In remembrance of a Singapore Patriot – Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (1926 – 2008)

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Hundreds pay final respects to Singapore opposition leader

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 5, 2008

Hundreds of people paid their last respects Saturday at the funeral of Singapore opposition leader J.B. Jeyaretnam, who faced jail and libel suits in a long fight for greater political freedoms in the affluent city-state.

People from different age groups, social backgrounds and races packed the steepled, English Gothic Saint Andrew’s Cathedral in the business district for an Anglican church service.

The remains of Jeyaretnam, who died of heart failure Tuesday aged 82, were to be cremated later Saturday.

Dubbed the grand old man of the opposition, Jeyaretnam was one of the rare few to speak out against the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled Singapore since 1959.

He made political history in 1981 when he became the first opposition politician elected to parliament, espousing causes such as human rights and greater political freedoms in the strict city-state.

Jeyaretnam faced jail and defamation lawsuits filed by PAP members. He was declared bankrupt in 2001 after failing to pay libel damages which prevented him from running for political office.

He cleared the bankruptcy status last year and formed the Reform Party in a bid to return to politics.

In a eulogy, Jeyaretam’s eldest son Kenneth compared his father to a raging bull who, despite the blows he received, remained “undefeated and unbowed”.

Another son, Philip, a prominent lawyer, said his father’s principle of “giving voice to the silent” led him to enter politics.

Despite his defeats, his father was the “epitome of grace”, he said, recalling that taxi drivers would refuse payment off Jeyaretnam out of respect.

“I am here because I respect him a lot. He taught us the meaning of courage,” a 35-year-old businessman said.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International, in an “open letter” to the family, praised Jeyaretnam as an “unflinching campaigner for the rule of law and for the whole spectrum of human rights — regardless of the personal costs he paid”.

Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim told AFP Jeyaretnam had “consistently been the voice for democracy” and lauded his passion for freedom and human rights.

“His small but audible voice had attracted a lot of international support,” Anwar said.

Singapore’s leaders have said the defamation suits against political opponents are necessary to protect their reputation and tough laws on public assembly are needed to maintain law and order.

They have defended their public record, citing surveys ranking Singapore highly for its low crime rate, the ease of doing business, top quality schools and hospitals and an intolerance of corruption.

Singapore is among Asia’s wealthiest and safest states but critics have urged the government to loosen up on some political and social controls.

 

Source: Agence France-Presse

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