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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Maid abuse at its best

Victims of Singapore maid abuse speak their mind

ESTHER, 30
I worked every day. I didn't have a day off because it was stated in the contract that only after six months did I get my off day, and after that I would get one each month.

I worked in two houses but after five months I ran away because of insufficient food and insufficient sleep.

I worked every day from 6 o'clock in the morning to midnight but sometimes I had to get up in the middle of the night because I was also looking after a three-year-old child.

After dinner I had to wait for all the members of the family to finish their meal and then I would be allowed to eat, but only their leftovers.

They always scolded me for little things. They were very fussy and wanted everything to be perfect. I could not do the work because I didn't have enough food and I didn't have enough strength. Sometimes I received a scolding because I didn't have the strength to work.

I wanted to go out but they said they had to accompany me. I didn't have any freedom. They wouldn't let me talk to my Filipino colleagues. They didn't want me to make friends with them.

It felt like I was in a prison. I couldn't bear it any more and that's why I ran away.

Every time I looked for a new employer the pain was still there. I felt that this history was haunting me.

I am trying to move on. Here at Home I feel I have found a family but I still really miss my mother.


THONA, 26

My employer did not treat me well. If I did a simple mistake they shouted at me, telling me bad words and sometimes they beat me.

The first time was 20 May 2005, I cannot forget it. She slapped me because I forgot to cook the porridge on time.

The second time she beat me was 30 May 2005. She pushed me in my breasts and it is still very painful.

I was upset and I said to my employer 'Why do you beat me?' and my employer said 'Why should I not beat you?'.

My employer sent me back to my agency and then I ran away.

I ran away on 17 June 2005. I went to Home. I found Home and I have stayed here in the shelter for nine months already.

I really miss my family. I don't have money to go back. I would be happy if I could go back to the Philippines, if I could reach my own country.

Suicidal City

Suicide is now a significant public health risk in Singapore, responsible for an average of one death every day, a senior government official said yesterday.

For every suicide, there are seven unsuccessful attempts and suicide is now among the top three causes of death among 15-to-35 year olds.

These disturbing findings were presented at the start of a three-day Asia-Pacific conference on suicide prevention.

They are the product of a study of Singapore's suicide figures by psychiatrist Chia Boon Hock, who has shed light not only on the main groups at risk of suicide but also the reasons why people choose to take their own lives. Mental and physical illnesses, it appears, are a significant factor.

Of the more than 1,700 people who killed themselves here between 2000 and 2004, up to seven in 10 were affected by mental illness in one form or another.

Yesterday's main speaker, Permanent Secretary (Health) Yong Ying-I, said local suicide rates were a significant concern.

And though, as elsewhere in the world, rates are highest among the elderly, youth suicide has become a particular problem.

"This is potential lost," she said, "the potential to contribute to their societies and economies ... to live full and meaningful lives."

She urged those who have direct contact with at-risk groups, such as bereaved elderly people or young people with relationship problems, to help identify them early.

Experts agree suicides are often the result of an interaction of factors, which need a "multi-pronged, integrated and comprehensive" approach. Moreover, causes of suicide vary depending on the person's age, gender, ethnic group, marital status and other social aspects.

Generally, young people take their lives because of relationship woes, such as unrequited love, or study stress.

Among adults, mental illness, or stress brought on by marital, financial or employment problems, are frequent "push factors".

But while financial woes do push some elderly people over the brink, many kill themselves because of health or family related issues.

"They fear being a burden to the family," said Chia.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Singapore media leaves local athletes behind

The decision by Singapore's national broadcaster to pull out of its Commonwealth Games coverage has angered Games officials, who say the move will leave the exploits of the country's athletes unreported.

The Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union has confirmed MediaCorp's decision, but has declined to comment on how it will affect Games coverage in Singapore.

Our reporter James Panichi says MediaCorp's decision not to send a crew to Melbourne to cover the Games is believed to be linked to concerns over the cost of buying broadcast rights.

With 63 athletes in competition, the Singapore contingent is its largest in Commonwealth Games history.

Its size reflects the country's strong performance at the 2002 Manchester Games, in which it picked up 13 medals, including its first-ever gold.

A team of seven MediaCorp production staff had be scheduled to fly to Melbourne last week, before it was told of the station's decision.

Officials at the Games say they are angered by the move, and that it will be a disappointment to local sports fans, including Singapore's large expatriate Commonwealth communities.

Shame Singapore Shame

A Queen's baton relay runner has campaigned against the practice of capital punishment in Commonwealth countries.

Father Peter Norden was supported by a group of silent protesters as he ran through inner-city Melbourne this afternoon.

The protesters held red placards with the words "Shame Singapore Shame" as Father Norden went past.

Father Norden, who campaigned against Singapore's hanging of convicted drug trafficker Van Nyugen last year, has rejected criticism of the protest.

He says the Commonwealth Games baton relay is an appropriate place to champion his cause.

