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To Singapore, With Love, And Disappointment

Disappointment at the Singapore government and its censorship. I have not watched Tan Pin Pin’s latest film but I want to watch it if it comes out in Youtube. Despite accolades from film festivals which tells us what kind of audience the film appeals to, I had no interest in it since her films like Singapore Gaga are not engaging for me. That changed when the film was banned from public screening, but allowed for private screening. Sounds absurd but we cannot fullly fathom how bureaucrats think and that they still don’t realise that banning a film makes it even more appealing, like a forbidden fruit.

I remember Martyn See’s earlier films which were banned, like Singapore Rebel, which was about Dr Chee Soon Juan. The film was entertaining and biased in favour of SDP, which the film was upfront about. Any reasonable audience would see that message and take it with a pinch of salt, or a huge fist of salt if one supported the PAP, WP, NSP etc.

At least the censors did not ask for the film to be pulped, like certain children’s books in the national libraries. That earlier censorship story and changing access to the controversial books has lessons on this one. Add a MDA disclaimer to Tan Pin Pin’s film, or give it a R(A) rating to exclude non-mature viewers. A ban just shows that censorship is thriving still in Singapore.

 

 
Film banned: Real threat or just wounded pride
Mariam Mokhtar | September 12

A ban on a film is usually counter-productive. Borrowing a phrase from Heineken, a ban on a film has the effect of reaching the parts other films cannot reach. Singapore is a country which people around the world look up to. That is why the move to ban director, Tan Pin Pin’s award-winning film, “To Singapore, With Love”, proves that the government of Singapore is desperate, vindictive and afraid. Ironically, Singapore has ambition to be an Asian film and cultural hub.

Desperation makes people take desperate measures. In a world made smaller by Internet and social media, the banned film will now be viewed by more people than if the government had approved it for screening. The ban has inadvertently given the film a boost and generated much publicity, across the globe.

As the government of Singapore (and other autocratic nations) will discover, a ban makes people curious. Ordinary Singaporeans are like other human beings. They will want to know what it is that they have been stopped from seeing. They will become interested and want their curiosity sated.

When books are banned, a pdf version almost always pops up in cyberspace. When a film is banned, most people will attempt to find a copy of the film, to see it and judge for themselves, why the film failed to receive government approval.

The documentary “To Singapore, With Love” gives us a glimpse into the lives of nine Singaporeans, some of whom left the island in the early 1960s. One has since died, but many have not returned, simply because they would be refused entry to Singapore or like one political pundit said, “They can return…and be escorted straight to prison.”

The book “Escape from the Lion’s Paw”, sparked filmmaker Tan’s quest to find out more about the Singaporean dissidents, and to film their lives in exile.

The statement released by the Singapore Media Development Authority (MDA) said that the film was judged to “undermine national security because legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals”.

Although some of the older exiles in the film had joined the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) in the 1950s and 1960s, the Singapore government appears to have overlooked the 1989 Hatyai Peace Agreement, between the Malaysian government and the CPM. These former communists, who are in their 70s and 80s, are living in Thailand and are not living rough in the jungles of the peninsula, attempting to overthrow any government.
So, it is highly likely that the ban is targeted at the second group of individuals, the former student activists who went into exile in the late 1970s. This is the group which the government of Singapore really fears.

These former student activists, who were rounded up in the mid-1970s, were highlighting humanitarian and social issues, workers’ rights and the government’s neglect of certain communities. These student activists escaped being incarcerated, under Singapore’s draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) by lying low, then escaping into exile. They were later stripped of their citizenship.

The failure to capture these activists has embarrassed the Singapore government. Forty years later, the government is still sore with them. That is why the men and women have been branded “communists” or “communist sympathisers”.

These former student activists have remained vocal, with their bold criticisms of the Singapore government. The authorities are afraid that their actions will embolden ordinary Singaporeans and students to stand up for their rights and demand their various freedoms. The authorities are afraid of criticism and an open culture of free speech. These former activists have neither reformed, nor mellowed with age. These voices from the past may be the catalyst for change.

Singaporeans are just as repressed as their Malaysian counterparts. Although both countries share a common history, and perhaps, a common destiny, it may be easier to restore a true democracy in Singapore, as Malaysia is hampered by the emotional baggage comprising race, religion and royalty.

