Singapore not repressive, PM Lee tells CNN

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an interview with CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour on June 11, 2018.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an interview with CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour on June 11, 2018. PHOTO: MCI

The question from CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is whether Singapore could open up more in terms of free speech given the "pretty strict internal logic" it is governed by.

Responding, Mr Lee said what she means to ask is why Singapore is so repressive.

"The answer is we are not," he said, noting that "strict internal logic" is a "rather loaded term".

Mr Lee spoke about freedom of speech and local politics in the interview, which focused on the historic Trump-Kim summit and the United States' stance on issues like trade. It was aired on CNN yesterday.

On local politics, Mr Lee said the political scene is the way it is because that is the outcome of how Singaporeans voted during the general election.

"When does it change? It changes when the Singaporean electorate decides that this Government is not serving their interests, ceases to support this PAP (People's Action Party) team and, perhaps, hopefully supports another team which will serve them better. And then it will be a different scene," he said.

"It is not the way it is because we are clamping down and preventing other people from contesting elections," he added.

Mr Lee noted every seat was contested in the 2015 General Election, which the PAP won with 69.9 per cent of the vote.

Ms Amanpour then said there is "not a whole lot of tolerance for freedom of speech or public protest".


Mr Lee replied: "You can say anything you want. You can ask me anything you want."

Ms Amanpour raised the case of activist Jolovan Wham, who was charged in court last November for organising a public assembly without a permit, vandalism and refusing to sign police statements.

"So again, these are political, cultural, democratic questions," she said.

Mr Lee pointed to the Speakers' Corner, where "any time you feel you want to relieve your soul of some important thought, you can go there and spout forth".

"But if you insist on going to places you are not supposed to do this, then the rules will have to apply," he said.

Likewise, people can publish or say what they want on the Internet. "You are still subject to the laws of sedition, libel and contempt," said Mr Lee.

He noted that people do say what they want online. "If you research what is written, you will see that actually there is quite a lively discussion."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2018, with the headline 'Singapore not repressive, PM tells CNN'. Print Edition | Subscribe