I would have you know that, if you kill such a one as I am, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me. I do not deny that [you] may, perhaps, kill [me], or drive [me] into exile, or deprive [me] of civil rights. … [But] the evil of … of unjustly taking away another man's life [or injuring another] is greater [far than that of being injured unjustly]. Socrates, Plato's Apology
Six women have been held in contempt of court in a country that has been noted by many for its use of the apparatus of the Internal Security Department (ISD) to deprive political opponents and critics of Lee Kuan Yew and his regime of their personal liberty and other due process rights.
As several third party reports make clear, the judicial branch of government does not always operate independently in Singapore, but often serves as an arm of the far more powerful executive branch. Thus, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs observed in its "Freedom of Speech Report" for 2006, "Singapore courts have held that [even] speech questioning the integrity and independence of the judiciary is not allowed as it is "harmful to the public interest" and will "lower the authority of the courts."
According to the United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2003, defamation suits against political opponents of the PAP and its leadership are always decided in favor of government plaintiffs. According to the same report, this indicates to many that the PAP and its leadership use the judicial system for political purposes.
Asian Human Rights Watch similarly notes in their 2005 report, The Absence of the Rule of Law and the Actualization of Human Rights: a Contradiction that Must be Resolved, in Singapore, that "the ruling party [the People's Action Party] is also virtually the state….The capacity to assert one's rights do not exist in this environment at all. The absolute denial of rights makes it impossible for the realization of any … rights."
Against this backdrop, the six women who had the courage to follow their conscience and do the right thing for their fellow citizens and for Singapore have been held in contempt of court and placed in a Singapore jail, for insisting on their right to a fair trial. This has occurred after they were deprived of their right to legal counsel of their choice, a courtroom open to the public, and the right to cross-examine witnesses in support of their own defense.
What about the charges filed against them? In this regard, it is important to recall that sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, these women have been arrested on a charge of assembling without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for an assembly. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used, as it is in this case, to deny citizens their constitutional privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.
Writing to us from the Birmingham jail where he was imprisoned for his acts of civil disobedience, Martin Luther King made clear to the American public that the question is not "Why am I in jail?" But rather, "why are all good people not in jail with me"? HRLF commends those who like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King took the high road to justice in Singapore, accepting and enduring the ordeal of jail for the sake of a far grander cause—moral integrity and virtue.