Next week, “To Singapore, With Love”, is scheduled to be screened in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, during the Freedom Film Festival, and should attract scores of Singaporeans.
Perhaps, the Singaporean government will kick up a fuss, and Najib Tun Razak, who is also flexing his autocratic muscles, by clamping down on dissenters, with his sedition dragnet, will tell his Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, “You help me, I help you” and forbid the screening in Johor Bahru, under some national security pretext.

Despite its development, its stature in the financial world, its first class education system and its success as an international port, deep down, the people who run the Singapore government are as insecure as the man in a sampan, who can see a storm approaching on the horizon.

Sedition in Malaysia

Perkasa, a Malay supremacist party and ardent supporter of UMNO, supports the Sedition Act. No surprise, just as no surprise that Suaram is on the other end of the court. The National Harmony Act is supposed to be more precise in dealing with race and religious hate crime, and would replace the Sedition Act. The joke on the Sedition Act or its successor is that if there is any party that should be slapped with the Sedition Act, it should be Perkasa. Right wing politics is getting popular again even in Western democracies in Europe, so Perkasa’s rise is not an anomaly given UMNO’s reaction on Chinese voters’ supposed betrayal after the last Malaysian elections.  Malaysia successfully tried this old wine in new bottle move before when it repealed the Internal Security Act as a populist measure, and replaced it with the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012. Najib will repeat the trick. That is actually the best balance if the National Harmony Act is not all encompassing to indiscriminately net regime critics in multi-ethnic Malaysia.

Malaysia’s Sedition Debate
As the government continues to wield the colonial-era legislation, opposition is mounting.

It came as a surprise when Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced in 2012 that he was intending to repeal the Sedition Act, a piece of legislation left over from British colonial rule. People were hopeful, thinking that the abolition of such draconian laws could bring more civil liberties for Malaysians.

Fast-forward two years and hope now seems to be in short supply. Although Najib has again reiterated his intention to repeal the law, the Sedition Act is far from gone. The government has said that it aims to present the National Harmony Act Bill – a piece of replacement legislation to counter religious or racial hatred – to Parliament in 2015.

In the meantime, people are still being charged and investigated for sedition. Four opposition politicians and a law lecturer have been taken to court under the Sedition Act in the past month alone. A student was investigated under the Act for allegedly having “liked” an “I Love Israel” Facebook page, a Malaysiakini journalist was arrested for her interview with an executive councillor in Penang and a former student activist jailed for 10 months for a speech he had given.

A law introduced by the British colonial powers in 1948 to combat Communists, the Sedition Act outlaws any action that would “excite disaffection” against any ruler, government or the administration of justice in Malaysia. The maximum penalty for breaching this law is three years’ imprisonment, a RM5,000 (approx. USD1,573) fine, or both.

N Surendran, vice-president of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and one of the lawyers for the beleaguered opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, was charged with sedition on August 18 for his criticism of a court judgment relating to Anwar’s case. He later faced another sedition charge for saying that the sodomy charges against Anwar were politically motivated.

“It’s a sedition blitz. This is clearly an attempt to stifle dissent,” he told AFP.

“The reason why the Sedition Act is still in place is because it is so easy to use against dissidents,” said Syahredzan Johan, the chair of the National Young Lawyers Committee within the Malaysian Bar Council. “The Act is drafted very wide, so any form of dissent can be drafted in. It has a low threshold: there’s no need to prove intention or that anyone was incited. All you need is to prove that those things were published or uttered and you’ve got your conviction.”

Others also believe that there is an element of opposition within UMNO – part of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition – itself towards Najib’s attempt at being a “reformer.”

“The Najib government is using the easiest tool remaining, now that the [Internal Security Act] has been changed,” Bridget Welsh, Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University, wrote in an email to The Diplomat. “It also is part of an effort to taint the opposition as ‘betraying’ the country and potentially removing key leaders from positions. It reflects jockeying for positions and prestige within UMNO.”

Human rights advocates are also concerned about the Act’s impact on freedom of expression in Malaysia. “With so many people under the investigation, arrest and charges of the Sedition Act, and the conviction of student activist Safwan Anang, the Sedition Act is going to have a very serious a chilling effects on freedom of expression of the ordinary Malaysians,” wrote human rights organization SUARAM in response to questions from The Diplomat.

