Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1987

Singapore is a city-state of 2.G million people; the majority
(75 percent) is ethnic Chinese, with Malays (15 percent) and
Indians (7 percent) constituting substantial minorities.
Singapore has a republican form of government based on a
parliamentary system and dominated by the People's Action
Party (PAP), headed by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Kew, which has
held power since Singapore gained autonomy from Great Britain
in 1959. The PAP received 62.9 percent of the popular vote in
the most recent elections (1984) and holds 76 of 77 seats in
Parliament; 2 additional seats are currently vacant. The
civil service is efficient, and corruption is officially and
actively discouraged.
The Government maintains active internal security and military
forces to counter threats to the nation's security. The
authorities maintain that the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM)
has not abandoned its intent to overthrow the Government by
force and that the need for continuing social harmony requires
special measures.
Singapore's economic system is one of the most open in the
world. In 1987 Singapore continued its recovery from the
recession of 1985-1986, posting a 7.2 percent gross domestic
product (GDP) growth in the first half of the year.
Singaporeans enjoy the third highest per capita income in Asia.
In May and June 1987, 22 people were detained without trial
under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for alleged involvement
in a Communist conspiracy. By December, all but one had been
released. The remaining person has been ordered detained for
2 years. Various international human rights organizations,
including Amnesty International, Asia Watch, and the New
Zealand Committee for Human Rights in Singapore, have stated
that the Government used psychological stress during
interrogation, and Amnesty International declared the detainees
"prisoners of conscience." There were also allegations of
physical abuse by the police from members of the New Testament
Church. The Government denies that it allows the use of
In April four persons were detained without trial under the
ISA on charges of preparing for race riots to mark the
anniversary of an outbreak of communal violence in May 1969.
According to the Government, the detentions were not made
public until June to avoid arousing tension during the
anniversary period.
The Government imposed severe restrictions on the circulation
of the Far Eastern Economic Review, The Asian Wall Street
Journal, and Asiaweek in 1987 for "engaging in the domestic
politics of Singapore." The domestic press operates under
longstanding, informal limits on its activities.
The ruling party's political and economic management record
provides a continuing source of popular political support.
However, in recent years human rights-related developments,
including the disqualification from Parliament of an outspoken
opposition leader, the tightening of controls on the Law
Society, curbs on the foreign press, arrests under the ISA of
grassroots activists, and proposals for electing parliamentary
candidates by "teams," have also served to reinforce the PAP '
political dominance, which had begun to show signs of erosion
following the last general election.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
     a. Political Killing
There were no known incidents of politically motivated killing.
     b. Disappearance
There is no evidence of abduction, secret arrests, or of
clandestine detentions not subsequently acknowledged by the
Government. No such activity occurred on the part of
opposition elements.
     c. Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Torture is prohibited under Sections 330 and 331 of the Penal
Code. Government leaders, including Prime Minister Lee, have
stated that they oppose the use of torture. The New Testament
Church (NTC) has alleged torture of several of its members
arrested in Singapore for unlawful assembly and for disrupting
court proceedings. According to NTC members, those arrested
were subjected to sexual and other physical abuse. There has
been no independent corroboration of those allegations.
Amnesty International and Asia Watch, among others, reported
abuses in 1987 in connection with some of the detentions under
the ISA for alleged Marxist-related activities. Some detainees
reportedly were subjected to continuous interrogation lasting
up to 5 days, deprived of sleep during initial interrogations,
and kept in cells too small to lie down in, and in which the
lights were kept on during limited rest periods to prevent
The Home Minister responded in Parliament to questions on the
treatment of ISA detainees by reiterating that torture is not
practiced in Singapore, but he did not specifically address
the issue of psychological stress and sleep deprivation.
