Connect with us

Civil Society

“We Are Not The Enemy” spotlights Singapore’s steadfast advocacy amid authoritarianism

The ‘We Are Not The Enemy’ book launch on Sunday saw over 250 citizens celebrating, showcasing civil society’s resilience amidst heightened suppression of dissent in Singapore.



SINGAPORE: The book launch for ‘We Are Not The Enemy: The Practice of Advocacy in Singapore‘ was successfully held on Sunday (17 March) and was well-received by over 250 people, including contributors, members of the public, and supporters who attended the event.

The remarkable attendance was deeply gratifying. Additionally, a panel discussion enriched the event, fostering meaningful conversations about Singapore’s civil society landscape and the driving forces behind advocacy efforts.

The book itself comprises a collection of essays and interviews featuring fellow Singaporean activists.

Within its pages, these activists offer candid reflections on their intentions, beliefs, and strategies regarding the practice of advocacy across a wide spectrum of causes.

The book is a collection of essays and interviews of fellow Singaporean activists on their candid reflections on the intentions, beliefs and strategies behind the practice of advocacy across a spectrum of causes.

Edited by renowned women’s rights activist Constance Singam and Margaret Thomas, founding member of AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research), the contributors represent diverse backgrounds including academics, artists, lawyers, journalists, non-profit and advocacy organizations, as well as student and community organizers.

While advocates and activists in Singapore contribute significantly to policy discussions and positive change through deft manoeuvres and patient politics, civil society is often underappreciated, with their skills and efforts frequently misunderstood, sometimes earning them labels such as “troublemakers” or “enemies of the state”.

In this book, activists provide practical insights into their goals and community-building efforts, along with the tactics they employ to overcome obstacles, offering invaluable guidance on navigating a city-state with shifting socio-political dynamics and sensitive boundaries.

Constance Singam envisions a promising future for civil society

In an earlier Ethos Books press release, veteran activist Constance Singam, with over four decades of experience, shares her optimism for the future of civil society, inspired by the dedication and bravery of young activists.

She reflects on the challenges faced in Singapore, where civil society is often misunderstood or suppressed.

“In Singapore, we seldom talk of a civil society, because of the suppression of independent action, because of our early history, when the law was used to silence civil society, because of the limit inflicted on our freedom of expression. ”

“As a result of this history many Singaporeans define civil society as opposition, as hostile to the state. ”

Singam advocated for a more positive perception of civil society, envisioning it as a space for citizen engagement and democratic participation.

She emphasized the importance of broadening our understanding of civil society, highlighting its pivotal role in fostering cooperation, trust, and independent thinking among activists, citizens, and governmental institutions.

Singam highlighted the resilience of civil society, often manifesting in small gatherings of like-minded individuals.

She shared her journey of activism, acknowledging moments of helplessness and fear but ultimately finding enrichment and community through her advocacy work.

Singam emphasized the importance of independent thought and citizen participation in democracy, noting the positive impact activism has on both individuals and society.

She expressed her admiration for the stories shared in ‘We Are Not the Enemy’, which demonstrate the diverse ways individuals contribute to social change despite challenges.

“The experiences of activists, narrated in the book, reveal many different ways of being an activist and what they have achieved for the community and for themselves by doing the work they do, by shaking off the helplessness they feel—which all of us feel at times in this environment of fear, coercion and extremely limited freedom. I am inspired.”

The contributors of ‘We Are Not the Enemy’ include notable figures such as academics Cherian George, Ng Kok Hoe, Kenneth Paul Tan, and Walid Jumblatt Bin Abdullah; artists Alfian Sa’at and T. Sasitharan; lawyers, journalists, representatives from non-profit and advocacy organizations like Alex Au of TWC2, Corinna Lim of AWARE, and the Disabled People’s Association, as well as student and community organizers from groups such as the Community for Advocacy and Political Education, Pink Dot, QUASA, the SG Climate Rally, and Your Head Lah!.