With citizens deterred from criticizing the government or state officials, critics worry that politicians and high-ranking officials would no longer be held to account by the people they serve, and allowed to behave with more and more impunity.

The Malaysian Bar Council will not be sitting idle. On September 4 the National Young Lawyers Committee (NYLC) launched #MansuhAktaHasutan (#AbolishSeditionAct in English), a year-long campaign to gather grassroots support across Malaysia for the repeal of the Sedition Act.

Although the backlash against the Sedition Act has already gained some momentum, Syahredzan says it’s still necessary to take a year to reach out to more people and conduct public education campaigns on the Sedition Act.

“For us to demand repeal now… I don’t think any significant change is going to happen. You need political will, and political will will only come when the government thinks there is a significant number of Malaysians who don’t want the Act,” he said.

To get this significant number, #MansuhAktaHasutan campaigners are prioritizing a push to gain broad-based support across the country. Political campaigns in Malaysia have often been criticized as being too heavily based in the capital of Kuala Lumpur, neglecting more rural areas where political education may be lacking and public opinion very different from that in the urban center. Such KL-centric campaigns, Syahredzan says, allow the government to claim that activists are not reflecting the wider public sentiment, and to dismiss protests.

The NYLC will not be the only ones looking at public education. More than a hundred NGOs, including SUARAM, have come together to launch the Abolish Sedition Act Movement. They plan to launch a nationwide roadshow – accompanied with a parallel social media campaign – that will raise awareness about the Sedition Act and the need for repeal.

“What is important is that we need to gain that critical mass of people who are going to say that they don’t want to support the Sedition Act any longer. This is crucial,” Syahredzan said. “After one year we can tell the government that we’ve gone and done this campaign, we’ve gathered the support and we can show them with the signatures we’ve collected.”

He continues to say that the NYLC will not shy away from collaborations with political parties. “I’m quite certain that we cannot effectively have this campaign without cooperating with political parties. The Malaysian Bar has a limited reach outside of the urban centers. We are open to working with anyone! Even if there is a person in Barisan Nasional who is against the Sedition Act and wants to work with us, we are open and willing to work with them.”

While SUARAM does not believe that any other piece of legislation would be necessary to replace the Sedition Act, Syahredzan had actually been involved in drafting one of the three replacement bills as part of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC).

“That bill put the threshold of criminalizing free speech at a much higher threshold. You need to prove that there is an intention to actually incite racial hatred. There must be an element of harm, or actual incitement to physical harm, injuries to persons or damage to property. The replacement bill doesn’t criminalize any criticism of the government or court judgments and so on and so forth,” he said.

The three bills were met with harsh criticism. Detractors said that the bills were against Islam, and would undermine the position of Malay Muslims in the country. Others slammed the NUCC for not carrying out more public engagement. Still others had problems with a clause that prohibited discrimination based on gender.

In fact, there are some groups who don’t want to see the Sedition Act to go at all. The National Unity Front – a group formed by Malay rights group Perkasa and 54 other Malay organizations – have launched a pro-Sedition Act campaign in response to #MansuhAktaHasutan.

Syahredzan is unsure of what will become of the bills. “The government shelved the bills. They said it would only be presented to Parliament sometime next year. I don’t know if these bills will see the light of day.”

That may yet change if activists from #MansuhAktaHasutan and the Abolish Sedition Act Movement are successful in their push to mobilize grassroots support. As public education campaigns begin to roll out across the length and breadth of Malaysia, the prime minister might find it harder and harder to break his promises.

Kirsten Han is a writer, videographer and photographer. Originally from Singapore, she has worked on documentary projects around Asia and written for publications including Waging Nonviolence, Asian Correspondent and The Huffington Post.

ISIS Propaganda in Singapore

A Singapore company Albenyahya Enterprise started selling ISIS flags but stopped after they received flak. From pictures on social media on that shop, apart from the black flags that ISIS used for its jihad colours, there was one man with camo pants and camo scarf wrapped around his face like a balaclava, with black flag in the background. He also imitated the jihad camaraderie with one index finger pointing up, like a number one finger gesture, to reflect Islam’s monotheism according to some explanations. Supporters of the shop owner Syed Mohammad Faisal BenYahya described that the flags are innocuous. Yes the Islamic declaration of monotheism is innocuous. However, seen in context, one such black flag is used by ISIS despite prevarications by apologists. With the black flag and its connotations of total war, ISIS propaganda has gain some ground here among the ignorant at best or belligerent at worst, little doubt about that.