Singapore's penal code mandates caning in addition to
imprisonment as punishment for certain offenses, including
rape, theft, robbery, extortion, housebreaking, and vehicle
theft. Although a prisoner may be sentenced to any number of
strokes for multiple offenses, 24 strokes are the maximum
which may be administered.
     d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Exile or Forced Labor
Arrest without warrant and detention without trial are
permitted in some cases under Singapore law. Arrest without
warrant is authorized under Section 43 of the Criminal Law
(Temporary Provisions) Act and Sections 8 and 65 of the
Internal Security Act (ISA). Detention without trial is
authorized under Section 30 of the Criminal Law (Temporary
Provisions) Act and Section 8 of the ISA.
The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act is used almost
exclusively in secret criminal society and drug cases. The
Misuse of Drugs Act allows Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB)
officers and customs officials to arrest without warrant any
person suspected of manufacturing, importing, exporting,
possessing, consuming, or trafficking in controlled drugs.
The Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau can commit
suspected drug users to a 6-month term in a drug rehabilitation
center in cases of positive urinalysis tests. Suspects have a
legal right to challenge the finding and can appeal through
the court system. It is generally accepted that the CNB has
exercised its limited detention powers within the strict
bounds of its authority. There is a functioning system of
bail, and those charged in both criminal and security cases
are entitled to legal counsel.
The ISA permits the Minister of Home Affairs to order the
detention of persons whom the Minister determines pose a
threat to national security. Under the ISA an individual may
be held for an initial 30-day period; within the initial 30
days the Minister of Home Affairs must determine whether the
detainee should be held longer. ISA detainees are allowed
access to lawyers and visits by relatives. The Minister may
authorize detention for up to 2 years. After 2 years, the
Minister must again determine whether the detainee should be
held longer, and may so order, again for up to 2 years. A
detainee's case is reviewed periodically by an advisory board,
to which the detainee may make representations. The board can
recommend to the Minister of Home Affairs that a detainee be
released prior to expiration of the detention order. The
board's recommendations are not binding; persons are released
when the Minister determines that they no longer pose a threat
to national security and that they are unlikely to resume
subversive activity.
The Government used its powers under the ISA twice in 1987.
In May and June 1987, 22 people were detained without trial
under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for involvement in an
alleged Communist conspiracy. Most of the detainees ware
released after a few months, although they were forbidden to
leave Singapore or join any society or organization without
government permission. By December only the alleged leader of
the group, Vincent Cheng, remained in custody. The Government
has said he may be held for 2 years.
In the other ISA case, four Malay Singaporeans were detained
in April on charges of spreading rumors of and preparing for
race riots in connection with the anniversary of the 1969
ethnic strife in Malaysia and Singapore. The men were detained
on April 23, but their detentions were not made public until
June 2, after the anniversary period, when their confessions
were televised. Detainees' families were privately informed
of the Government's action. The detention order permits them
to be held for up to 2 years
Chia Thye Poh, a former Member of Parliament also remains in
detention under the ISA for alleged membership in the Communist
Party of Malaya. He has been held without trial since 1986.
According to the Government, he will be released when he
publicly renounces the use of force to effect political
change; government officials have also commented to foreign
critics of his detention that he would be allowed to leave the
country if arrangements are made to resettle him elsewhere.
Some 1,100 people are held in indefinite detention under the
Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, approximately half
for membership in mafia-like secret societies and half for
drug-related offenses.
No formal charges have been brought against any of the
detainees held under the ISA. Most of the new detainees have
appeared in interviews on government television to recount
their activities, but human rights groups have criticized
these interviews, stating that these public statements were
coerced and, in some cases, edited before broadcast. The
Government has commented publicly that in security cases it
will not be bound by the evidentiary and due process standards
otherwise required by law.
Singapore law forbids the use of forced or compulsory labor,
and it is not practiced.
     e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The right to a public trial is observed except for persons
detained under the provisions of the ISA and the Criminal Law
(Temporary Provisions) Act. In normal cases the Criminal
Procedures Code provides that a charge against a defendant
must be read and explained to him as soon as it is framed by
the magistrate. The accused has the right to be defended by
an attorney (advocate). Trial is by a magistrate or judge
rather than by jury. Defendants may appeal their verdicts in
most cases to higher courts. Singapore is a member of the
British Commonwealth and allows for further appeal to the
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.