Additionally, Ethos Books collaborated with the Community for Advocacy and Political Education ( to produce a limited-time print edition of “The CAPE Handbook to Advocacy in Singapore.”

This concise, 70-page guide dispels misconceptions and offers practical action steps, providing readers with strategies for effective advocacy and activism in the city-state.

‘We Are Not The Enemy’ is now available on the Ethos Books webstore and at various bookstores from the week of 18 March 2024, including City Book Room, Epigram Bookshop, Grassroots Book Room, Kinokuniya, The Book Bar, and Wormhole.

HRW’s Concerns: Singapore’s suppression of dissent

In the World Report 2024 published in January,  Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organization dedicated to upholding international human rights, sheds light on Singapore’s suppression of dissenting voices in the run-up to the 2023 presidential elections, coupled with instances of censoring independent journalism.

HRW highlighted that the Singapore government targeted independent media outlets with overly broad and restrictive laws that grant the authorities highly discretionary powers to censor online content.

In July 2023, the government enacted the Online Criminal Harms Act, which threatens to further undermine freedom of expression and free speech in the country.

HRW alerted that the authorities also cracked down on critical views by silencing human rights defenders under the guise of protecting its judicial system.

In a letter to the Singaporean government made public in January 2023, Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, expressed deep concern about government suppression and intimidation against human rights defenders Kirsten Han and Rocky Howe for their advocacy opposing the death penalty in Singapore.

In March 2023, the Singaporean High Court suspended the law license of a prominent human rights defender and lawyer, Ravi Madasamy.

In a letter to the Singaporean government made public in January 2023, Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, expressed deep concern about government suppression and intimidation against human rights defenders Kirsten Han and Rocky Howe for their advocacy opposing the death penalty in Singapore.

In March 2023, the Singaporean High Court suspended the law license of a prominent human rights defender and lawyer, Ravi Madasamy.

The court found he had undermined the integrity of the judiciary through his criticisms of the attorney general, who reinstated the death penalty for Gobi Avedian, a Malaysian whom Madasamy was representing in court.

In November, Mr Ravi was sentenced to three weeks’ imprisonment for two charges of contempt of court. Earlier, he was lauded with the 2023 IBA Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Rights by the International Bar Association.

Despite taking a positive step in 2022 to repeal section 377A of the criminal code,the colonial-era provision criminalizing same-sex relations between men, HRW noted that Singapore has publicly rejected taking any steps toward guaranteeing marriage equality, and LGBT people in the country continue to face discrimination.

Police investigations into Singaporeans advocating for Israel-Palestine conflict victims

Separately, Singaporean police are investigating its citizens for advocating on behalf of those affected by the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Activist Gilbert Goh was summoned in November last year for holding signs in solidarity with Gaza conflict victims at Hong Lim Park’s Speakers’ Corner.

In February, at least nine individuals were summoned by Singaporean police for expressing solidarity with Palestine, as reported by Transformative Justice SG. The summons were based on potential public order violations and the promotion of enmity.

Share this post via:
Continue Reading
Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Those who think alternative way in the medical treatment are also persecuted.Hired goons are send to harrass these people 24/7.

We know who the enemy is. No need to fly flags and blast speakers loudly.
We the citizens know.

Deaf n dumb!

They now tell you no need degree to get on life so that YOU remain IGNORANT of politics!

Msm try hard to portray those jobs which do not need educational degrees,

Kudos to CS, MT and all the contributors in reminding us of our rights as citizens.It also shows the distrust between the State and it’s citizens as activists and the Opposition are taken and treated as enemies for having alternate thinking.

The truth of the edict of, who is enemy is up to the instigator, the laws of the instigator, to designate who are enemies – like who is POFMA material, who is POFMA enemy, who is determined to be against PAP interests.

Wake up.

Who changed the constitution based on whimps and fancies to suit Tharman’s legal eligibility and status.