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Yale defends political curbs on Singapore campus

SINGAPORE -- Yale University, one of the leading centers of liberal education in the United States, on Friday defended a controversial ban on demonstrations and political parties at its new Singapore campus.

Yale-NUS College, a partnership with the National University of Singapore, will have to comply with the city-state's strict laws against dissent, Yale University President Richard Levin said in a statement.

“We should not expect that our presence in Singapore would instantly transform the nation's policies or culture,” he said after New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the restrictions.

Yale-NUS bills itself as Singapore's first liberal arts college. The first batch of students will start classes in August 2013 at an NUS facility before the new campus officially opens in 2015.

Despite its tradition of political control and censorship, affluent Singapore has become a leading center of advanced education in Southeast Asia, attracting students from across the region.

Pericles Lewis, president of Yale-NUS, said: “Any college or university must obey the laws of the countries where it operates.

“We are aware that there are restrictions on speech and public demonstrations in Singapore.”

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, accused Yale on Thursday of “betraying the spirit of the university as a center of open debate and protest by giving away the rights of its students” at the new campus.

Yale-NUS is the first college established by the elite Ivy League school outside its campus in New Haven, Connecticut.

Lewis told the Wall Street Journal in a recent interview that students “are going to be totally free to express their views” — but won't be allowed to organize political protests on campus.

Although groups will be allowed to discuss political issues “we won't have partisan politics or be forming political parties on campus,” he said.

Singapore opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, who said he had been barred twice from speaking at NUS, said Yale “seems a rather willing partner” in the ruling party's efforts to “safeguard its authoritarian control in Singapore.”

In a resolution passed in April, the Yale faculty expressed “concern regarding the history of lack of respect for civil and political rights in the state of Singapore.”

It called on Yale-NUS to uphold civil liberties and political freedom on campus and in broader society.

Political demonstrations in Singapore are only allowed at the Speakers' Corner, situated in a downtown park, but organizers have to seek approval from park administrators.

They are not allowed to speak on topics “which may cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different racial or religious groups.” A police permit is also be needed if non-citizens are to speak.

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