"Thirty-five of the 37 Commonwealth countries that have capital punishment still put a noose around people's necks," he said.

"We don't believe that in a civilised society that this practice should continue."

He has compared the protest to the Queen's campaign against AIDS and says the Commonwealth Games is an appropriate place to raise the issue.

But Commonwealth Games Minister Justin Madden says the baton relay is not the appropriate event to champion other causes.

"If anyone individual purports to use it for any other message that's disappointing," he said.

"But we still maintain that the baton is about the goodwill of the Commonwealth, the Queen's message and the opportunity for those unsung heroes to carry the baton."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Singapore won’t give maids mandatory day off


SINGAPORE - Singapore's government has rejected calls to give foreign maids a mandatory rest day -- a standard practice for workers covered by its Employment Act -- because such time off could "inconvenience" many households. New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) last year urged Singapore to provide better legal protection for foreign maids.

By excluding maids from its Employment Act, Singapore's labor laws failed to comply with international law, it said, urging Singapore to follow Hong Kong's example by protecting maids' rights to a weekly rest day and a minimum wage.

But Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower, Hawazi Daipi, told parliament on Wednesday that prescribing minimum employment terms and conditions for maids would inevitably lead to "rigidities and inconvenience" for many families.

"Some households have elderly or infirm members with special needs who require constant attention and may find it difficult to release the domestic worker for a prescribed period every week," Daipi said.

About one in six households in Singapore employs a foreign maid, enabling couples to work and raise families. About 160,000 such workers -- mainly from Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka -- are currently employed in the city-state.

The Ministry of Manpower, which said the HRW report grossly exaggerated the abuse and lack of rights of maids in Singapore, urged consumer watchdog bodies and maid agencies to produce standard employment contracts to include terms such as rest days.

"Employers are held responsible for the well-being of their foreign domestic workers, including the provision of adequate rest," said Daipi.

Employers who breach these work permit conditions can be fined up to S$5,000 and served with a jail term of up to six months, he added.

Singapore Human Rights Report by US Dept. of State (more)

Freedom of Speech and Press
The government strongly influenced both the print and electronic media. Two companies, Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. (SPH) and MediaCorp, own all general circulation newspapers in the four official languages--English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. MediaCorp is wholly owned by the government investment company.
SPH is a private holding company with close ties to the government; the government must approve (and can remove) the holders of SPH management shares, who have the power to appoint or dismiss all directors or staff. As a result, while newspapers printed a large and diverse selection of articles from domestic and foreign sources, their editorials, coverage of domestic events, and reporting of sensitive foreign relations issues usually closely reflected government policies and the opinions of government leaders.
Government-linked companies and organizations operated all domestic broadcast television channels and almost all radio stations.
The government has extended the threat of defamation actions to comments made in cyberspace.
The unbroken success of government leaders' suits in the last decade has fostered public caution about political speech, prompted a culture of self-censorship within the news media, and inhibited opposition politics. During the last decade, ruling party leaders have sued opposition politicians for defamation of individual government leaders.
The Media Development Authority (MDA), a statutory board under the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA), continued to censor broadcast media and Internet sites and all other media, including movies, video materials, computer games, and music.
The Films Act bans political advertising using films or videos as well as films directed towards any political purpose. The act does not apply to any film sponsored by the government, and the act allows the MICA minister, subject to such conditions as he sees fit, to exempt any film from the act... The activist claimed that the Films Act is politically biased in favor of the ruling party. Other restrictions tightly control the types of campaign materials that can be distributed by or about candidates and parties during an election.
Freedom of Assembly
The law provides citizens the right to peaceful assembly but permits Parliament to impose restrictions "it considers necessary or expedient" in the interest of security, public order, or morality; in practice the government restricted this right. Public assemblies of five or more persons, including political meetings and rallies, require police permission...The government closely monitored political gatherings regardless of the number of persons present.
Freedom of Religion
Under the Societies Act, the government banned meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church.
In 2004 the Ministry of Education indefinitely suspended four children for failing to sing the national anthem and participate in the flag ceremony, down from eight suspensions in 2003...There have been 34 such cases since 2000. All 34 students made alternate schooling arrangements; none has returned to public school.
Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Men are required to serve 24 months of national service upon turning 18 years of age. They also are required to undergo reserve training up to the age of 40 (for enlisted men) or 50 (for officers). Male citizens with national service reserve obligations are required to advise the Ministry of Defense if they plan to travel abroad. Boys age 11 to 16½ years are issued passports that are valid for 2 years and are no longer required to obtain exit permits. From the age of 16½ until the age of enlistment, male citizens are granted 1-year passports and are required to apply for exit permits for travel that exceeds 3 months.
Protection of Refugees
The law does not provide for the granting of refugee status or asylum to persons in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Opposition parties are free to contest elections, and the voting and vote-counting systems are fair and free from tampering; however, the PAP, which has held power continuously and overwhelmingly for more than four decades, has used the government's extensive powers to place formidable obstacles in the path of political opponents.
National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities
Ethnic Malays constituted approximately 14 percent of the population. The constitution acknowledges them as the indigenous people of the country and charges the government to support and to promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social, cultural, and language interests. The government took steps to encourage greater educational achievement among Malay students as a key to economic advancement. However, ethnic Malays have not yet reached the educational or socioeconomic levels achieved by the ethnic Chinese majority, the ethnic Indian minority, or the Eurasian community. Malays remained underrepresented at senior corporate levels, and, some assert, in certain sectors of the government and the military.
Worker Rights
The right of association was restricted by the Societies Act, and by labor and education laws and regulations. Under these laws any group of 10 or more persons is required to register with the government. The Trade Unions Act authorizes the formation of unions with broad rights, albeit with some narrow restrictions such as prohibitions on the unionization of uniformed personnel or government employees.
The National Trade Union Congress(NTUC) acknowledged that its interests were linked closely with those of the ruling PAP, a relationship often described by both as symbiotic.
Acceptable Conditions of Work
There are no laws or regulations on minimum wages or unemployment compensation.
Most maids worked six days per week from early morning until late in the evening. Many contracts allowed only one day off per month. Contracts often stipulated that, even when not working, a maid was required to remain on the premises unless on official duties or on her day off. Maids often had to set aside most or all of their wages for the first several months of employment to reimburse their placement agents.