Judges are appointed by the President on the recommendation of
the Prime Minister in consultation with the Chief Justice.
Subordinate court judges (magistrates) and public prosecutors
are civil servants and can be transferred by the Public
Service Commission.
Citizens can take government agencies to court over such
matters as compulsory land acquisitions and compensation. The
Government has not lost a case involving a challenge to its
major policies. Members of both the ruling and opposition
political parties have been taken to court in recent years on
nonpolitical charges. The political opposition has accused
the government leadership of interfering in the judicial
process in politically related cases. The Government has
denied allegations of executive interference in the judiciary.
     f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or Correspondence
The Government uses its wide discretionary powers when it
believes that the security of the nation is threatened. In
most cases, search warrants are required for intrusion into
the home. Law enforcement officers may, however, search a
person, home, or property without a warrant if they have
reasonable grounds to believe that it is necessary to do so.
In the relatively small number of ISA cases, warrantless
searches are common. Judicial review of such searches can be
undertaken by the courts at the request of the defendant, but
is not automatic. Divisions of the Government's law
enforcement agencies, including the Internal Security
Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board
(CPIB) , have a wide network for gathering information.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
     a. Freedom of Speech and Presso
The Constitution permits official restrictions on the freedom
of expression, and the Government stated flatly in 1987 that
it sets its own standards and has no obligation to uphold a
free and unrestricted press. In practice, freedom of speech
and press are circumscribed, and the Government forbids
statements which it believes might arouse tensions among the
various races. Inflammatory discussion of race, religion, and
language is officially forbidden.
Newspapers are published by private firms with close ties to
the national leadership. V«Jhile there is no direct censorship
of the press, editors have acknowledged the restraints, and
journalists understand the guidelines within x-zhich they must
operate. The local media did not significantly exceed these
guidelines in 1937. The foreign media is monitored closely
and must adhere to terms and conditions set by the Government.
The Newspaper and Printing Press Act was ammended in 1986 to
allow the Government to restrict the sales and distribution of
foreign publications deemed to have "engaged" in Singapore's
domestic politics. The Government has interpreted this law to
include an obligation to publish government letters correcting
alleged errors in reporting.
The Government restricted distribution of three foreign
publications in 1987. In February circulation of the Asian
Wall Street Journal was cut to 400. In October Asiaweek's
circulation was reduced to 500 copies. In December circulation
of the Far Eastern Economic Review was also cut to 500. (In
1986 authorities had imposed similar curbs on Time Magazine.)
The Government contends that it has an unrestricted right of
reply to foreign media coverage of Singapore. The Journal has
challenged the Government's action in Singapore courts, arguing
that failure to publish without editing a letter from a
government official cannot be construed to be "engaging in the
domestic politics of Singapore," the law's operative provision.
The Government's initial legal position holds that action under
the law involves political considerations and is not open to
judicial review, and that foreign entities have no standing to
challenge such actions in local courts. In the Journal case,
the newspaper contended that it had no unqualified obligation
to print letters and that the original letter from the
Government's press secretary unjustifiably questioned the
integrity and motives of its correspondent. In the Asiaweek
case, authorities announced curbs because the magazine had not
published "without alteration" two government let'jers "to
correct errors" in a September article about ISA arrests of
alleged Marxists. The Governm.ent accused the Far Sastern
Economic Review of printing "malicious criticism" ind
"damaging statements" against the Prime Minister, even though
the magazine consistently accorded the Government the right of
reply. Prime Minister Lee's lawyers ere also suir.j foe
In July restrictions imposed in 1936 on the circulation of
Time magazine were rescinded, and it now circulates freely.
