Think Centre wishes JBJ a Happy Birthday and thanks him for tirelessly honouring his democratic duties for the people of Singapore. Some spirits cannot be overwhelmed.
JBJ and 120 of his supporters and well-wishers attended his 77th birthday celebrations at the Chengdu Restaurant.
Spotting a red batik shirt, JBJ who for most of the night was lighting the room with his 1000-watt smile, appeared relaxed and happy. Present at the dinner were his son Philip Jeyaretnam and former members of the Workers' Party. Several Think Centre members were also present headed by its President Sinapan Samydorai.
The birthday dinner organised by Mr. Ng Teck Siong and well wishers gave JBJ's supporters an opportunity to buy his latest book-"The Hatchet Man of Singapore".
The dinner offered a rare opportunity into the insight of the Jeyaretnam family. Philip, declaring himself as his father's son to the cheer of the crowd, said that there were two qualities that he would always remember his father for. One was his everlasting compassion and the other his tenacity. Philip said he would always be proud of his father.
In delivering his speech, JBJ who initially promised that he would not speak too long could not resist the temptation. JBJ thanked his supporters for their presence and he was encouraged that he did not stand alone. He went on to say that our society has become greedy and is becoming meaner by the day and that has to change. JBJ reiterated his belief that the good life did not only mean having your material need satisfied but also freedom and dignity guaranteed by virtue of one being a member of the human race.
In true JBJ style, his parting statement to his supporters was that there was no intention of him giving up or relenting in his fight for his belief of what is right for Singapore. Lions don't eat grass.
He was elected to parliament in 1981 as the first non-People's Action Party (PAP) MP since independence in 1965. In 2001, he lost his parliamentary seat after being declared a bankrupt for not paying the massive damages awarded to PAP members in a series of defamation suits. Due to this, he is also barred from standing for parliamentary seats in future elections.
Jeyaretnam believes the defamation suits against him were politically motivated to remove him from parliament.
As one observer has said: "So I would say it's time for the Singaporean government to have an overall review of the defamation law in Singapore. I think there should be legal reform to ensure that freedom of expression is adequately protected," Albert Ho, on behalf of the Asian Human Rights Commission. [AFP, April 2, 2002]
He could no longer practise law as a brankrupt. At 77 he is forced to sell his books in the streets for his living. He is no quitter and desires to get into parliament after paying-off his debts with regards to the bankruptcy. He needs money to get into parliament. He deserves a decent birthday. He struggled to deliver justice for the poor, the discriminated and the working people!
Jeyaretnam challenged the government on a range of issues including high ministerial salaries and the role of the judiciary to police methods of investigation, defamation laws, freedom of the press and workers' rights.
He is still a champion of human rights.
"The Singaporean government has a history of using civil defamation suits to stifle political opposition. Such defamation suits place unreasonable restrictions on the right of Singaporeans to peacefully express their opinions and to participate freely in public life,"
It needs to be recognised that a dissenter is a citizen with equal rights. When there are doubts, we should resolve the issue in favour of expression rather then suppression.
"International law considers a persons' situation in society when restricting freedom of expression. The "duties and responsibilities" of a person, as called in ICCPR Article 19 (3), may differ from person to person. A person's right to protection against defamatory or slanderous speech, therefore, must be analyzed in relation to his societal duties. For example, in Lingens V. Austria, the European Court of Human Rights held that a government official accused of holding an 'accommodating attitude' towards Nazis had to endure more criticism as a result of his public position. The court ruled that public figures must endure more criticism than private persons in order for public debate, essential in democracy, to properly function. Defamation laws must honor this distinction." [Human Rights Brief, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Washington College of Law, American University, Vol. 6. Issue 3. 1999]