Singapore Human Rights Report by US Dept. of State

[Read]

The government has broad powers to limit citizens' rights and to handicap political opposition, which it used in practice. Caning was an allowable punishment for numerous offenses. The following human rights problems were reported:
  • preventive detention
  • executive influence over the judiciary
  • infringement of citizens' privacy rights
  • restriction of speech and press freedom, and the practice of self-censorship by journalists
  • restriction of freedom of assembly and freedom of association
  • some restriction on freedom of religion
  • some trafficking in persons


Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
In March 2004 a detainee claimed that in 2003 police officers used physical means to force him to confess and threatened to arrest his wife. The trial judge ruled that the confession was involuntary, refused to allow it into evidence, and subsequently acquitted the man of all charges. In August 2004 the High Court sustained the ruling that the confession was involuntary and disallowed it. It nonetheless found the accused guilty and sentenced him to two years' imprisonment. The police force took no action against the officers accused of using "physical means" because the detainee had not lodged a complaint prior to the trial.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
The government did not allow human rights monitors to visit prisons; however, diplomatic representatives were given consular access to citizens of their countries.
Denial of Fair Public Trial
Some judicial officials, especially supreme court judges, have ties to the ruling party and its leaders. The president appoints judges to the Supreme Court on the recommendation of the prime minister and in consultation with the chief justice. The president also appoints subordinate court judges on the recommendation of the chief justice. The term of appointment is determined by the Legal Service Commission, of which the chief justice is the chairman. Under the ISA and the CLA, the president and the minister for home affairs have substantial de facto judicial power, which explicitly (in the case of the ISA) or implicitly (in the case of the CLA) excludes normal judicial review.

Government leaders historically have used court proceedings, in particular defamation suits, against political opponents and critics. Both this practice and consistent awards in favor of government plaintiffs raised questions about the relationship between the government and the judiciary and led to a perception that the judiciary reflected the views of the ruling party in politically sensitive cases.
Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
it(government) had a pervasive influence over civic and economic life and sometimes used its broad discretionary powers to infringe on these rights. Normally the police must have a warrant issued by a court to conduct a search; however, they may search a person, home, or a property without a warrant if they decide that such a search is necessary to preserve evidence. The government has wide-ranging discretionary powers under the ISA, CLA, MDA, and UPA to conduct searches without a warrant if it determines that national security, public safety and order, or the public interest is at risk. Defendants may request judicial review of such searches.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Internal Security Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board, have extensive networks for gathering information and conducting surveillance and highly sophisticated capabilities to monitor telephone and other private conversations. No court warrants are required for such operations. The law permits government monitoring of Internet use. It was believed that the authorities routinely monitored telephone conversations and the use of the Internet.
The government enforced ethnic ratios for publicly subsidized housing, where the majority of citizens live and own their own units. The policy was designed to prevent ethnic/racial ghettos. When a housing development is at or near the limit for a particular ethnic group, the policy could make it difficult for owners to sell their apartments and require them to sell to a person of an underrepresented group, potentially at a price below market value.
Freedom of Speech and Press
The government's authoritarian style fostered an atmosphere inimical to free speech and a free press. Government intimidation and pressure to conform resulted in self-censorship among journalists.
Government leaders urged that news media support the goals of the elected leadership and help maintain social and religious harmony. In addition, strict defamation and press laws and the government's demonstrated willingness to respond vigorously to what it considered personal attacks on officials sometimes led journalists and editors to moderate or limit what was published.
Government restrictions limit the ability to speak freely at the Speakers' Corner in a public park. Prospective speakers must be citizens, must show their identification cards, and must register in advance with the police.
In April the government allowed a foreign researcher from Amnesty International to attend a public forum on the death penalty but not to speak. Plainclothes police who were present at the forum demanded to see the forum moderator's identity card to verify that she was a citizen. In May the government denied entry to a foreign national, Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, who had been invited by the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) to speak at a public workshop on nonviolent action. The Ministry of Home Affairs noted that foreigners were not allowed to interfere in domestic politics. The government also reportedly banned the workshop on nonviolence that he was scheduled to attend.

