Malaysian C P Teoh has been called up by the police for the Bersih 2.0 event at Hong Lim Park last Saturday, 9 July 2011, reported the Straits Times. Although styled as a picnic — for which no prior registration is needed — the police have now judged the event to have been rather more than that.
An estimated 120 people, according to the newspaper, were there with most donning yellow T-shirts as an expression of solidarity with a planned march in Kuala Lumpur the same day to call for clean elections and related political processes.
In Singapore, the supporters – clad in yellow – sat on the grass in small groups for two hours or so, discussing the drama in the Malaysian capital as it unfolded.
Some stencilled the word Bersih on their umbrellas and T-shirts, while a small group gave out yellow roses to remind people of the movement’s non-violent stand.
The gathering ended at 4pm with a group photo and a shout of ‘Bersih’.
— Straits Times, 9 July 2011, Speakers’ Corner event ‘required permit’, by Teh Joo Lin
It is not yet clear whether Teoh will face any charges.
The [police] spokesman said the police take a ‘serious view of foreigners who import their domestic political conflicts into Singapore, and of foreigners who use Singapore as a stage for such political agitation’.
We should stop for a moment and examine this statement, for what it reflects is not so much any wrongdoing on the part of Malaysians and other foreigners but the kind of frog-in-a-well mentality propagated by our single-party dominant state.
Politics is a natural expression of humans’ social nature. It can hardly be divorced from our identities without damaging our psyches. It is as natural as wanting to celebrate customary festivals, marking anniversaries, attending concerts or helping out with an act of altruism. All these are ways by which humans engage in community, partaking of it, contributing to it. Politics is no different.
Yet in Singapore, we are conditioned to see it as a dangerous activity that must be tightly regulated. You see the word “agitation” automatically appended by the police spokesman to “political” above, connoting a threat to order and stability — this word-trick is part of the mind-fuck process Singaporeans are subjected to all their lives.
The Malaysians who went to Hong Lim Park did something any well-adjusted human would want to do. The Singapore authorities that want to clamp down on it are the ones on the dark side — they are the ones who would cauterise our brains, making us think that engaging in politics is an activity in a special class of its own requiring ring-fencing.
One might argue — it’s only registration, a procedural matter, how objectionable can it be? Well, firstly, even if Teoh had applied, he’d probably not get the permit. The rules say that only Singapore citizens can organise a demonstration at the Speakers’ Corner. Secondly, have we forgotten so quickly how absurd it is that (relatively) free speech and freedom of assembly is confined to just one park? This proves my point again that we have stigmatised what should be a natural part of our humanity.
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And yet, we dream of a cosmopolitan city, welcoming talent from around the world. As the rhetoric goes, we must ensure that Singapore is the place of choice for them to live and work. To that end, for the last 15 years, we’ve been speaking of creating buzz, allowing space for different cultures and lifestyles. But mostly, the space is freed up just for consumerism. When foreigners want to express themselves politically — even if it’s a matter related to their home country — or want to participate in the civil society of Singapore, all kinds of barriers come crashing down. Worse yet, all kinds of punitive measures are applied.
Several Burmese who in past years have voiced dissent against the military junta that ruled their country have had their permanent residency, employment passes, etc, terminated by our government. By expelling them we disrupted their careers or studies and separated them from loved ones who remain in Singapore. Their cause was a just one. By that token, action by the Singapore government was unjust.
Not only does Singapore want brain-cauterised Singaporeans, we want all foreigners coming here to contribute their skills and labour to our society and economy, to put on straitjackets on entering. We want them decontaminated of political impulses, and become, like Singaporeans, mere economic and consumerist automatons.
Unless, of course, they support the single party that dominates this state. In that case, please speak up and laud our tremendous achievements.