Charles Yeo is a Singaporean lawyer and former politician who served as the chairman of the opposition Reform Party between 2020 and 2022. He is known for his human rights work, especially his representation of death row prisoners, having worked on several high-profile cases with well-known Lawyer and Human rights activist, M Ravi. Charles recently became embroiled in a controversy over his social media posts regarding Christians and homophobia and is currently being investigated for criminal breach of trust (CBT) and forgery in the wake of complaints lodged against Whitefield Law Corporation, the law firm where he was once a partner.
He is wanted by the authorities after he recently sought political asylum in the UK. Charles says he will continue exposing what he describes as “the wrongdoings of the authorities”, as part of a long history of dissidents choosing to live in exile in their fight against the PAP-led government.
Asia Thinkers interviewed Charles Yeo to better understand his stance on Singaporean social issues and his reasons for seeking political asylum in the UK.
Can you tell Asian Thinkers more about why you entered law and focused on human rights issues?
From a young age, I was always interested in social issues and keen to fight injustice. My aunt was a lawyer and introduced me to books written by Singapore social activists including the works of David Marshall, founder of the Workers Party and his emphasis on Social democracy.
I formed an opinion early in life that “Singapore was not a fair and just society,” but let us be clear, I come from a privileged background having studied Law at Warwick University, majoring in human rights issues because I had an interest in these areas. At that time I did not have the intention of becoming a social-political activist. It was on my return to Singapore that I connected with M Ravi (as he specialized in Human rights law) and became his pupil. It was through his work that I decided to take up the cause of defending those facing the death penalty.
What made you decide to enter politics, eventually becoming Chairman of the Reform Party?
It was rather unintentional, but I was inspired by the work of M Ravi and other social-political activists, some in exile, to try and make social change and provide an alternative to the policies of the ruling party which I believe were failing the people and supporting an unjust system. I also felt that PAP was losing the support of the younger generation concerning social issues such as the death penalty and LGBT rights. I joined the reform party in 2011 and in 2020 became Chairman.
Allegations have been made regarding your posts on social media about Christians and homophobia. You are also being investigated for criminal breach of trust (CBT) and forgery about your time as a partner at Whitefield Law Corporation. You are now wanted by the Singapore authorities for breaching your travel conditions. Is there any truth in these allegations?
Firstly there is no truth in these allegations. I believe the allegations are all politically motivated. It is interesting to note that only after I entered politics that these allegations began. After I stood for election there were so many complaints against me as a consequence of my frequent criticism of the Singapore government, including my opposition to Singapore’s death penalty and my work to defend death row prisoners.
I wanted to stay and fight the allegations, but I did not feel that I would get a fair trial. The history of exiled opposition activists seeking asylum overseas certainly supports this. I am familiar with the UK and felt that I could better prepare my defence from here. I have already started proceedings in Singapore and my application for political asylum in the UK is in progress and would assist my case if granted.
Do you believe that you are a political target due to your links with prominent rights lawyer M Ravi, who has also been vocal in the campaign to abolish the death penalty?
There is no doubt that my work with M Ravi made me a Government target, but I intend to continue fighting injustice and support his work defending human rights issues from the UK.
What areas of Singapore’s social policy would you like to see changed?
Firstly, of course, is a change in the law related to the mandatory death penalty, but other issues I want to address are equal rights for the LGBT community as well as rights for foreign workers. An issue close to my heart is the education system which needs to change to allow students to critically evaluate social issues.
How is your move to seek asylum in the UK affected you personally?
Making a stand for my beliefs has cost me my ability to earn a living in Singapore. I will continue to fight social injustice through social media and continue my support of M Ravi and his stance on human rights issues. I may still go back to Singapore and fight the charges to ensure transparency of the proceedings once I am ready. In any case, the truth will come out. The next few years will be critical for Singapore and I believe change will come sooner rather than later.