Temasek, Singapore boycott to proceed

A boycott of services and products of Temasek Holdings and Singapore firms in Thailand will proceed as planned as the Singaporean government failed to respond positively to the call for Temasek's pullout from its deal with Shin Corp, said consumer activist Rosana Tositrakul. Ms Rosana, secretary-general of the Thai Health Holistic Foundation, was among anti-government protest leaders who met officials inside the Singapore embassy yesterday to hear the Singaporean government's response to their demand.

On Wednesday, a group of protest leaders submitted a letter to the embassy demanding Singapore order Temasek to pull out of the controversial 73-billion-baht purchase of Shin Corp shares.

However, they were told yesterday that Singaporean companies doing business in Thailand need to abide by Thai law.

In a two-paragraph statement to the People's Alliance for Democracy, it said: ''The Shin Corp-Temasek deal is a private sector deal, done purely on a commercial basis. It is not a government to government deal. The Singapore government does not interfere in the business and operations of Temasek Holdings.

''Temasek Holdings' board and management make their own investment decisions. The Singapore government is not involved. Singapore companies doing business in Thailand are required to observe the laws of Thailand.''

The protest leaders expressed disappointment and urged the city state to review its stance or face public pressure.

Ms Rosana said the protest group told the embassy officials that exploiting legal loopholes to invest in other countries was tantamount to colonialism.

She said that the protest did not aim at instilling hatred between Thai and Singaporean people but to tell the public in both countries that there were ''intentional irregularities'' in the deal and the governments involved could not deny their responsibility.

Some 1,500 demonstrators wearing yellow T-shirts bearing the slogan ''We Love the King'', waving national flags and anti-Thaksin and anti-Temasek banners marched from King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) statue near Lumpini Park to the Singapore embassy on Sathorn road yesterday.

About 200 police officers guarded the embassy during the three-hour gathering organised by the PAD.

Temasek officials in Singapore told the Straits Times that the firm is going ahead with the purchase of a controlling interest in Shin despite threats of a boycott of Singapore products if the deal proceeds.

Yesterday was the last day of the official tender offer. Under Thai law, Temasek must make a mandatory tender offer for the remaining 51% stake in Shin Corp at 49.25 baht per share, the same price paid to the Shinawatras and Damapongs.

To circumvent laws limiting the foreign holding in Thai telecoms companies to 49%, Temasek has set up two Thai-incorporated companies _ Aspen Holdings and Cedar Holdings as the investors _ so that upon completion of the transaction Shin Corp would remain a majority Thai-owned firm.

Dej Pumkacha, adviser of the NGOs Coordinating Committee, said the statement implied Singapore acknowledged the Thai leadership's dishonest behaviour.

He said the two countries' leaders have very close ties and there were dubious conflicts of interest also since Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's wife was president of Temasek while Shin was owned by the Thai prime minister's family.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Boycott campaign gains momentum

The campaign to boycott products and services provided by Shin Corp and Singaporean businesses is gaining momentum as the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) uses the purchase of Shin Corp shares by Temasek Holdings to pressure caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to step down. The campaign strategy to unseat Mr Thaksin has now shifted towards consumers as activists draw up a ''boycott list'' of goods and services linked to Shin Corp and Singapore.

Consumer rights activists believe the negative ''economic momentum'' added to the protest efforts will hasten Mr Thaksin's demise.

The Foundation for Consumers and supporters of PAD picketed the embassy of Singapore yesterday, which has become a target of ire after the Singaporean government's investment arm, Temasek Holdings, bought shares of Shin Corp in a deal valued at 73 billion baht.

Some of the products and services provided by Shin Corp and Singaporean businesses include banks, airlines and hotels.

Rosana Tositrakul, head of the Federation for Consumer Rights Protection, said yesterday that the campaign would spread across Bangkok, beginning at key locations on Silom road and Chatuchak weekend market.

Somsak Kosaisuk, a core leader of the PAD, said the alliance was compiling a list of Singaporean investments in Thailand and would make the information public.

About 20 members of a slum group and the PAD also rallied at Shin Corp's headquarters on Vibhavadi Rangsit road and destroyed SIM cards for mobile phones operated by Advanced Info Service (AIS), a unit of Shin Corp.

Saree Ongsomwang, manager of the Foundation for Consumers, said she expected more people to discard their AIS SIM cards over the coming days.

Fifty boxes would be erected around Bangkok where people can drop off their unwanted SIM cards.