A wide range of international magazines and newspapers can be
purchased uncensored in Singapore, although Malaysian
newspapers are not circulated. The country is a ragicnal
publishing center for a number of international magazines and
The government-owned Singapore Broadcasting Corporation has a
monopoly on domestic radio and television broadcasting, and
follows government guidelines similar to those pe taining to
local print media. Malaysian radio and television can be
received uncensored in Singapore; the BBC World Service also
broadcasts locally on the FM band. An official board of film
censors approves motion pictures, including video cassettes
and television programs. Other government bodies censor other
media; such censorship is aimed at material which the
Government believes would undermine morals, advocate excessive
permissiveness, promote drug abuse, or increase social tension.
Literature and films featuring sexual or drug-related themes
are therefore banned.
     b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Assemblies of more than five people in public, including
political rallies, are authorized only with permission from
the police. In practice, the Government does not stop
gatherings of groups of people for social purposes, whatever
their number.
Associations, societies, clubs, churches, and other
organizations with more than 10 members must be registered
with the Government under the Societies Act. Registration is
denied to societies that the Government believes are likely to
be used for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to
public peace, welfare, or public order. Arrests have been
made at gatherings of unregistered organizations which the
Government has viewed as inimical to the public interest. In
March 1987, several members of the New Testament Church were
arrested after conducting a demonstration in the central
shopping district to protest the arrest and deportation of
other church members. Fines of about $1,000 or imprisonment
of 3 months were imposed on seven church members.
Unions are legal and play an important role in conveying
labor's concerns to both management and government in
Singapore. The Trades Union Act places restrictions on some
workers' rights, including prohibitions on the unionization of
uniformed employees and the holding of union office by persons
with criminal records. The national work force is comprised
of about 1.2 million workers, of which some 200,000 are
organized into 83 trade unions. Seventy of these, including
about 90 percent of the unionized workers, are affiliated with
an umbrella organization, the National Trades Union Congress
(NTUC) , which has a close relationship with the Government. A
deputy prime minister serves as its secretary general, and
members of Parliament are on its board of directors. The
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial
Organizations (AFL-CIO) has criticized the Government's trade
union policies as being designed to further its development
goals. It has noted unfavorably that there has been only one
strike in 8 years and that senior government officials serve
as members of the NTUC Board of Directors. It has also
alleged that the Government makes it difficult for unions to
be formed and exist outside of the NTUC, that the National
Wage Council is biased in favor of the Government, and that
Council guidelines dictate that wage increases not interfere
with economic growth, not decrease productivity, and not deter
investment. Some observers in Singapore claim that the fact
that members of the Government serve as ranking officers in
the NTUC works as much to the advantage of the trade unions as
to the Government, especially because Singapore is in effect a
one-party State. Several unions outside of the NTUC,
representing catering staff and pilots for Singapore Airlines,
function freely and have a reputation for aggressively
representing members' interests.
Workers have the legal right to strike, but strikes are rare.
In the only recent strike (in 1986), NTUC officials, including
PAP members of Parliament, joined the picket line. Reasons
given for the pducity of strikes include a culLural aversion
to confrontation on the part of the workers, the fact that
there is a functional institutional framework for resolving
induotrial disputes, and a widespread belief that the
Governiiient would intervene in activities '..'hich would raflecL
badly on Singapore's attractiveness as an investmerit locale.
Anc'thei" probatle factoi is the fact that from 193C to 1985
wage increases averaged 7 percent while th.^ gross domestic
product grev; at an average annual rate or G.l t^Jt^cent.
Collective baigaining is a normal t^art of aanageraeut -labor
ifclations. Cn the a 'erage, collective bargaining agreements
aie iCncwed every 2 to 'i years. As the wags increase figures
cited abovi indicate, laLor has fared relatively well at the
baigoinintj table. This result may be attridutabie in part to
Sincapoie's sirali size and population, v.'hich means that the
labor supply is constrained. Wori^ers uith increasingly higher
skill levels have a record of job hopping if they are
dis.satisf ied with their woikplecei: The Government seeks to
make Singajoic highly coinpetitive in international trade and,
3s part of that effor_. strives continuously to upgrade the
skills of workers.
