COMMENT: Should foreigners be allowed to protest in Singapore?


Singapore has been no stranger to non-Singaporean protests; in recent years we have seen migrant workers participate in collective action in response to alleged unfair labour practices.

However, the latest case of non-citizens protesting in Singapore was not about abusive employers or withheld wages. Wednesday evening saw about 100 Malaysians in Singapore gathering at Merlion Park dressed in black to protest electoral irregularities in their recent elections.

The election returned Barisan Nasional to power despite it having lost the popular vote, and the Malaysians' protest coincided with a massive rally led by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat in Kelana Jaya in Kuala Lumpur.

The peaceful gathering was labelled an "illegal outdoor protest" by the Singapore police, and five Malaysians -- thought to be organisers -- were called in to assist with investigations. Nine were subsequently issued warnings.

Following this news, I asked people on Facebook and Twitter what they thought about foreigners protesting in Singapore. Click here to read the Storify of the conversations that unfolded.

Many were in favour of allowing non-Singaporeans to protest in Singapore (of course, this could very well be due to the general mindset of my regular social circle, and not representative of the population), but there were others who said that foreigners should not be allowed to participate in protests in Singapore.

"They shouldn't bring their foreign issues into our country," was one school of thought.

"They should respect our laws," was another.

I can see where they're coming from, but does it really make sense to restrict the right to expression by nationality? People don't lose their values and beliefs once they leave their home country, and it makes sense that they might want to express support for particular causes or, as we saw on Wednesday evening, show solidarity for their fellow countrymen back home.

If these gatherings are peaceful, I don't see why people should be excluded from participating (or even organising) them simply on the basis of their citizenship. It's not about foreign interference, or bringing foreign issues into Singapore. More often than not it is about solidarity - relating to the struggles of others.

Solidarity is nothing new. Movements have emerged around the world in support of struggles in other places such as Myanmar and Tibet. Indeed, one could argue that without the involvement of voices outside of the country, Aung San Suu Kyi could still be under house arrest today.

The importance of solidarity movements cannot be underestimated; at the very least they send a message to those working hard in their home countries, letting them know that they are not alone.

Regardless of nationality, everyone has something to say. Asking someone to remain silent just because he or she is not a Singaporean seems a very silly thing to do. The opinions and experiences of those who have lived outside of our country may be useful to us; their perspectives may allow us to look at our own issues in a different light, and help us find new ways to overcome problems.

By telling them to shut up and not "interfere", we are losing out on these perspectives.

Kirsten Han is a freelance journalist and multitasker. Although she writes mainly about Singapore, she is interested in social justice and human rights stories from all around the world.

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