Thirty city police were despatched to guard Shin Corp headquarters. In a symbolic gesture, a large mock-up SIM card carrying the messages: ''No Dignity for AIS Users'', and ''Thailand Is Not for Sale'' was burned.

AIS, the leader in the provision of mobile phone services, is reportedly losing customers to DTAC, the number two.

A major firm in the service sector is apparently switching from AIS to DTAC at the end of the month in what an executive said was a deliberate boycott of AIS rather than a move brought about by competitive incentives offered by DTAC.

Industry sources estimate AIS has about 16 million customers, DTAC eight million and True 4.5 million.

Some consumers are already boycotting products linked to Mr Thaksin and his cronies. A businesswoman who runs a private school said she no longer buys products linked with Mr Thaksin. She said she had stopped serving Nescafe at her school and had switched to rival brands. Nescafe is manufactured in Thailand by a beverage empire owned by Prayudh Mahakitsiri, Thai Rak Thai deputy leader. The woman said she had thrown away her AIS phone and subscribed to DTAC. She has also refused to buy her new handset from MLINK, a firm run by one of Mr Thaksin's sisters.

Amornrat Wongsaenganan, 39, an office worker, said she will switch to DTAC next week. ''AIS is no longer a Thai firm, so there's no reason for me to patronise it.'' Somprasong Boonyachai, executive chairman of AIS, said the company was still registering subscriber growth.

Sigve Brekke, DTAC's chief executive, also played down any impact recent political uncertainties were having on business. He said the company's subscriber base was growing on target thanks to several new promotional campaigns.

Subhak Sivaraksa, president of TMB Bank, which has Singaporean bank DBS as a major shareholder, said he disagreed with the boycott, warning it could hurt Thailand's image in the world market.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

SHIN CORP SALE: PAD tells Singapore to exit deal or face boycott

PAD rallies outside embassy; letter to city-state's PM warns Temasek to nullify pact by tomorrow

Members of the People's Alliance for Democracy rallied in front of the Singaporean Embassy in Bangkok yesterday, demanding that Temasek Holdings pull out of the Shin Corp takeover deal or face a boycott of all Shin products and services.

Holding banners that read "Temasek, Get Out!" and "Thai-land's Not For Sale", about 50 activists shouted "Temasek, Get Out!" during the 20-minute pro-test in the early afternoon.

A senior embassy official came out to receive the group's protest letter.

The letter, addressed to Singa-pore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, called on Temasek to nullify the Shin deal by tomorrow.

If it failed to do this, the group would conclude that Singapore was interfering in Thailand's national security, the letter said.

Apart from controlling a mobile phone business, Shin Corp also has majority stakes in Shin Satellite, Thai AirAsia, iTV and CS Loxinfo.

"Many Thai citizens are closely scrutinising the prime minister's [Thaksin] actions for evidence that he violated the Thai Constitu-tion and many other laws and abused his power to benefit his family's multibillion-baht businesses," the letter said.

"The People's Alliance for Democracy will use every means to stop this purchase, starting with a boycott of every business owned by Shin Corp," it added.

On January 23, Temasek's subsidiaries, Cedar Holdings and Aspen Holdings, bought a 49 per cent stake in Shin Corp for Bt73.3 billion from the Shinawatra and Damapong families.

The two firms are making a public tender for 100 per cent of Shin's shares, offering Bt49.25 a share, as part of the takeover deal.

Tomorrow will be the last day of the tender offer and the deadline for Temasek to alter the terms of its public tender if it concludes there are incidents that could significantly damage the status and assets of Shin Corp.

Thaksin's popularity has sunk into uncharted territory following his family's sale of its stake in Shin.

Many members of the public now believe he has been running the country to advance the interests of his family.

Thaksin has also been accused of selling national assets to Singapore because Shin Corp holds government concessions. The Singaporean government controls Temasek.

Facing growing calls for him to resign, Thaksin dissolved Parliament and called a snap election for April 2.

The alliance has identified the products and services of several Shin Corp subsidiaries as potential targets for a boycott. They include mobile-phone service provider Advanced Info Service, Thai AirAsia, Shin Satellite, Internet provider CS LoxInfo, iTV and consumer finance provider Capital OK.

The protesters said they would return to the Singaporean Embassy tomorrow to receive an official response to their letter from the Singaporean government.

"We will return to the embassy on March 9 to hear the response to our appeal," alliance leader Somsak Kosaisuk said. If there is no response the boycott will begin, Somsak said.

Anti-Singapore sentiment has been rising since the takeover of Shin Corp on January 23. Several groups rallied in front of the Singaporean Embassy early last month to demand that Temasek nullify the deal.

A group of about 30 student activists protested in front of the Singaporean Embassy later yesterday afternoon. They waved Thai flags and banners and called for the Singaporean government to cancel the deal. The group also submitted a letter similar to the one from the alliance.

Senior embassy official Michael Chua said the letters would be forwarded to the Singapore government.

