Singapore: Drop Case Against Peaceful Protester


Activist Jolovan Wham Faces Multiple Charges Under Draconian Laws

(Bangkok) – Singapore authorities should drop the case against activist Jolovan Wham for holding three public gatherings in the city-state, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities are expected to charge Wham on November 29, 2017 with three counts of organizing a public assembly without a police permit and one count of vandalism.“Prosecuting Jolovan Wham for holding peaceful gatherings demonstrates the absurdity of Singapore’s laws on public assemblies and the government’s willingness to penalize those who speak out,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The Singapore government should start listening to criticism, stop treating peaceful assemblies as crimes, and cease prosecuting their organizers.”

Singapore’s draconian Public Order Act requires a police permit for any “cause-related” assembly that is held in a public place, or to which the public is invited. Organizing or participating in a protest without a permit is a criminal offense, even if the protest was peaceful and did not disrupt public order. The law covers not just outdoor gatherings, but also those held indoors if they are in a place open to the public, or if the public is invited.

Prosecuting Jolovan Wham for holding peaceful gatherings demonstrates the absurdity of Singapore’s laws on public assemblies and the government’s willingness to penalize those who speak out. 
Phil Robertson – Deputy Director

The only exceptions are events held wholly inside a building or other enclosed premise where the organizers and all the speakers are citizens of Singapore and the event does not deal “with any matter which relates (directly or indirectly) to any religious belief or religion, or any matter which may cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will, or hostility between different racial or religious groups in Singapore,” or events held at Speakers’ Corner, a designated section of Hong Lim Park.

Anyone found guilty of organizing a public assembly without a police permit can be fined up to S$5,000 (US$3,715), while repeat offenders can be fined up to S$10,000 (US$7,430) and jailed for up to six months.

The expected charges against Wham, 37, stem from three peaceful gatherings. The first, at an indoor venue on November 26, 2016, was a forum to discuss civil disobedience and social movements. Because Joshua Wong, who is not a citizen of Singapore, called into the forum from Hong Kong via Skype, Wham faces charges for violating the Public Order Act’s requirement to apply for and receive a police permit for an event featuring a foreign speaker.

Wham also faces charges for organizing a “silent protest” on June 3, 2017, without obtaining a police permit. The event, held to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the arrest and detention of 22 social activists and volunteers under the Internal Security Act in 1987, featured nine people who stood silently on board a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train, each blindfolded and holding up a book, “1987: Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On.” The nine protesters then sat in empty seats in the train car and proceeded to read the book together. Authorities leveled the vandalism charge, which carries a penalty of up to three years in prison, against Wham because he temporarily pasted two sheets of paper calling for justice for the 1987 ISA detainees and opposing detention without trial to the inside of the train.

The final gathering was a candlelight vigiloutside Changi Prison on July 13 to support the family of a Malaysian national, S. Prabagaran, who was slated to be executed for drug trafficking. Singapore authorities refused numerous entreaties from the family, lawyers, nongovernmental organizations, diplomatic missions, and the United Nations to stop the execution and commute the sentence to life in prison. Prabagaran was executed the following morning. Wham also faces charges for refusing to sign his statements to the police.

Under international law, freedom of assembly is a right and not a privilege and should not be subject to prior authorization by the authorities. It is widely accepted that no one should be subject to criminal penalties simply for organizing or participating in a peaceful assembly.

The Singapore Police Force, in a November 28 news release announcing that Wham would be charged, highlighted the fact that Singapore citizens can organize public assemblies without a permit “in accordance with the rules” at Speakers’ Corner. International standards provide that the government has an obligation to facilitate peaceful assemblies “within sight and sound” of their intended target. Restricting protests to a venue far from the target of the protests cannot be justified as a reasonable restriction on freedom of assembly, and the creation of Speakers’ Corner in no way justifies or balances the excessive restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly in the rest of the city-state.

“By charging Jolovan Wham with criminal offenses for these peaceful gatherings, the Singapore government is signaling its complete intolerance for even the mildest forms of public dissent,” Robertson said. “The case against him should be dropped, and urgent action taken to amend the Public Order Act to fully respect the right of all persons in Singapore to peacefully assemble.”

The above is a press release by Human Rights Watch.


    • I think saying Singapore is a fascist state is definitely going too far.

      But most definitely, we are democracy with an authoritarian state.

      Kinda like China is a free-market with a command economy central government.

    • Democracy with an authoritarian state? What’s that? Could i re-phrase: it ‘s an oligarchic authoritarian state. Ceratin class has privileges and only certain organisations allowed to exist. Otherwise how we get a president whose ethnicity could be anyhow altered and elected into office by one man?

    • Tiffany Teo Tiang Yu are we still brooding over the head of state with no political power? Who gives a damn who is president? Who?

      As for class privileges, well, which country doesn’t have that?
      If you’re sore about it and what those privileges, work for it, get yourself into those class.
      The people who doesn’t want those privileges, those who don’t give a damn about those privileges, DON’T TALK ABOUT THEM!
      Only those who yearn for them but don’t get, mentions them, a whole damn lot!

