U.S. economist, fearing imprisonment, says he won't return to Singapore

November 07, 1994|By New York Times News Service

SINGAPORE -- An American economist who left Singapore last month said yesterday that he would not return because he was fearful of being imprisoned over a newspaper opinion article published in Singapore in which he criticized "intolerant regimes" in Asia.

The State Department has issued a protest over the treatment of the economist, Christopher Lingle, who was interrogated by the Singapore police twice last month as a result of the article, which appeared Oct. 7 in the International Herald Tribune.

In an interview from his family home in Atlanta, Dr. Lingle, who had taught for the last year at the National University of Singapore, said he would not return to this authoritarian city-state because "these people weren't playing games -- if I had stayed, I would have faced the prospect of imprisonment or a heavy fine." The Singapore police, he said, "intimidated the hell out of me."

In the article, Dr. Lingle wrote of the clash of Western and Asian values and said that authoritarian governments in Asia were "ingenious at suppressing dissent."

He referred to the tendency of Asian leaders to rely "on a compliant judiciary to bankrupt opposition politicians." He did not single out any particular nation by name, but clearly the Singapore government thought that he was referring to it.

In a statement released in Washington, the State Department said it "was disappointed at this apparent attempt by Singaporean authorities to intimidate Professor Lingle."

The State Department has protested repeatedly this year to Singapore over its treatment of U.S. citizens, most notably teen-ager Michael Fay, who was flogged in May for spray-painting cars.

The Singapore government, which has denied allegations from Americans living in Singapore that they are being singled out for harassment as part of a government crusade against U.S. values, expressed surprise over the State Department's defense of Dr. Lingle.

"If anybody impugns the government's integrity and it amounts to defamation, the government will take action," Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said, adding that the government was "thin-skinned" when its honesty was questioned.

Ten days after the article was published, Dr. Lingle said, two Singaporean police officers appeared at his office at the university, where hewas a senior fellow in the European studies, and questioned him for nearly two hours.

Two days later, he was questioned again for about two hours at the university.

After the interrogations, Dr. Lingle, 46, left Singapore on a leave of absence to visit his ailing father in Atlanta. He has since resigned from the university and asked to be allowed to serve the remaining month of his employment in the United States.

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