Singapore sees first protest since rules eased
SINGAPORE, Sept 2, 2008 (AFP) – The first public protest has taken place in Singapore since the city-state slightly eased its tough rules on outdoor assemblies, an activist and an official confirmed Tuesday.
A group of volunteers who offer support to abused maids on Monday night became the first to stage a demonstration since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said two weeks ago the ban should be eased.
Mike Goh, founder of Hearer of Cries, gathered at Speakers’ Corner, a park already allocated for limited free speech, with fellow volunteers to stage a 10-minute protest on the plight of abused maids.
A member of the group posed as an injured abused maid wearing a neck brace, while banners were held showing opposition to employers who bully their domestic helpers.
Goh said the demonstration was intended to be “short and to the point”.
The group originally intended to give a speech — which has been allowed at Speakers’ Corner since 2000. But at the last minute they decided a demonstration would be more effective, Goh said in an e-mailed reply to AFP.
A spokeswoman with the National Parks Board, which runs Speakers’ Corner, confirmed a demonstration had taken place Monday evening.
Speakers or demonstrators are required to register online with the Parks Board.
Under the liberalised rules announced by Lee, demonstrations are now allowed without a police permit at Speakers’ Corner but discussion of religion, or other topics which might provoke racial tension, are still forbidden.
Outside Speakers’ Corner it remains illegal to hold a public gathering of five or more people without a police permit.
Singapore’s leaders say tough laws against dissent and other political activity are necessary to ensure the stability that has helped the city-state achieve economic success.
Some activists have dismissed the new rules as a token gesture by the People’s Action Party, which has ruled the tightly controlled city-state since 1959.