10 things about: Han Hui Hui, the Singaporean social activist

Picture by K.E.Ooi
Picture by K.E.Ooi

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GEORGE TOWN, May 31 — Hers is a familiar name to most Singaporeans as Han Hui Hui has been actively speaking out against the country’s social security, Central Provident Fund (CPF), education system and rising unemployment.

The 23-year-old, who was in Malaysia to give a series of talks on youth activism in remembrance of the bloody Tiananmen Square 1989 crackdown in China, has organised various protests she calls “events” since 2013 to raise awareness of the alleged mismanagement of the CPF by the Singapore government.

As a result of her vocal views on these subjects which she blogs about and posts on Facebook, the financial consultant has been sued for defamation by various organisations several times but won each of those cases.

Last year, on September 27, she organised an event at Hong Ling Park, Singapore to protest the CPF issue and was arrested along with five others.

They were all charged with organising an illegal protest and for causing a public nuisance. The case is still pending in court.

Han continues to organise monthly “events” about the three main issues as she believes that there is a need for advocacy to change the problems in Singapore.

Here, she talks about how she started becoming involved in social activism and why she continues to do it despite the lawsuits and the charges brought against her.

In her own words:

  • I was invited here to share my experiences in organising protests in Singapore but I wouldn’t call them protests because in Singapore, we haven’t had any protests for the past 50 years. So, it was more of my sharing how to organise events and to encourage youths born in the 1990s to participate in these kind of events. This is because in the upcoming elections, people born in the 1990s will be voting for the first time so we are trying to get more youths involved in current issues.
  • I grew up in Singapore and went through their education system. In 2008, I went to college and started a blog. In my blog I talked about the education system and questioned why we are taking so many exams and what the exams are for. Later in 2010, I had my first lawsuit for criticising the education system. Initially they started off by sending school lecturers and school CEOs to sue me for defamation, but they lost. Then in 2013, the government couldn’t take it anymore, they used taxpayers’ money to sue me for defamation. The case was set aside by the court because it is wrong due to freedom of speech. The suit ended in 2013 when the government offered me S$20,000 and the issue subsequently died down. All this is because I exposed degree mills in Singapore. Many foreigners are using degrees they bought from degree mills to get jobs in Singapore while Singaporeans are having a hard time getting jobs.The issue was a hot topic in August 2013 but it died down and recently, it became a hot issue again due to rising unemployment.
  • Singapore has many new citizens. In Singapore, about 70,000 people are jobless and yet they (the government) accept more than 10,000 new citizens every year. It started in 2001 with 10,000 new citizens and then it increased up to 20,000 annually over the years. In November 2013, I organised an event on education and every month after that, I organised different events. We also organise trips such as a trip to Norway to find out about their education and political systems but not as a group because we are not allowed to form non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are not pro-government.
  • I’ve had a lot of defamation suits due to my Facebook posts and blogs. Quite a lot of times my family had asked me why I’m doing this when I’m doing pretty well in Singapore and that there is no need to do all this. Blogging is something I started in college so if I were to stop just because someone sent me a letter, that would be pretty outrageous.
  • The government is waiting for me to apologise over the September 27 event and they actually made the people around me apologise. They told me if I apologise, nothing will happen to me. I told them I won’t apologise, if they want, they can sue me. After that, they sent me a letter telling me that all my friends “had left me.” They didn’t really leave me, they only apologised. The case is postponed again. We do not expect an outcome from this case as elections is coming up.
  • I have siblings and they are still studying. I’m the oldest in the family. My parents told me that as long as I’m right and I got my facts right, then it’s pretty okay for me to be involved in activism. This is because if they were to do anything against me when I have given the facts and evidence, then they will just make a mockery of themselves. I’m doing this because I still want to blog. One of their (government) conditions is for me to quit blogging. I still can’t give that up.
  • When travelling out of Singapore, I get stopped at Customs for about 10 minutes in Singapore. They stop not just me but the people around me as well. They will bring you to a room, let you sit down first, then they will go do their thing and then they come back to say they have checked your identity and that we can go. They do it every single time to only a certain group of people. We know it is the government’s way to scare us, because in Singapore,we can be detained for 48 hours without a lawyer. Don’t tell me that it is a coincidence that this happens to me and to those around me every single time.
  • People in the 1990s are now going into the workforce, we can’t keep letting those born in the 1950s, 60s, 70s continue to plan policies. Who’s going to plan the education system to fit the times? Ultimately, it’s the people who went through the system who will know whether it’s good or bad. We need a more proportionate voice in parliament.
  • We will continue organising events every month. It doesn’t matter how many people turn up at our events. We started doing these events as a way to make a video to post it online. We want to do our videos like a monthly newsletter kind of thing for the public online. Actually, many Singaporeans understand our protests. We must remember that about 40 per cent voted for the Opposition in the last elections, although the Opposition has only six seats in Parliament.
  • I don’t think my siblings will follow in my footsteps. They are the types who feel that since it doesn’t affect them, they are okay, they don’t have to do anything. My family is from the above average income group so everything for them is smooth and okay. I’m not like that. When I’m outside, my friends will tell me they can’t go out with me due to work commitments because they are unable to pay for their health care, then I realise that I can’t be selfish by not doing anything. I have to do something to speak out for them. I don’t plan to be in politics but if you look at it, everything is political. Someone being deported is political, paying extra for a meal due to GST is political. We don’t really have to go into politics to make a difference. If you advocate enough, then something will happen politically.

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