Ladies and Gentlemen,
On December 11, 2007, the following story under the heading "The human ties that bind" appeared in the state owned and controlled Singapore newspaper "Today" (By the way, all Singapore newspapers are owned and controlled by the government).
Two Singapore lawyers, Mr. M Ravi and Chia Ti Lik, members of the Legal Profession of Singapore, (which by the way has over 3,000 lawyers) attended at the premises of the Law Society of Singapore, the official lawyers association, at South Bridge Road, on Dec 09, 2007, to hand a petition to the Society.
This petition was signed by only 3 lawyers; two of them being Mr. M Ravi and Chia Ti Lik, who were the authors of this petition and Miss L F Violet Netto, a lawyer who signed it but failed to attend at the Society's premises.
The Petition referred to the UN Human Rights Day which fell on December 10 and contained the following principal proposals, 1) it congratulated the President of the Law Society on his appointment for another year 2) a desire that Human Rights Day should be commemorated in the legal calender of Singapore just as the Annual Dinner and Dance day is observed 3) the hope that the Singapore Bar will further the cause of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary 4) the hope that the Singapore Law Society would work towards the abolition of the provision in the Legal Profession Act which denies the right of the profession to comment on pending legislation 5) that a Human Rights commission should be set up in Singapore and 6) a mechanism be put in place whereby lawyers and citizens can complain to an independent body on judicial excesses.
After handing this petition, M Ravi made a speech which was patiently heard by the audience there, which consisted of an official from the Law Society, Mr. Chia Ti Lik and various reporters and cameramen. At the end of Mr. Ravi's speech which elaborated on the contents of the petition, which had lasted perhaps 30 minutes, he was asked a number of questions to which he had ready, eloquent and erudite answers, which made all of us proud of his wisdom. His person and his speech was and captured on video camera, which has been put on on various web sites including the official web site of the Singapore Democratic Party.
After reading this far, you are very entitled to ask, and I won't be the least bit surprised if you did, whether the title of this post "The 3 most brave and courageous lawyers in Singapore today are M Ravi, Chia Ti Lik and L.F. Violet Netto" was a mistake?
No, it was not a mistake. The title was intended as written. These 3 individuals are indeed the most brave and courageous lawyers in Singapore among the 3,000 others who are also lawyers. Only these 3 have had the courage to do what they did. You may be surprised why I consider their actions which was nothing more than merely handing a petition, containing very legitimate and completely reasonable proposals to the Law Society to be such a courageous act!
Firstly, it is Singapore that we are talking about. That itself should be a sufficient answer.
Well the numbers themselves would have revealed the answers. There are 3,000 lawyers in Singapore and yet, only these 3 were prepared to sign this petition, the contents of which appears completely innocuous. There was nothing treasonable in it, it was not defamatory of anyone, it was not seditious, it was not incendiary, it was not calling for murder! It was principally asking that the UN Human Rights Day be recognized in Singapore. That's all! And yet, of a lawyer population of over 3,000, only 3 lawyers had the courage to sign it! These 3, M Ravi, Chia Ti Lik and LF Violet Netto. And not only that LF Netto decided, for whatever reasons she may have had, not to be present with M Ravi and Chia Ti Lik when they handed the petition to the Society!
For anyone who knows Singapore, they will understand why I call them brave. It is because the entire legal profession of Singapore as well as the entire population of Singapore live in fear of Lee Kuan Yew. It is dangerous to criticize him. And if one does so, his Administration will see to it that he is punished. The Lee Kuan Yew Administration is vindictive and small minded. They will use the law and the professional bodies which contain their agents, who will make life difficult for those who criticize.
Singapore professionals know that it is unwise to openly criticize the government. Once you do this, you become identified. And once identified, every government organ, every judge, every court registrar automatically shift into gear to punish you. You suddenly find, if you were a lawyer that you begin to lose all your cases, because judges are expected to disfavor those critical of Lee Administration. Clients begin to fear from giving you cases, since the likelihood of your losing them are very good, since you are a known opponent.
Those who are openly critical or in any way questioning of government policy like these 3, will get no help from the Law Society. Legal Aid work will stop going to them. Even among the legal fraternity, other lawyers will begin to avoid these 3, because they have been identified as critical of the Singapore Legal system.
In other words, they will be sent to Coventry, so to speak!
These 3 courageous souls have taken this step, knowing full well the dangers that lie ahead for them in doing what they did, in this corrupt small minded and vindictive government of Singapore.
That is why I say that these are courageous people. It would be no exaggeration to say that what they have done would have been comparable to Macaulay's tale of Horatius with two comrades barring a bridge to an army:
Then out spoke brave Horatius
The Captain of the Gate:
" To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
An how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods?"
That is why I say that these 3 are brave men and women, just as brave Horatius when he fearlessly guarded the gate against the army.
It seems impossible but it is true. Singaporeans are indeed a fearful lot at present.
Mind you, I say, fearful lot at present. But it is my hope that the courage of these 3 will encourage others to stand up to justice as they have done, because, we know that all bullies, just like the Singapore government only dare to punish you if you are afraid of them. I am sure that if, not 3 but 30 or 300 lawyers had signed the petition and come up to deliver it, it is doubtful if this petty minded administration can punish all 300, or even 3,000.
And therefore I hope the actions of these 3 lawyers will embolden others, so that one day, Singaporeans will demand their right to live in a free and just society.
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