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Singapore jails opposition leader over bid to leave

Singapore Democratic Party Secretarty-General Chee Soon Juan speaks during a debate in Singapore in this April 13, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Tim Chong

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore has jailed a prominent opposition leader for three weeks after he failed to pay a fine for trying to leave the city-state without permission from the government, as required of him as a bankrupt.

Chee Soon Juan, an outspoken critic of the government and leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), was fined S$4,000 ($2,621) after he tried to leave in April last year to attend a democracy conference in Turkey, his sister Chee Siok Chin said.

Under Singapore’s laws, bankrupts who leave the city-state without permission from the government may be fined up to S$10,000 or jailed up to two years.

Chee, who has had multiple run-ins with the Singapore government, was declared bankrupt in February 2006 after he failed to make libel payments of S$500,000 to former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

“He did not pay because it was partly a matter of principle,” said Chee Siok Chin, also a senior SDP member. “It’s ridiculous that they even flagged a fine on a bankrupt.”

Chee Soon Juan has been jailed five times since 1999 for speaking in public without a permit, and for questioning the independence of Singapore’s judiciary.

A neuropsychologist by training, Chee was sacked from his job as a lecturer at the National University of Singapore in 1993 after he was accused of improperly using S$226 for postage.

The Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review magazine -- owned by Dow Jones DJ.N -- is being sued by Lee and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after it featured Chee last year criticising the government's handling of a pay-and-perks scandal at Singapore's largest charity.

Chee’s party did not win any parliament seats in last year’s May poll, but won 23 percent of the votes in the wards it contested.