A Protest Misfired


Yesterday, Seelan Palay and Chong Kai Xiong were arrested for protesting outside the Ministry of Manpower. It was the usual scene acted out, but this time instead of SDP Chee Soon Juan and SDP members being those arrested, it was his friends and familiar faces to the civil disobedience game show.

The storyline is getting stale actually. Whenever SDP and its affiliates make their move, the police would react by arresting them. From the Four Person CPF Protest to the Tak Boleh Tahan protest to yesterday’s MOM arrest, the police would swoop in regardless of the number of activists. Nevertheless, this MOM protest was slightly different under the surface.

The CPF and Tak Boleh Tahan protests were concerned with the plight of Singaporeans. But the MOM protest was instead a show of solidarity with the Burmese activists who are being shipped out of Singapore for their protests here against the Burmese junta in 2007. Herein lies the calculated tactical risk that might not reap the expected returns for the civil disobedience activists.

With unemployment, high cost of living, a senior civil servant showing that he is redundant by playing French chef for weeks, amongst other pressing worries brought about by the economic crisis, the two activists chose to protest the treatment of foreigners rather than their staple fare, to be a voice for Singaporeans.

Objectively, the civil disobedience faction shaped by SDP already does not seem to have a huge support base in comparison to the turn-out at Hong Lim Park whenever Tan Kin Lian takes the stand. This sort of misguided or rather badly timed support of Burmese civil disobedience activists only makes Seelan and company miss their mark even more when Singaporeans are xenophobic about foreigners from China, India, Burma or whereever who are working here and taking away jobs from heartlanders.

Two activists arrested for protesting at MOM
Tuesday January 13, 2009 Today

TWO Singaporean activists were arrested yesterday after they staged a protest :at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) against the non-renewal of work permits of several Myanmar nationals.

In a statement, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said Mr Seelan Palay and Mr Chong Kai Xiong had entered the premises at around noon and “repeatedly defied orders” from MOM’s security personnel to leave. The duo was then arrested. Police are investigating them for criminal trespass; they have been released on bail.

The pair are no strangers to protests here. Both have taken part in protests organised by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and have had brushes with the law.

They have been arrested previously for protesting against rising consumer prices outside Parliament and also for protests linked to the 2006 International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings here.

In January last year, Mr Palay also held a fast outside the Malaysian High Commission here in support of five detained Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) leaders, while Mr Chong has taken part in May Day and World Press Freedom Day protests.

Yesterday, the pair was protesting in support of two Myanmar nationals,Mr Moe Kyaw Thu andMr Win Kyaw, whose work permits have reportedly not been renewed.

The Myanmar pair were among a group of 40 who took part in a protest against their country’s ruling junta during the Asean Summit here in November 2007.

In response to media queries, the MHA said Myanmar nationals are welcomed to work, study or reside here. They “are also free to organise and express their political views” if pursued within Singapore’s laws.

But the MHA noted that “a handful” of Myanmar nationals here have “decided not to observe this basic obligation”, and have shown in their actions and attitude “a wilful disregard and contempt for the law and the Singapore authorities”.

“In fact, some of them who have acted in this manner, notwithstanding their having benefited from education subsidies and the hospitality of Singaporeans, even demand the right to stay in Singapore as if it is a matter of their personal entitlement,” said the MHA.

“They threaten to lobby political pressure through the media and agitate foreign public opinion against the authorities so as to compel them to concede to their demands. These persons are not welcomed in Singapore. They should leave Singapore once their existing passes expire.”

The Ministry reiterated that Singapore’s laws “apply equally to every person”. “No one is allowed to break the law with impunity regardless of how morally superior he thinks his cause is,” it added.

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8 responses

  1. Hi, part of me agrees but part of me disagrees. I do feel that the situation in SG is much more complicated than that. Even though yes, foreign workers both blue, white, elite class all affect our local’s job pool but if we do just ship them all out, it will likely cause more hurt than good.

    As for why they were protesting for them, I do not know, but it could be a case of human rights issue. And why can’t they protest for others and locals? Why must protest only for locals? Did they ignore local’s situation? Did they in this protest actually down play the rights of locals?

    Some my 2cents

    January 13, 2009 at 5:36 pm

  2. article 2 is published by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) in conjuction with Human Rights SOLIDARITY, a publication of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
    http://www.article2.org/mainfile.php/general/4/

    January 13, 2009 at 8:14 pm

  3. In the video in TOC, Seelan said that their Burmese friends, Moe Kyaw Thu and Win Kyaw will be persecuted and may be killed by the junta when they are repatriated to Burma by end January.

    If the possibility is there, then MOM is feeding the 2 Burmese to the sharks.

    It is sad to see a 70 year-old man barbecue an MP. It is even worse to allow a junta to kill their own citizens just because of the love and fight for freedom and democracy.

    It’s good to have friends who care enough to serve jail time just to save your lives.

    I’d love to have hard core friends like that.

    feedmetothefish.

    January 14, 2009 at 11:26 pm

  4. Pingback: The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Daily SG: 14 Jan 2009

  5. Krusty

    the 2 burmans are not sent back to burma. they trying to bluff seelan and toc. if they were sent back to burma, surely free burman news would have reported it. also this has been going on for months now.

    http://www.mizzima.com/news/regional/5-regional/940-singapore-rejects-visa-extension-of-six-burmese-citizens

    January 15, 2009 at 1:31 pm

  6. Not trying to defend anyone but just stating some facts.

    In the article, it does not state the names of the other 3 who had their visas renewal rejected. It also state that only the 3 names were forced to leave.

    As for the 2 with SDP and TOC, they could be part of those that are currently not known by the author of the article.

    “Though there might be several others, who face similar problem, he said, are aware only of the six persons, who had face interrogations more than one time each in police station regarding their involvements in protests held in Singapore in support of democracy in Burma.”

    They might of course be lieing like what Krusty is saying.

    But the Today article state that
    “Yesterday, the pair was protesting in support of two Myanmar nationals,Mr Moe Kyaw Thu and Mr Win Kyaw, whose work permits have reportedly not been renewed.”

    Although this statement isn’t a confirmation of their Work Permits status but we are talking about a MSM here who should have the facts right. Thus their “Not Very Sure” stand is hmm, i do not know what to say.

    Just my 2 Cents

    January 15, 2009 at 1:39 pm

  7. chemgen

    Thanks for the comments.

    As we know, discerning watchers all of us, there are at least 2 sides to the story. Obvious that Seelan and Kai Xiong were singled out by the government and portrayed categorically as evil, with the help of the media usually. The Burmese and local activists also tried to dramatically play this expulsion issue up e.g. using the deported back to Burma fear tactic. I don’t think they would be on the plane back to Yangon. The government is dumb, but not that dumb. The government warned the Burmese activists repeatedly before but they persisted in their protests anyway in a game of brinkmanship. The Burmese overall won in terms of scoring political martyr status, but at the cost of their visas. The government is now stuck with more bad press, but it is also used to the idea of bad press from cracking down on all linked to the SDP. The truth is murkier than we think with all the whitewash from both sides.

    January 15, 2009 at 5:08 pm

  8. Hi Owner, well said.

    I do not disagree that both side may be painting their own colors. But due to my nationality, I’ll prefer to sort out my side of the story first. =D

    January 15, 2009 at 5:43 pm

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