Firm selling Islamic State-like flags denies terrorist links

SINGAPORE — The owner of a company here that had sold flags resembling those of the Islamic State (IS) yesterday denied having any links to the militant group and has filed a police report against those accusing the firm of having an extremist bent.

Albenyahya Enterprise — which is registered in Singapore and Malaysia and aims to cater to the needs of the Muslim community in the region — had sold the flags online.

A post on the company’s Instagram three weeks ago indicated that the flags were then in stock and were sold for S$17 each.

Its owner, Mr Syed Mohammad Faisal BenYahya, told TODAY that the police report was filed on Tuesday, but declined to comment on the sale of the flags.

“We are currently not selling the flags anymore, it was just a one-off thing due to customer requests,” he said in a phone interview yesterday.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) cited an article by two scholars, Mr Mustazah Bahari and Mr Muhammad Haniff Hassan, which stated that the use of black flags by radical groups, including IS militants, “is simply an act of manipulation of popular myths and folklores among Muslims to support their political agenda”.

In its statement, MUIS reiterated that the IS’ actions have tarnished the Islamic faith and image of Muslims in general, adding: “We have communicated this through our Friday sermons previously.”

In an earlier post on the Albenyahya Enterprise’s Facebook page — before the page was taken down around 2pm yesterday — Mr Faisal had called the allegations of extremist links “baseless accusations” and sought customers’ understanding on the matter.

His post said: “It has come to my attention that an unfortunate post on a website has accused and/or linked my business (and by extension, myself) as ‘supporters’ of terrorism.

“Upon legal advice, to protect my name, my family and my business, I have made a police report with regards to this incident.”

A Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) spokesperson yesterday confirmed that a police report “related to the purported sale of IS flags in Singapore” had been made and reminded Singaporeans to play a part in preventing their family and friends from becoming radicalised and unknowingly drawn into the violence.

“The IS has enlisted foreign fighters, including those from our region, to fight alongside the group and this has raised the threat of terrorism to Singapore. The authorities are monitoring the situation closely,” the spokesperson said.

In July, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament that a handful of Singapore citizens, including two families, had gone to participate in the Syrian conflict.

Mr Teo also said that several others, who had intended to travel to Syria or other conflict zones to engage in jihadist violence, were detained under the Internal Security Act and there were also those who were under investigation for expressing interest in joining the fight.

Sedition Act in Malaysia

The Sedition Act is a colonial leftover. Singapore has it, so does Malaysia. Malaysia has, according to accusations, used the Act on the opposition. Some have called the Act the new ISA, heralding Ops Lallang 2. Malaysia’s human rights watch dog Suhakam reminded the government to keep to its word to repeal the 1948 Act as promised. Najib probably would to claw back support later like when it repealed the ISA. But not now, certainly not before regime critics like the UM law lecturer are dealt with first.

 

DARK DAYS AHEAD FOR M’SIA: Return to hardline rule signals Najib’s political desperation
Written by Charles Santiago

So now, legal experts can’t have a legal opinion. Now that I have written it in one sentence, it looks really weird. More so as a law lecturer, Dr Azmi Sharom, is charged for sedition for providing his legal opinion.

In a newspaper interview, Azmi drew parallels between the Perak constitutional crisis and the current mess in Selangor.

He said the former Perak Sultan had gone against his own constitutional ruling by accepting the petition outside the House, a move which saw the fall of a democratically elected Pakatan Rakyat government.

In his own words, Azmi said the ruler took part in a secret meeting. This is a conjecture which should be allowed in a democracy and academic inquiry.

But let’s look at the wider picture- last month a slew of Opposition politicians were nabbed under sedition either for upsetting the royalty or calling a spade a spade!

Clearly these arrests signal a crackdown on dissenting views. It’s a high-handed attempt to muzzle critical, alternative thinking.

