Not known if Spore activist wants asylum in Australia

Yap Mun Ching

Modified 29 Jan 2008, 10:21 am

The Australian Embassy said today it is unable to confirm if Singapore activist Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff is seeking political refuge in Australia after fleeing there last week.

Australian High Commissioner Peter Varghese (photo) said as he is bound to confidentiality under the country's privacy legislation, he is unable to provide information on whether Zulfikar sought asylum from his government.

In addition, "we process applications from 200,000 persons annually so I do not know every person who has applied for a visa," said the envoy when contacted today.

Varghese said he was only aware of Zulfikar's situation after reading press reports yesterday.

It was learnt that Zulfikar visited the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur two days before his departure to Australia on July 14.

Repeated attempts to contact Singapore high commission officials were unsuccessful.

Yesterday, a Reuters report quoted the 30-year-old activist as saying that he had left Singapore for fear of becoming a "victim of political manoeuvring".

The former chief of, a Singapore-hosted website, is being investigated for criminal defamation against Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Muslim Affairs Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, and Ho Ching, Lee's daughter-in-law who is the executive director of state investment arm Temasek Holdings.

Zulfikar, in turn, is claiming criminal defamation against the republic's Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Yatiman Yusof, for allegedly labelling him as a "Muslim extremist".

'Police state'

Meanwhile, Singapore non-governmental organisation Think Centre said the departure of Zulfikar (photo) and his family shows that there is no free speech on the Internet or freedom after expression in Singapore.

"The investigation of Internet postings by the Singapore police force confirms that Singapore is indeed a police state," said the Think Centre.

In an interview

with malaysiakini two days before his departure to Australia, Zulfikar expressed his disappointment with the state of Muslim affairs in Singapore.

He lamented the quota limiting the number of students attending madrasah (Islamic schools) and the refusal of the Singapore government to revoke its ban on the wearing of tudung (headscarves) by Muslim students.

Zulfikar is the latest in a line of critics of the Singapore government to be investigated for criminal defamation.

High-profile opposition politicians who were previously found liable for defamation include Worker's Party candidates Tang Liang Hong and JB Jeyaretnam. Tang left Singapore in 1997 and is currently living in Australia.

Criminal defamation carries a maximum jail term of two years, a fine or both.