Rossana Kosittrakul - a key member of the alliance - labelled Thaksin a traitor over the sale that saw his family receive Bt73.3 billion tax-free.

"Singapore is Thailand's fierce economic rival," she said. "Selling assets related to national security to Singapore is an act of betrayal."

The protest represented the voice of Thai people who will not accept Singapore's takeover of Thai businesses, she added.

Suriyasai Katasila, another key member of the alliance, said the grouping would adopt a new strategy to pressure Thaksin to resign.

Instead of concentrating the masses at Sanam Luang, it will divide demonstrators into several sub-groups so that they could rally at several places, such as Thai Rak Thai Party's headquarters, the Stock Exchange of Thailand and the Singaporean Embassy.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Maj-General Viroj Chantharangsi said he had ordered the police intelligence unit to monitor the alliance's planned rally at the Singaporean Embassy tomorrow.

"The police are ready and well-prepared for any situations that will happen on the day," he said.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Open letter to Singapore PM on WB-IMF meeting on Sept 19-20, 2006

http://targetwto.revolt.org/node/293

During the SAPA (Strategic Action Planning for Advocacy) meeting in Bangkok (Feb. 3-4), many participants, from Singapore and other national, regional and international organizations expressed their concerns about possible restrictions and threats (including caning for protestors) being made by Singaporean authorities regarding civil society actions at the September meeting of World Bank and IMF in Singapore.

Participants decided that as the first response, concerned civil society groups should send a letter to the Singaporean authorities expressing our concerns.

Below is the open letter drafted by some participants. Should you want to endorse this open letter, please email your name and the name of your organization to ruki@forum-asia.org. Please circulate this also amongst your networks and encourage more civil society groups to join this campaign. Thank you.

8th February 2006

Mr Lee Hsien Loong
Prime Minister
Republic of Singapore

CC.
Ms. Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Ms. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the (UN) Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders
Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom opinion and expression of the UN Commission on Human Rights
Mr. Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of the UN Commission on Human Rights
Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, President, World Bank
Mr. Rodrigo de Rato y Figaredo, Managing Director, IMF

Dear Mr. Lee Hsien Loong;

As a network of the national, regional and international civil society organisations, we the undersigned express our grave concerns about the impending restrictions and threats reportedly being made that will hamper meaningful civil society participation at the upcoming WB-IMF meeting in Singapore, 19-20 September 2006. These threats and restrictions will jeopardize civil society engagement with various inter-governmental bodies on strategic issues such as trade, aid, debt, sustainable development, human rights, peace and human security.

We understand that your government, as well as WB-IMF, are making some arrangements for actions by foreign NGOs, during the above meetings. In our experience such regulated processes tend to be selective, exclusive and provide very limited opportunities for the expression of civil society voices, particularly of marginalised groups who are directly affected by the deliberations and decisions of these meetings. Thus, we would like to highlight the importance of spontaneous and unrestricted civil society actions before, during and after the WB-IMF meeting.

We are also concerned by reports that only selected foreign organisations may be “allowed” to stage peaceful protests – waiving the rules that normally apply in Singapore – and that like-minded Singaporean organisations will not be allowed to do so. We emphasise that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, particularly the right to organize and participate in peaceful protests are universal rights that should be enjoyed by all people, including Singaporean people and organisations.

We consider statements such as the one reportedly made by Mr Wong Kan Seng, Singapore Home Affairs Minister, that certain civil society actions may “attract severe punishment, including caning and imprisonment”, as veiled threats towards civil society.

The World Bank – IMF meeting in September is not a meeting that concerns only Singapore. Its deliberations and decisions will affect millions of people in hundreds of countries. Hence it will bring thousands of activists from all parts of the world to Singapore, and the eyes of the world will be on this country.

This will be an excellent opportunity for Singapore to display its respect and commitment to uphold universally-recognised human rights standards, particularly freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Restrictions on peaceful civil society actions of any kind and threats of using cruel, inhumane and degrading punishments such as caning will only erode Singapore’s credibility in the eyes of global civil society.

We look forward to your response to our concerns.

