Opposition politician stopped from going to Stanford University

Singapore - A bankrupt opposition politician has been prevented from leaving Singapore to attend a prestigious Stanford University programme in the United States because the trip would not benefit her creditors, Chee Siok Chin said Saturday.

"I've travelled to the Ukraine, Brussels, Mali and the Philippines since being declared a bankrupt last August," said the 42-year-old Chee.

A Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) executive committee member and sister of SDP chief Chee Soon Juan, she said that the Official Assignee's Office informed her in a letter that the trip was of no benefit to her creditors. The office must grant permission before a bankrupt person can leave the city-state.

She had applied and was accepted for a fellowship programme at Stanford University's Centre on Democracy, Development and Rule of Law.

"I was offered a 2,000-US-dollar honorarium to pay my creditors," Chee said.

"Obviously they are afraid of what I might say about Singapore" at such an event, Chee said, adding that she plans legal action, though the programme has started.

Michael McFaul, director of the Stanford Centre, wrote to Singapore's Law Minister saying that Chee would receive the money in addition to having her expenses sponsored.

"We would assume that her honorarium earnings could be used to help meet her obligations to her creditors," McFaul wrote in a July 22 letter.

The programme started Monday and runs through August 15. The SDP website said that Chee was one of 27 people accepted.

Chee said the latest setback did not diminish her effort to press for greater freedoms in Singapore.

"Without strong spiritual faith, it would be hard," she said.

Chee was made bankrupt last year after failing to pay legal costs linked to a 2005 case that was thrown out by the House Court. It involved a protest outside a public building by Chee and three others calling for greater transparency in state institutions.

They were subsequently ordered to pay costs of 23,700 Singapore dollars (17,290 US dollars).

In June, Chee was sentenced to 10 days in jail and her brother to 12 days for contempt during a three-day hearing to assess damages in a defamation suit brought against them and the SDP by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

Justice Belinda Ang said that Chee Siok Chin had disobeyed the court's orders to desist from asking irrelevant questions while cross-examining the prime minister and the senior Lee, Singapore's founding father.

Chee Soon Juan, 49, had been made bankrupt earlier for remarks made in the run-up to a general election.

Singapore maintains that it needs tough laws restricting freedom of assembly to maintain peace and stability, and that defamation suits initiated by leaders are necessary to protect their reputations.

The People's Action Party has ruled Singapore since independence from Malaysia. There are only two opposition members in the 84-member Parliament. (dpa)

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