Singapore— An appeal filed by activist and social worker Jolovan Wham against his conviction and sentence for the organization of a public assembly without a permit and refusing to sign a police statement was dismissed by the High Court on Friday, October 25.
In his judgment regarding the appeal, Justice Chua Lee Ming said,
“Allowing any person organising a public assembly to ignore and defy the Commissioner’s decision, instead of challenging it in Court, is to allow that person to take the law into his own hands. Such vigilante conduct cannot be condoned.”
Justice Chua said he found that Mr Wham had been correctly convicted at his trial, and dismissed the activist’s appeal against his sentence, as it had not been manifestly excessive.
In 2016, Mr Wham organized an event with the title Civil Disobedience and Social Movements. This was held at the Agora in Sin Ming Lane and featured a speech over Skype from Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong as well as local activists Kirsten Han and Seelan Palay.
Police had informed him that a permit for the event was necessary, due to the fact that Mr Wong is a foreigner.
He was given a fine of $3,200 for organizing the event, and for having refused to sign a police statement.
In his defence, Mr Wham’s lawyer, Eugene Thuraisingam, said that anyone who wants to organize a public assembly should just inform the police commissioner, who may then decide to issue an order to forbid the assembly.
The activist’s lawyers argued the unconstitutionality of organising a public assembly without a permit being an offence since this contravenes Article 14 of Singapore’s Constitution. The article protects the right of citizens to “assemble peaceably and without arms.”
Justice Chua said, “I disagree with the appellant’s submission.”
To the argument from Mr Wham’s lawyers that the event should not require a permit, since it was merely a discussion and did not publicize a cause, the Judge disagreed as well, noting that the event had been public.
Justice Chua said, “The allegation against the appellant is that the appellant was advocating the use of civil disobedience to bring about social change.
In this context, the focus is on the use of civil disobedience and that, in itself, is the substantive end. Even if one viewed bringing about social change as the substantive end, and the use of civil disobedience as the method by which this end can be achieved, it is clear that both are causes.”
The Judge also discussed Mr Wong’s activities in Hong Kong. “Further, at the material time, Wong was a known Hong Kong activist who advocated the use of civil disobedience.
I have no doubt that in inviting Wong to speak at the event, the appellant intended or expected that Wong’s speech would include advocating the use of civil disobedience to bring about social change.”
Mr Wham’s lawyers argued that the police had no power to require the activist to sign the police statement, which Justice Chua dismissed as well.
“A person has the right not to say anything that incriminates himself but if he chooses to waive this right and makes a self-incriminatory statement, there is no reason whatsoever why he should not be required to sign the statement.”
Mr Wham is due for a pre-trial conference in December for allegedly organizing assemblies outside the prison and on MRT trains, Channel NewsAsia (CNA) reports. -/ TISG
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