•Jho NTl'C is a member of the International Confederation of
Free Trade Unions; Slncapore is a member of the International
Labor Orgai:izc.ticn.
c. F/eedom of Religion
Fieedcia of religion is protected by the Constitution and
generally respected in practice, although the Government
restricts religious sects holding views it considers inimical
to the coiwnon good by application of the Societies Act, and
has banned some splinter groups. A Presidential Council on
Minority Rights exists to ensure that legislation does not
infringe on the rights of ethnic or religious minorities.
There is r.o state religion; the Government, however, does
provide financial assistance to some religious bodies to allow
them to build and m.aintain places cf worship. There is no
religious test for membership in the PAP. Missionaries are
permitted to work and to publish religious texts.
Proselytizing, although permitted, is a sensitive issue among
some religious minorities.
All religious groups are subject to government scrutiny and
must be legally registered. The Government draws a sharp
distinction between purely religious activities and social
activis.m flov;ing from religious beliefs. In December the
Governn-ient expelled five expatriate officials of a Christian
organization for alleged involvement in domestic political
activities. Also, some of the 22 persons detained in
connection with the alleged Marxist conspiracy were connected
with social action groups affiliated with the Roman Catholic
Church, and were critical of government policies on such
isoues as the treatment of foreign workers. Four priests
active in Catholic social organizations resigned their
positions under government pressure.
     d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are no li.mitations on freedom of movement within the
country other than those under the ISA. The ISA allows the
Minister for Home Affairs to suspend or revoke a detention
order or impose restrictions on a person's activities, place
of residence, and travel outside of Singapore. All Singaporean
residents over the age of 13 are required to register with the
Government, receive and carry an identification card, and
report changes of address within 14 days. A person may be
denied a passport at the Government's discretion, although in
practice this applies only to those convicted of a serious
crime. Males approaching the age of 18 (when national service
is generally performed) must obtain an exit permit from the
Ministry of Defense. Recipients of government-financed
educational benefits are required to sign a bond obligation to
serve the government for a fixed period and may not emigrate
without paying the balance of their bond.
The right of voluntary repatriation is extended to holders of
Singaporean passports. Several hundred ethnic Chinese who
left Singapore for China during the politically difficult
1940's and 1950's have encountered obstacles to their return.
In 1985 Parliament provided for the loss of citizenship by
Singaporeans who remain outside Singapore for more than 10
years. Action under this new law is discretionary and has
been taken selectively in cases where foreign residents with a
prior claim to Singaporean citizenship have attempted to
return, and most recently in the case of alleged Marxist
ringleader Tan Wah Piow, who resides in the United Kingdom.
Refugees are granted first asylum for 90 days in Singapore if
they arrive legally in the country and have third-country
guarantees of resettlement.
In September two Vietnamese stowaways who swam ashore from a
Vietnamese ship were returned to the ship before resettlement
guarantees were given to the Government. The ship sailed back
to Vietnam. In December five Vietnamese stowaways were forced
to remain on board a Liberian ship which stopped in Singapore
en route to Malaysia. Another group of five stowaways,
however, was admitted in November. Government officials have
stated that Singapore will only admit stowaways when a
resettlement guarantee exists and when the ship in question is
returning directly to Vietnam.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Gonvernment
Lee Kuan Yew has served as Prime Minister since independence.