Dark days loom for Malaysia

Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged to scrap the Sedition Act as a part of his political reform to allow for greater freedom of expression in the country.

But going back on his words, Najib is now using the decades-old colonial Act to gag critics, stifle criticisms against the government, keep a lid on political dissent and rob people of their inherent rights, just to cling on to power.

Najib’s administration has played along with this selective outrage at the Opposition politicians and Azmi while those close to the ruling government are yet to face the music for damning remarks, which will further erode the social fabric of the society.

This extraordinary double standard caricatures the lack of tolerance for legitimate questions about the ruling government and Najib’s ruthless style of governance.

The continued use of the Sedition Act will only serve to further weaken and dismantle the foundations of human rights in Malaysia.

All is not lost. Najib and his government can embark on a reputation cleansing exercise by dropping all sedition charges and instead engaging with Opposition politicians, academics and human rights workers in open discussions.

Malaysia’s Independence Day was marred by these arrests that were violations of fundamental democratic principles.

Let’s at least try and make Malaysia Day, which falls on September 16, a catalyst for change.

Charles Santiago is Member of Parliament, Klang

The ISIS Peril in the Region

ISIS is more than mere a bogeyman paraded by governments, whatever cynics might think of governments crying wolf. Its documented barbarism and appeal to militants to flock to Iraq and Syria is alarming. Already the UK said they would not allow UK citizens who fight with the militants to return to the UK. The Singapore government recently mentioned that some locals were with the militants in Syria, and this reflects a global trend of the romanticised militant-adventurer with an AK47 in the desert. After all, Indonesians and Malaysians are already there, and our neighbours are worried that these battle-hardened militants would return home, if they survived Syria, and revive terrorism in the region. Indonesia, with its new president, would not want another Bali or Jarkata bombing and already made statements that ISIS should not be tolerated. Rightly so.

 
ISIS in Southeast Asia
Canberra and Jakarta settle their intel rift, as jihadi recruiting grows.

ISIS is attracting followers from Muslim communities across the Asia-Pacific. In Indonesia, radical groups have declared support for the Islamic State in Jakarta, Surakarta and other cities. In Malaysia, police say they have arrested 19 ISIS-inspired militants planning attacks against pubs, discos and a Carlsberg brewery in and around Kuala Lumpur. Australia estimates that 150 of its citizens are now fighting with ISIS in the Middle East, with 15 Australians among the dead, including two suicide bombers.

In the face of this threat, governments need to broaden avenues of cooperation. So it’s good news that Indonesia and Australia have finally ended a feud that started last November with Edward Snowden’s revelations that the Australian Signals Directorate tried to tap the phones of Indonesia’s President and his top advisers, including the first lady, for 15 days in August 2009.

The disclosures caused a serious rift as Jakarta limited imports of Australian beef, froze trade talks, recalled its ambassador, suspended cooperation on border security and curbed military and intelligence cooperation. Protesters burned flags and effigies in front of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

Last week’s deal doesn’t forswear future snooping—only the use of spy resources “to harm each other’s interests,” according to Australia’s Foreign Minister. But it allows the countries to restore and expand intelligence sharing.

That’s necessary given the multinational and connected nature of modern-day jihadism. The October 2002 Bali bombing killed 202 people from at least 23 countries, including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians, 27 Britons and seven Americans. The alleged spiritual leader of the bombers, radical cleric Abu Bakr Bashir, has pledged allegiance to ISIS from prison.

Jakarta estimates that some 60 of its citizens are fighting for ISIS, but the real number is probably higher. One potential future target is the Borobudur Temple in Java, a major tourist attraction and the world’s largest Buddhist monument. An ISIS-linked Facebook page last week expressed hope that the temple “will be demolished by Islamic caliphate mujahidin,” as the Taliban destroyed the Buddhist statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in March 2001.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently branded ISIS “humiliating” to Muslims, banned support for the group and ordered police to step up efforts against online radicalization. Malaysian leader Najib Razak has condemned ISIS for “crimes committed in the name of Islam,” while his government stepped up monitoring of Malaysians traveling overseas. Australia has tightened customs surveillance and introduced legislation to strengthen intelligence monitoring of social media and to mandate that telecom providers save two years’ worth of phone and Internet metadata.

