Ladies and Gentlemen,
On Oct 17, 2011, Monday 7pm Fremont California time which was 10 am Oct 18, 2011 10 am Singapore time, I telephoned Edmond Pereira, Advocate and Solicitor (Singapore's term for an Attorney) to seek his views on Freedom of the Press in Singapore.
On the whole, he appeared an ardent spokesperson for the Lee Kuan Yew dictatorship and their repressive laws which deny every single human right which is taken for granted everywhere else in the free world.
Singapore is a country where political leaders earn highest salaries compared to anywhere else. For instance Lee Kuan Yew, his son and every one of his ministers earn a staggering $3.7 million dollars a year each. Everywhere else this would be called corruption. In Singapore it is called a salary, which is nothing short of 5 times what the President of the United States gets.
There is no freedom of the press. The entire press is controlled by the government. There is no right to free speech. If you say anything against Lee and his government, you get sued, bankrupted and even jailed. There is no right to peaceful assembly or protest; you will be arrested. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is completely negated. The country is a one party state and every single member in Parliament is a PAP supporter even though outwardly 6 were voted from the opposition (but in truth Lee supporters).
I did not tape the conversation as Mr. Pereira objected. The interview did not go well as it began to be very clear from the outset that he had no intention of answering the questions and be nothing more than a Lee Kuan Yew government defender. At the end it almost descended into a shouting match at which time he decided to terminate it. For what it is worth, I write the following:
Gopalan Nair: Do you agree, there is no freedom of speech in Singapore.
Pereira: There is no complete freedom of speech anywhere in the world. Look at the press in England. If you ask 10 people in England, they all are fed up with it. Almost everyone hates the press which has descended into a laughing stock. They can say anything they want in England.
Gopalan Nair: Well it depends which 10 people you ask. I may find many who love the press in England. And anyway, you have recourse to the law if your rights are violated in England
Pereira: Yes that is true.
Gopalan Nair: But coming back to Singapore, do you agree that there is no freedom of the press in Singapore
Pereira: I agree there is censorship in Singapore. Perhaps a little too much censorship. But you should understand the reasons why the government imposes this censorship. Singapore is unique and has its own reasons why the press has to be censored. You should not be allowed to go around and say anything you want. Perhaps there is a need for censorship
Gopalan Nair: Do you agree that there is no right to free speech in Singapore?
Pereira: No I don't agree. There is free speech.
Gopalan Nair: Do you agree there is no rule of law in Singapore
Pereira: I disagree. There is rule of law.
Gopalan Nair: Do you agree that the late JB Jeyaretanm was denied his free speech when he was repeatedly sued, bankrupted and jailed and there was nothing wrong in what he said about Lee Kuan Yew.
Pereira: JB Jeyaretnam was tried and convicted in a court of law. It is not possible for me to comment in such a case where he was tried and convicted and was found liable in damages for defamation. Are you asking me to revisit what the law courts had decided about him?
Gopalan Nair: But surely as a lawyer, you are aware of what he had said or wrote and you can see there was nothing wrong with it.
Pereira: There is a proper way to say things and an improper way.
Gopalan Nair: Do you agree that in Singapore I cannot even stand peacefully in a street corner and make a speech without being arrested.
Pereira: But you will be arrested if you are causing a disturbance.
Gopalan Nair: I agree but even if I caused no disturbance and was vey peaceful and stood at a street corner and quietly and calmly gave a speech, I would be arrested, and is this not a violation of the free speech and assembly clause.
Pereira: In Singapore the culture is such that no one does this sort of thing, such as speaking in public. They might think you are mad and send you to the mental asylum
Gopalan Nair: But assuming I did make this speech and they arrested me and sent me to the mental asylum and it was discovered I was not mad after which I returned to the spot and spoke again. Would I be arrested?
Pereira: I am having a pain in my ear listening to this. Moreover I have to get back to work. In fact I was looking at a letter while I was speaking to you. I am a very busy man and do not have the time to read blogs. I am not sure whether you have any work but I spend my time working hard. I am sorry I have to say goodbye.
END OF INTERVIEW. APPROXIMATELY 5 MINUTES.
Edmond Pereira is of Indian decent and born in Singapore. He has about 34 years of practice. He reminds me of an elephants who are first caught in the wild and eventually tamed into complete submission and domestication from the wild. Initially when caught the first time, they put up a fierce and desperate struggle to return to the wild and be free from captivity. But after repeated and prolonged restraint from the mahout, they eventually realize that resistance is hopeless and submission and obedience is the only option. This is the sad case of men such as Edmond Pereira.
It is not that he is not aware that Lee is a dictator; he is. It is not that he is not aware that paying $3.7 million a year to Lee Kuan Yew is daylight robbery; he is. It is not that he is not aware that every single constitutional human right of citizens in Singapore is denied; he is. It is not that he is not aware that there are very many proud and independent small countries with small populations not dissimilar to Singapore where citizens enjoy all their rights; he is. Yet for him, admitting any of this is dangerous. Lee might take away his livelihood. Therefore like the subjugated elephant, he submits to authority without resistance.
He is like Winston in Orwell's 1984, who finally agrees that Big Brother is right afterall.
I had earlier written that no lawyer in Singapore would dare to defend Lee Kuan Yew's arch enemy Chee Soon Juan in any law suit. One of them who would not dare is this Edmond Pereira.
I thanked Edmond Pereira for granting me this interview and I have his permission to publish it with his name. His contact details, Edmond Pereira and Partners (even though he appears to a sole proprietor without any partners), 111 North Bridge Road, #10-01, Peninsula Plaza, Singapore 179098, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel (65)6336 2122.
P.S. He also said Americans like me think too much of themselves as if the world revolves around them. In fact, he said, Singapore is so good now that according to him, thousands and thousands of people around the world, including Americans are all giving up their US passports and taking up Singapore citizenship. As for me having the time to talk to him, he said that unlike him, it appeared as if I did not have any work. (I think he did not realize that when I called him it was 7 pm on Monday with the difference in time, and one does not necessarily work at 7 pm)
Attorney at Law
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