The party which he heads, the People's Action Party (PAP), is
a broadly based institution, with roots in neighborhood
organizations, and it is the dominant political party in
Singapore. It includes representatives from all racial
communities in Singapore. Non-Communist parties are legally
free to organize, in accordance with strict regulations on
party constitution, fund raising, and accountability. There
are now 19 registered political parties in Singapore in
addition to the PAP, although most are dormant. These parties
are closely monitored by the Government, which justifies its
action on the grounds of possible Communist infiltration and
enforcement of libel laws in connection with election
Several of the persons detained in 1987 in connection with the
alleged Marxist conspiracy had links with the Workers' Party,
headed by former MP J.B. Jeyaretnam. None of the detainees
were formal members of the party, according to Jeyaretnam, who
alleges that the arrests were aimed at discouraging
participation in opposition political parties in general and
the Workers' Party in particular. Jeyaretnam lost his seat in
Parliament in 1986 after sentencing was adjusted in a losingS INGAPORE
court battle over a case involving the mishandling of party
funds. He was also fined approximately 9,000 dollars in May
1987 for abuse of parliamentary privilege and disbarred in
October 1987. With the expulsion of Jeyaretnam, there is only
one opposition party member in Parliament.
P.a.P leaders have introduced a bill in Parliament calling for
tne redistricting of parliamentary constituencies. Under the
proposed "team MP" concept, up to half of the candidates for
Parliament would run for office in groups of three candidates
and would be elected as a bloc. Critics of the proposal charge
that the concept provides yet another advantage to the large
and well-organized ruling party. The concept has been refined
by PAP officials to include a proviso that teams of candidates
should be racially balanced to preserve parliamentary
representation for all of Singapore's ethnic groups.
Opposition political figures continue to charge that the intent
of the proposal is to dilute opposition voting strength among
larger constituencies.
Despite the controversy over the team proposal and other PAP
political tactics, it is widely conceded that the voting and
vote-counting system is fair, accurate, and free from
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are no organizations in Singapore which actively and
openly monitor human rights violations. Governmental bodies,
such as the Presidentially appointed Minority Rights Council,
monitor for violations of minority rights, primarily for any
concerning the Malay minority. Amnesty International is not
allowed to operate in Singapore. Representatives of Amnesty
International and other human rights groups are not allowed to
visit Singapore in an official capacity. In July an Amnesty
International-sponsored committee visited Singapore in the
wake of the ISA detentions but was not granted interviews with
government officials. The committee consisted of a member of
Amnesty International's International Secretariat and an
Advocate of the Supreme Court of India. An Asia Watch team
also visited Singapore in December. A scheduled meeting
between the team and Singaporean officials was canceled when
the F'ar Eastern Economic Review printed a letter from Asia
Watch condemning the ISA detentions. The Government said the
letter showed that Asia Watch had a closed mind about the
situation in Singapore.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Social, economic, and cultural facilities are available to all
citizens regardless of race, religion, or sex. Minorities are
constitutionally afforded equal rights and actively participate
in the political process. Disparities exist among the various
races, although not as a result of government policies.
According to 1980 census data, for example, 0.21 percent of
Malay Singaporeans had a university education, while 1.8
percent of Chinese citizens and 2.44 percent of Indian
Singaporeans attained that level of education.
Women generally enjoy equal rights, primarily under the 1969
Women's Charter and the Constitution, but they do not have
equal rights with men in the transmission of citizenship to
their children or in the right to residence of a foreign spouse
in Singapore. Muslim women's rights are protected by the
provisions of the 1957 Administration of Muslim Law, which
permits Muslim women to apply for divorce and permits them to
hold and dispose of property. Women have voting rights and
the right of economic equality under the law.
There are few women in the top ranks of the civil service or
business. As a result of the 1984 election, however, there
are three female members of Parliament. In 1986 the median
gross monthly income of female workers was 76 percent of that
for male workers.
The Singapore labor market offers relatively high wage rates
and working conditions consistent with accepted international
standards. Singapore has no minimum wage or unemployment
compensation; the Government enforces comprehensive
occupational safety and health laws. Enforcement procedures,
coupled with the promotion of educational and training
programs, have reduced the frequency of job-related accidents
by a third from the early 1970 's to the early 1980's. The
average severity of occupational accidents has also been
Child labor laws protect young persons from exploitation and
hazardous working conditions. Employment of children below
the age of 12 is prohibited, as is nighttime work by those
below the age of 16.