Critics of Western intelligence agencies obsess about the theoretical risks their activities pose to civil liberties, while downplaying the risks of an all-too real and rising terrorist threat. But intelligence gathering and cooperation are vital to preventing another Bali-style bombing that would kill more innocents and force governments to take stronger measures.

Barking Dogs, HDB and Dog Owners

Lots of barking going around. Dogs bark, HDB barks at dog owners, and dog lovers bark back at HDB. People who have irresponsible neighbours who don’t train their dogs in the end have to live with the prospect of having neighbours who have noisy dogs. Was HDB callous in its warning to dog owners? Yes if one is a dog lover, no if one is a victim of noise pollution because of incessant dog barking. It is often a matter of perspective. Dog owners are winning this round as they are barking the loudest, while the ones affected more are silent so far on this controversy. It is often a matter of who can shout the loudest in a political correct way.

Dogs barking loudly for prolonged periods late at night is a public nuisance. Same as playing basketball  in the flat, mahjong, karaoke late at night through the night.  It is not the dog’s fault as they are animals. Any fault if it is a genuine complaint of noisy dogs, is the dog owner who can’t control his animal.  Maybe the solution is that if a dog owner gets frequent complaints about his pet from his neighbours, HDB has the right to step in and force the owner to do something about his nuisance. The dog owner under pressure naturally would see his many neighbours as the nuisance instead.

Let’s not go into the topic of dog owners not cleaning up their dogs’ poop in common and public areas.

HDB suggestion to debark noisy dogs angers animal rights groups

SINGAPORE — A Housing and Development Board (HDB) notice on excessive dog barking that listed the option of surgically debarking dogs as a solution has drawn the ire of animal welfare groups, prompting the agency to take down the notice and apologise.

The notice, which was posted at a HDB block on Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, was dated Aug 22. In the notice, the housing authority said it had received feedback about dog barking in the middle of the night. “A dog barking excessively can become a nuisance to your neighbours. It could disturb their sleep or affect their work or study,” the HDB said.

It suggested that dog owners who cannot control their pets from barking consider obedience training, using training collars to control them or debarking, which involves the removal of a dog’s vocal cords through surgery.

A photograph of the notice was posted online yesterday by Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD), which described debarking as an “extremely cruel and painful procedure” that can cause constant physical pain.

“A dog also barks when it is in a stressed or anxious mode, and not hearing the dog does not mean the dog is in a stable state of mind,” it said. “Such recommendations should not be publicly put out without due advice from experts as it sets a wrong mindset that such solutions are ethical or safe.”

In a statement, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) executive director Corinne Fong said debarking usually leaves the animal “with something between a wheeze and a squeak”. “Many veterinarians refuse to do the surgery on ethical grounds. Those who do rarely advertise it,” she said, adding that the procedure is prohibited in the United Kingdom and in some American states.

Added Dr Heng Yee Ling of Mount Pleasant Vets: “We do not do debarking because there are better and more humane ways to control a dog, such as behaviour training.”

The SPCA also objected to the recommendation to use training collars, which work by delivering electric shocks to the dog to correct behaviour.

In a response to media queries, the HDB apologised for causing anxiety to dog owners. “We agree it should have been handled more sensitively, and the notice has since been taken down,” it said.

It also said the notice did not accurately reflect its position. “When residents complain about excessive dog barking, we have always advised and counselled dog owners to manage their pets’ barking and behaviour through obedience training. Debarking should be considered by pet owners only as a last resort when all other measures, especially training, are ineffective, and only if the owner considers it an option,” it said.

ASD president Ricky Yeo said a framework was needed to ensure that a complaint about incessant barking is substantiated. “People also have to understand that changes will not happen overnight. A certain tolerance level should be accepted,” he said. “There needs to be a certain yardstick that everyone lives by. We all live in a very close area, so we have to learn to accommodate and compromise.”

CHC Trial Going On and On

In many of our eyes, CHC Kong Hee ran his business like a church, and his church like a business. Church funds went to finance and sustain his wife’s questionable music career, termed as the Crossover Project. His wife’s music business prospered in a way, while not really selling anything. The infamous music video of his wife Sun Ho in China Wine pushes boundaries on what are Christianly images if you asked me. Kong Hee is trying to outsource blame on his church elders running his wife’s show business and Xtron. The prosecution however insisted that Kong Hee pulled the strings all the time. The court of public opinion has already ruled against Kong Hee anyway.