Sincerely yours,

1. Anselmo Lee, Executive Director, FORUM-ASIA
2. Sinapan Samydorai, President, THINK CENTRE
3. Debbie Stothard, Coordinator, ALTSEAN-Burma
4. Lucia Victor Jayaseelan, Coordinator, Committee for Asian Women
5. Al Alegre, Executive Director, Foundation for Media Alternatives
6. Aileen Bacalso, Secretary-General, Asian Federation Against Disappearance
7. Fred Lubang, Regional Representative, Nonviolence International
8. Lidy Nacpil, International Coordinator, Jubilee South
9. Jenina Joy Chavez, Senior Associate, Focus on the Global South
10. Irene Xavier, Coordinator, TIE Asia
11. Hye-Woo Na, Coordinator, Leaders and Organizers of Community Organization in Asia
12. Zinithiya Ganespanchan, Coordinator, Women's Network for Peace and Freedom
13. Wilfred Dcosta, General Secretary, Indian Social Action Forum
14. Khalid Hayat, Balochistan Rural Development & Research Society
15. Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, AIN O SALISH KENDRA
16. Anis Hidayah, Migrant Care, Perhimpunan Indonesia
17. Agnes Khoo, Executive Director, Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives
18. Mohiuddin Ahmad, Regional Committee, Jubilee South/Asia-Pacific Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD)
19. Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director, NGO Forum on ADB
20. Ana Maria R. Nemenzo, Freedom from Debt Coalition
21. Steve Hellinger, President, The Development GAP
22. Bernadette T. Aquino, World Council of Churches Women and Globalization Program
23. Danielle Mahones, Executive Director, Center for Third World Organizing
24. Deus M. Kibamba, Gender Networking Programme
25. Andrew Mushi, Tanzania Association of Non Governmental Organisations
26. Mouafo Florent Noel, Centre for Promotion of Social and Economic Alternatives
27. Novita M. Tantri, Yayasan NADI
28. Rosemarie R. Trajano, Executive Director, Kanlungan Center Foundation
29. Nikki Reisch, Africa Program Manager, Bank Information Center
30. Dr. Mala Bhandari, Social and Development Research & Action Group NOIDA, India
31. Virgilio da Silva Guterres, President, Timor-Lorosa'e Journalists' Association (TLJA
32. John Mihevc, Chair, Halifax Initiative Coalition, Canada
33. Chris Wangkay, Coordinator for Debt Campaign, INFID (International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development)

Please contact Ruki Fernando, Coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Program of FORUM-ASIA (+66-4-0991538 / ruki@forum-asia.org) for further details and information.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Boycott Singapore Airlines in protest against government repression during World Bank and IMF Annual Meeting.

The Singapore Government has issued a warning that it is prepared to cane or imprison protestors who commit “violent crimes” during the forthcoming Annual Meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which will be held in Singapore in September this year.

As part of a policy of constructive engagement, the World Bank and IMF have allowed non-governmental organisations to hold rallies at annual meetings as long as the groups are accredited by the two organisations.

But the Singapore Government does not normally allow demonstrations so this warning to cane or imprison "violent" protesters is indeed most disconcerting.

It is difficult to fathom how the Government will be able to anticipate and vet those suspected of "violent' acts. The result will likely be an unwarranted screening of participants to the official meetings and related events as well as anyone who enters Singapore during that period.

Imposing restrictions on demonstrations by civil society to express their outrage at the brutal policies of the IMF and World Bank is a restriction on the freedom of expression and their right to dissent against the unjust policies of the Bretton Woods institutions.

In order to show our protest against the Singapore Government's approach in this regard, we urge all citizen groups to do the following:

- Immediately boycott Singapore Airlines (the national carrier) for all world travel


- Express our protest in front of the Singapore Airlines offices around the world calling on people to boycott the airlines in view of the policy of the Singapore government


We hope you will make all efforts to ensure that sufficient pressure is put on Singapore Airlines as a symbol of our collective protest against the Singapore Government.

FINANCE: CAN SINGAPORE SILENCE ACTIVISTS AT WORLD BANK/IMF MEET?

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2006 (IPS/GIN) -- Concern is brewing among advocacy groups that monitor the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, a staple of protests during the annual meetings of the two organizations, after Singapore threatened a crackdown on some of their activities.


A number of international civil society groups are drafting a letter to the government of Singapore to dissuade the country from vows that its chief security official made against their activities.

Singapore's Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng had reportedly said that certain civil society actions may "attract severe punishment, including caning and imprisonment" in this Southeast Asian country where a political gathering of more than four people requires a security permit.

Activists interpreted this as a veiled threat and wrote a letter to be sent to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, possibly later this week, asking him to roll back the warning and allow full access to the groups during the Sept. 19-20 meetings.

"Many groups are concerned about these threats and intimidations, but are determined not to let such threats undermine actions being planned," said Rukshan Fernando of the Bangkok-based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) in an e-mail message to IPS.

The 184-member IMF and the World Bank will hold their annual meeting amid what is expected to be highly tight security in the wealthy city-state, where public demonstrations are banned and the last police license for a demonstration was issued in the late 1980s.

The annual meetings, held outside of Washington, D.C., once every three years, are the largest and most comprehensive gathering of global financial representatives in the world. They are expected to draw about 16,000 visitors this year.

Organizers in Singapore, a country of 4.5 million people, expect some 300 to 500 non-governmental organizations to be accredited by the IMF and World Bank for the meeting.

Meetings for international financial and trade institutions, which often discuss the course of global economic development and plan the underpinning policy strategies, have attracted heated activities from advocacy groups along with street protests, some of them marred by violence.

Around 30,000 demonstrators turned up for the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle, and more than 20,000 protested against the bank and fund in Washington the following year. However, fewer numbers have protested since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Some critics have pointed out that these institutions have been holding their meetings in tightly controlled countries, including the last IMF/World Bank meeting outside Washington, held in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. In 2001, the WTO organized its ministerial conference in Doha, the capital of Qatar, ruled by an authoritarian regime with close military ties to the United States.

