It’s easy to roll my eyes at the gross misrepresentation of my country in films like Crazy Rich Asians, but things get more awkward when I’m face–to–face with gushing foreigners, talking about how much they’d love to move to Singapore, how it’s just so much better than wherever they’re living, how it seems so beautiful and wonderful and everything “just works”. In that moment, I don’t want to be that party pooper who goes off on a rant, because that feels impolite and also unfair to both my country and the speaker who just wants to pay a compliment. But I’m also reluctant to let go of an opportunity to raise awareness of the struggles Singapore’s activist and pro–democracy advocates face. More often than not, I’m just left with a sense of ambivalence.
Civil and political rights—or the lack thereof—in Singapore
Recently, my friend Jolovan Wham spent some time in prison. He served two–thirds of a 22–day sentence, in lieu of fines he’d refused to pay. He’d pleaded guilty to organising an “illegal assembly” in 2017, in the form of a silent protest on the MRT train, and “vandalism”, which referred to the act of sticking up two sheets of A4 paper in the train carriage, drawing attention to the Internal Security Act and the history of detention without trial in Singapore. Also taken into account was his organising of a small candlelight vigil for a death row inmate; if the stern warning I received from the police for my participation in that vigil is anything to go by, this “illegal assembly” lasted all of 15 minutes.