from standing for parliamentary seats in future elections.

Jeyaretnam believes the defamation suits against him were politically motivated to remove him from parliament.

As one observer has said: "So I would say it's time for the Singaporean government to have an overall review of the defamation law in Singapore. I think there should be legal reform to ensure that freedom of expression is adequately protected," Albert Ho, on behalf of the Asian Human Rights Commission. [AFP, April 2, 2002]

He could no longer practise law as a brankrupt. At 78 he is forced to sell his books in the streets for his living. He is no quitter and desires to get into parliament after paying-off his debts with regards to the bankruptcy.

He struggles to deliver justice for the poor, the discriminated and the working people! Jeyaretnam challenges the government on a range of issues including high ministerial salaries, the role of the judiciary, fair trial, police methods of investigation, defamation laws, freedom of the press, and workers' rights.

The Singaporean government has a history of using civil defamation suits to stifle political opposition. Such defamation suits place unreasonable restrictions on the right of Singaporeans to peacefully express their opinions and to participate freely in public life.

J. B. Jeyaretnam wants the best for his people and he was brave and critical of the government in parliament. He never succumbed to the pressures of being an opposition politician and many call him the lion of Singapore politics. For many people who were disaffected by PAP policies that meant a lot.

J. B. Jeyaretnam still struggles to establish his belief for a Singapore based on justice and democracy.

He is still a champion of human rights. J. B. Jeyaretnam is still fighting on.

Lee Kuan Yew on J. B. Jeyaretnam Put it this way. As long as Jeyaretnam [Workers' Party leader] stands for what he stands for -- a thoroughly destructive force -- we will knock him. There are two ways of playing this. One, a you attack the policies; two, you attack the system. Jeyaretnam was attacking the system, he brought the Chief Justice into it. If I want to fix you, do I need the Chief Justice to fix you? Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac. That's the way I had to survive in the past. That's the way the communists tackled me. He brought the Chief Justice into the political arena.

7 September 2003, The Star Still standing To some, he is a foolhardy troublemaker who took on the Singapore PAP government and lost, suffering personal ruin in the process.

.... My purpose in entering politics was to try and bring about a democratic system of government. The job has not been done yet, and I feel that as long as God gives me the health and the strength, then I will carry on the fight to bring about responsible opposition in Parliament. I'm very grateful that I don't have diabetes, heart trouble, liver problems or any of the major ailments which normally affect people my age."

Jeyaretnam does not limit his concerns to democracy in Singapore. "I think that the world at the moment is in a very sorry mess. Last year I had hoped that things would settle down, but I think what happened in Iraq has brought on a great uneasiness in the world about unchecked US power."

.... Yet for all his battles, leaving his beloved Singapore is something that Jeyaretnam would not consider.

Sources and Relevant Links:

Singapore Windows: Jeyaretnam trials and tribulations

The Star: Still standing 7 November 2003

Amenesty International J B Jeyaretnam - the use of defamation suits for political purposes

Chris Lydgate: Lee's Law: How S'pore Crushes Dissent

J.B. Jeyaretnam: The Hatchet Man of Singapore

Think Centre: Journalism was fairer 20 years ago

Think Centre: JBJ: I will continue the fight

Think Centre: JBJ Declared A Bankrupt

Think Centre: JBJ to Step Down!

Think Centre Why JBJ must be saved?

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