Singapore, however, where people are penalized for failing to flush a public lavatory, for instance, had to accept a request by the IMF and World Bank to allow demonstrations during the meeting in order to be able to host the gathering, which usually attracts finance, trade ministers and central bank governors from around the globe.

But activists say that if implemented, the threats from Singapore to restrict their activities could impede their engagement during the meetings on strategic issues such as trade, aid, debt and sustainable development.

"Thus, we would like to highlight the importance of spontaneous and unrestricted civil society actions before, during and after the WB-IMF meeting," the groups said in their draft letter to the Singapore government.

Dozens of organizations have endorsed the letter so far. These include Focus on the Global South, the Halifax Initiative Coalition in Canada, the Think Center, and Jubilee South.

Singapore says that the IMF and World Bank have an "established process" to engage these groups, including having them take part in activities throughout the annual meetings.

The groups said they expect that even the regulated processes, agreed upon by the IMF and the World Bank with the government of Singapore, will likely follow previous patterns where participation has been selective and exclusive, and has provided limited opportunities for the expression of activist voices.

But a spokesperson for the IMF told IPS that the security issue for the meeting is under discussion with the government of Singapore and said his institution will press for the full participation of advocacy groups.

"The bottom line is that we want to have an inclusive meeting, with active and open NGO participation. That's the whole plan," said William Murray of the IMF. "I am not aware of any desire by anybody to cane anybody. This is a hypothetical situation and frankly security is an issue of ongoing discussions."

NGOs have long criticized the IMF and the World Bank, both dominated by industrialized nations, for placing the interests of international corporations, the rich and local elites before the middle classes and the poor around the world.

Another point of alarm for activists were statements by the government that it would only allow peaceful protests by foreign organizations -- waiving the rules that normally apply in Singapore -- and that local groups will not be able to participate.

The activists said that peaceful protests are universal rights that should be extended "to all people, including Singaporean people and organizations."

Earlier in January, the Consumers Association of Penang and Friends of the Earth Malaysia called for a boycott of Singapore Airlines, the national carrier, to protest the warning issued by the Singapore government that it is prepared to "cane" or imprison protesters.

"Imposing restrictions on demonstrations by civil society to express their outrage at the brutal policies of the IMF and World Bank that impoverish societies and destroy the environment is indeed a restriction on the freedom of expression and the right to dissent against unjust policies," said Mohd Idris, who heads the two groups.

Activists fear that Singapore's vow to restrict civil society groups is likely to be translated into unwarranted screening of participants in the events and anyone who enters Singapore during that period.

The Singapore government has been keen to use the opportunity to promote tourism and showcase the country as a leading financial center.

During the last annual meetings in Washington, it set up a colorful booth to advertise its housing in 2006. It has already launched a Web site in anticipation of the event that touts the country's glittering skyscrapers and thriving port. Singapore says it has also prepared a visual arts extravaganza that will take place for the first time in Southeast Asia.

Boycott call: Singapore threatens anti-World Bank Protestors

Subject: GLOBAL CALL FOR ACTION TO BOYCOTT SINGAPORE AIRLINES - urgent
action needed
Date: Thu, 19 Jan 2006 16:05:08 +0800
From: Meena Raman


Dear Friends,

Please see the press reports yesterday which gives details about the Singapore Government warning to protestors.

The warning came as Singapore suggested it might impose restrictions on n agreement with the IMF and the World Bank to allow demonstrations during their meetings in September.

The Singapore Government does not normally allow demonstrations and this warning to cane or imprison "violent" protesters is indeed most disconcerting. It is difficult to fathom how the Government will be able to anticipate and vet those suspected of "violent' acts. The result will likely be an unwarranted screening of particpants to the events related to the official meetings and anyone who enters Singapore during that period. Moreover, how does one ensure that peaceful demonstrations do not turn problematic when they could be all kinds of provocation and
unforseen situations that can arise as seen in other recent protests
against the Bretton Woods institutions.

Further, imposing restrictions on demonstrations by civil society to
express their outrage at the brutal policies of the IMF and World Bank that impoverish societies and destroy the environment, is indeed a restriction on the freedom of expression and the right to dissent against unjust policies of the Bretton Woods institutions.

In order to show our protest against the Singapore Government's
approach in this regard, we urge all all citizen groups to do the
following:-

- immediately boycott Singapore Airlines (the national carrier) for
all world travel
- express our protest in front of the Singapore Airlines offices around the world calling on people to boycott the airlines in view of the policy of the Singapore Government

We hope you would make all efforts to ensure that sufficient pressure is put on Singapore Airlines as a symbol of our collective protest against the Singapore Government.

Mr. S. Mohd Idris,
President
Consumers Association of Penang
Friends of the Earth Malaysia