Christian-bashers, with the recent anti-377A controversies, would be gleeful that the supposedly strong Christian faction in parliament according to kopitiam talk is taking on fellow Christians. Hence, is this  supposedly Christian-steered parliament really pushing a Christian agenda if they take on Kong Hee instead of turning a blind eye or if they take on Lawrence Khong from FCBC for his unlawful dismissal of a church worker? Or simply Christianity as a label has nothing to do with government policies.

CHC trial: Kong ‘evasive’ so as not to implicate himself, prosecution charges
By Kimberly Spykerman
POSTED: 20 Aug 2014 14:33

SINGAPORE: City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee was being evasive so as not to implicate himself in the bond transactions, the prosecution charged, as it resumed its cross-examination of Kong on Wednesday (Aug 20).

Kong has maintained he was only involved in the budgeting of the Crossover Project, and left the financing of the project to his co-accused Tan Ye Peng and Chew Eng Han.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong asked Kong if that meant he would not be responsible if the bonds then turned out to be an illegal mechanism.

Calling it a “difficult question to answer”, Kong said: “Because I am a pastor, and as a shepherd, I want to take responsibility for a whole host of things. They – Ye Peng and Eng Han – have assured me that they have sought out advice from the professionals, so would the professionals be responsible?”

Kong is among six church leaders in the dock for allegedly using church monies to buy sham bonds in two companies – Xtron and Firna – in order to fund the Crossover Project. The project, fronted by Kong’s wife Sun Ho, is the church’s way of evangelising through secular pop music.

KONG SUPERVISED TEAM CLOSELY

The prosecution sought to show that Kong was more hands-on in all aspects of the Crossover Project than he let on.

Mr Ong pointed to a lengthy and detailed email Kong wrote to chastise Tan as evidence of how closely he supervised his team, whom he called his “spiritual children”. The email addressed issues ranging from unhappiness over the location of the hotel he and Ms Ho were staying at in Hong Kong, to consultants who he felt were not up to standard.

In an email to Deputy Senior Pastor Tan Ye Peng, Kong reprimanded him when promotional efforts of Ms Ho’s career in China yielded disappointing results. Kong wished he could run the “whole show” the way he ran the church, but as he could not, he put his and Ms Ho’s “lives and destiny in the hands of their disciples and spiritual children” and urged Tan not to let them down.

Mr Ong also said Xtron directors did not make decisions about the budgeting and financing of the Crossover Project, as Kong had claimed. He pointed to portions of statements from Tan, Chew and Serina Wee to the Commercial Affairs Department which contradicted Kong’s claims.

XTRON’S CASHFLOW PROBLEMS

The prosecution said Kong was regularly updated about Xtron’s cashflow problems, and would have been the one to approve any solutions to make up the deficit. This would ensure Xtron’s cashflow problems did not affect its ability to finance the Crossover Project. Xtron was Ms Ho’s artiste management firm at the time.

Mr Ong said: “Xtron’s cashflow problems … ultimately become the Crossover’s problems, because it has the potential to derail spending on the Crossover.”

Emails revealed that by end-2007, Xtron had a deficit of some S$0.5 million, and that some of the accused, including Kong, had discussed either pumping more of the church’s money into Xtron or transferring Xtron’s expenses to the church. Eventually, this took the form of the bond transactions at the centre of the criminal charges.

FINANCING NEEDS OF CROSSOVER PROJECT

Mr Ong noted that the proposal to purchase the bonds came about because Kong had tasked Tan and Chew to find a way to finance the needs of the Crossover Project. He also observed that there was “no real assessment of commercial motive on either side, as Xtron would benefit from any accounting adjustments made to allow it to deal with its deficit”.

The prosecution charged that the accused would have injected capital into Xtron, regardless of the church having to bear increased expenses. “Whatever financial arrangements needed to be made to capitalise Xtron would be done … Never mind that the church would end up bearing increased expenses,” said Mr Ong.

But Kong argued that these expenses to Xtron would have been legitimate ones and for real services. In the case of the bonds, Kong said he was told they were a good investment.

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