  1. The gov is afraid that the ppl will unite n the gov would no longer be in power thats y the gov is stopping all this…
    In spore,ppl must be slaves to the gov n not be like the 30% who vote against them…

  2. Every country have its laws of do n don’t.If everyone takes law into their own hand..and then create a scene for sympathy among the community then it is not right.Many of the younger generation may not know how the communist had created unrest n terror attack in SG.One example..a car bomb went wrong n exploded in Tiong Bahru..just imagine..would u feel safe to go out anytime.There were many ppl arrested under the ISA n one if them is TEO SOH LENG.Its takes many years to built a safe place to stay n we cannot let some activies damaged it in days or month.

    • Formex Teo, yeap I agree. Those people on the MRT look very violent and aggressive.

      Being sarcastic of course.

      Have we lost the ability to appreciate facts on our own? Do people blindly accept what they are told without critique?

    • Wondering who will declare violent assembly protest?
      Violent will only come after one lose control of the peaceful assembly.
      But this is not about violence or peaceful protest.
      It is about not seeking permission n not following lawful procedure.

    • The message and agenda is not a peaceful one!

      No one has ever got arrested for assembling to pass on the Christmas spirit.

      Operation Spectrum? The other side of the story died with the late LKY. These people wanna harp on it like a broken record, go get your justice in the underworld.

      And those arrested in the Ops, how many of them are capable of achieving anything great after being released!? The saying, you can’t put a good man down, well I don’t see anyone rising up. All I see are years of lamenting what they endured. Only THEY know what they really did. What they tell, well, unless they are perfect beings, they are capable of lying.

    • Yes, all countries’ laws should be respected. Such as the Third Reich in Germany, or Imperial Japan in occupied Singapore, or authorities in North Korea and Syria.

      The mindset of these idiot peasants, honestly. And why are they all such insecure, spineless, cowards? Is their pathetic “9-to-5, and then watch Channel 8” lifestyle actually worth anything anyway?

    • These laws and procedures are outdated. They are from the cold war era of Singapore’s history.

      I’m sure nobody here objects to the ISA being used to detain security risks without trial. Sadly, it’s needed in this age tainted with terrorism.

      But to legitimize the narrative of prosecuting a person for holding peaceful demonstrations such as a candle lit vigil for a man about to be hanged?

      Just because it’s a law, it does mean it’s a just law.

    • PK Ang, don’t be silly. No one is implying what you’re suggesting.

      Our laws ignore the civic rights of individuals. That is not debatable by the way, it is widely acknowledged by many international observers.

    • Syed Munir who are the individuals? How many?

      Who the fuck give a shit what international observers acknowledged or think about us? Do you?

      If Singapore fall and you go hungry and your families are made slaves, what can these international observers do except observe!? Like they will life a damn finger and do shit!

      I can be regarded as an international observer of the US but you think Trump will give a shit!?

    • With One Party Rule – the only way for Singapore to succeed, do you think it bothers our government that others view Singapore as non democratic? Our country Laws ignored when “Brother cannot sue”. This technique 杀一警百 is very communist and very effective.

    • We are no longer living in the cold war. These laws only have 2 places: in our history books or to be used against the real threats today like terrorists and criminal hackers.

    • Every things have a beginning, prevention is better than cure ..

      Just look at Middle East, how war started ?
      It’s all about “ human rights, Freedom, Democracy but are they ?

      Just 1% of the Population take issues into the streets, that will give reasons for outsiders to interfere with our internal affairs in the name of human rights, freedom of speech n expression n what not ..

      We have to make sure that such activities should not happen here!

  3. Under international law yes, but we are subjected to the laws enacted in Singapore.

    If you want international laws, go to international waters.

    Peaceful assembly of what theme? I wonder how would the Oppositions fanboys and girls react to a peaceful assembly of PAP supporters in their backyard, with permit of coz.

  4. law is a local concept – period. international law is nothing but just for lip service. eventually, in the world, you fend for yourself. nobody can force you or police you to abide by them. whenever any major power claim to do so, its with an individual motive.

    people who keep thinking that international laws are powerful fundamentally dont understand the structure of power at all.

  5. Countries selectively apply international law. And anyway, most Singaporeans are conformist losers who are happy to show off their shackles; like plantation slaves who will sleep their bosses and be good, so long as they don’t have to go out in the hot fields.

    It’s futile. You can’t rally the worthless, you can only use them to aid your own escape.

  6. Even in the communist countries like China where the 2-term Government is progressively practiced, freedom of speech & assembly is very common ! Sg is getting worse like a dictator control small Red-dot ! Our next generation will be suffering under the multi millionaire dictator of Lee Dynasty !!

  7. Well, there is a risk that people can make use of this to sow discord and break through our psychological defences. Besides, if you are saying that you deserve something just because other ppl have it, why not share your GDP growth with them? They jump, you jump, they regress into spoilt kids, you wanna follow? Think about it, please.

  8. The Gov much always remember
    Harmony is not 100 people saying one and the same thing. Harmony is 100 people saying 100 different things and respecting one another…

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