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SINGAPORE, March 23 — Singapore today indefinitely banned protests and other gatherings at the country’s sole free-speech park, declaring it a zone for honouring the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
In a surprise move hours after Lee’s death, Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean revoked a legal provision allowing public meetings and protests at Speakers’ Corner.
The National Parks Board, which manages the leafy square where Speakers’ Corner is located, said on its website that it is “one of the designated community centres for remembering the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew”.
“As such, we will not be able to accept any applications to use Speakers’ Corner during this time,” it added without stating a dateline for the measure to end.
Lee, who died aged 91 after a long illness, was known for his tough stance on dissidents and political groups opposed to his People’s Action Party.
Singaporean lawyer Choo Zheng Xi, who handles civil liberties cases, noted that “no timeline has been given in the notice as to when they (permits) will be re-instituted.”
The 0.97-hectare Speakers’ Corner, also known as Hong Lim Park, is located in the heart of Singapore’s central business district. It opened in 2000 and is loosely modelled on the free-speech area of London’s famous Hyde Park.
Only Singapore citizens and permanent residents are allowed to take part in protests in the area without police permits. Speeches must also avoid inciting religious or racial hatred.
When Lee was prime minister from 1959 to 1990, he was criticised by rights groups for his iron-fisted rule, forcing several opposition politicians into bankruptcy with libel suits or self-exile.
Lee’s successor Goh Chok Tong and current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, the elder Lee’s son, have gradually liberalised politics in the tiny island republic of 5.5 million people, but critics say freedom of speech and assembly continue to be curtailed. — AFP