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#36: Singapore greets the new year with some old habits

Happy 2019, one and all! I approached my 2018 end-of-year holiday with a vengeance: I binge-watched a 21-episode Korean drama in four days, read two novels and lay in bed all day. Coming back to work is a little painful after so much indulgence and sloth.

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New year, same crap

I’d love to say Singapore kicked off 2019 with an epiphany about human rights and civil liberties, but we actually started the year with the conviction of Jolovan Wham on two charges: organising an “illegal assembly” and refusing to sign his statement to the police. The “illegal assembly” in question was a forum on civil disobedience and social movements where Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong Skyped in. The authorities say, because Joshua is a foreigner, Jolovan should have got a police permit for the event, even though Joshua wasn’t physically in Singapore. 🤦🏻‍♀️ Sentencing for both counts will be on 23 January. Jolovan is also waiting for the sentence for contempt of court because of a Facebook post. I’m going to need a lot more of these emojis: 🤦🏻‍♀️ 🤦🏻‍♀️ 🤦🏻‍♀️

Also, Edwin Tong says a bill on tackling fake news could be tabled in the first half of this year.

But, some drama! Over the Christmas holiday period, it was reported that Leong Sze Hian, who is being sued for defamation by Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong (see issue #33 for background) is counter-suing Lee for abusing court process. He’s also accepting donations from those who want to contribute to his legal funds.

Adding more juice to the story is that Lee Hsien Yang, Lee’s younger brother, contributed to Leong’s legal fund. Lee Hsien Yang, who is on the outs with his powerful big brother and whose son Li Shengwu is still on the hook for contempt of court proceedings, told TODAY that he contributed a “meaningful sum”. When TODAY asked why he did it, he said, “Surely it needs no explanation?”

If it’s about more than 200 years then why is it called the Bicentennial

2019 brings us the Bicentennial, i.e. 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles came to Singapore and decided it would be a good spot for the East India Company to make some sweet sweet moolah.

To commemorate this 200th anniversary of Singapore’s subjugation to the British money-making endeavour, we’ve got an SG Bicentennial Office (SBO) to come up with a year-long programme. They’ve already done things like paint the Raffles statue so from a particular angle it looks like it’s “disappeared” and adding more statues to make it a bit more like Raffles ‘N Friends to "represent a wider cast of characters that arrived on Singapore’s shores in 1819 and before".

It’s confusing messaging-wise, because the SBO continually insists that “Singapore’s history is more than just one date, or one man”, all while commemorating the 200th anniversary of the one date on which that one man arrived in Singapore lies at the very core of the office’s own existence.

But at least we get some memes out of it.

Got some more…

An elderly Singaporean man found that his Medishield only paid out $4.50 of his $4,477 post-subsidy healthcare bill for his eye operation, which has triggered unhappiness about Medishield’s coverage for Singapore’s healthcare. The story is paywalled on the Straits Times’ website, but Chua Mui Hoong has shared a PDF here. If you’re anything like me and easily confused by numbers, then Sonny Liew has an infographic just for you.

Dr Shashi Jayakumar is Singapore’s new representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). As far I know, he doesn’t actually have a background in human rights, nor do I remember him speaking out that much about human rights. This is precisely one of the issues that AICHR reps raised when I spoke to them about the problems with AICHR.

Events and announcements

The aces at CAPE are bringing yet another great political education session, this time on the Budget debates and how they work. Get your tickets here.

Migrant rights group HOME and Liberty Shared (from Hong Kong) are launching their joint report on forced labour in the domestic worker sector in Singapore on 15 January. RSVP here.

About the neighbours

This week, we take a look at an “elastic” cyber law in Indonesia that observers say is used to silence dissent or criticism. Sound familiar?