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Singapore Lawmaker Criticizes U.S.

November 19, 1998

SINGAPORE (AP) _ One of Singapore’s beleaguered opposition leaders has lashed out at the United States for its virtual silence on human rights in the island republic.

Workers Party chief J.B. Jeyaretnam said Wednesday that he agreed with Vice President Al Gore’s recent call for democracy in the region, but added that American officials ``have remained very muted about the government’s persecution of human rights activists and opposition party leaders.″

Jeyaretnam, who holds one of only three opposition seats in the 84-member Parliament, added that no visiting U.S. official ``has ever asked to meet with any opposition leader in Singapore,″ and that requests by the opposition to meet the Americans have been denied.

Leaders of the People’s Action Party, which has ruled Singapore under tight control since independence in 1965, repeatedly have sued various opposition leaders for libel and defamation.

Jeyaretnam was the latest target of such legal action, when Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong sued him for defamation over his accurate statement that another Workers Party leader had filed a police report against ``Goh and his people.″

The High Court ruled that Jeyaretnam had to pay $61,000 in damages, plus hefty legal fees. To avoid being declared bankrupt and losing his seat in Parliament, Jeyaretnam is paying the damages in installments.

He also expects seven more suits by other ministers over the same remark.

The latest State Department Human Rights Report cited the case as an example of how the Singapore government uses lawsuits to stifle freedom of speech and intimidate the political opposition.

Despite Singapore’s small economy, trade between the two countries totaled $42 billion last year. America remains the top foreign investor here, with $17.5 billion at the end of 1997.

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