Singapore – Activist Jolovan Wham has been found guilty over an unlawful assembly outside the main entrance of the former States Courts building after he posted a photo of himself holding a piece of paper that said, “Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa.”
On Friday (Jan 7), District Judge Eugene Teo found the 42-year-old Singaporean guilty of an offence under the Public Order Act following the incident on Dec 13, 2018.
“I found that it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Wham’s actions that morning did constitute an assembly, and there was more than enough evidence to conclude that he ought reasonably to have known that the assembly at that area was prohibited,” said the judge in a Straits Times report.
The State Courts, then located at Havelock Square, was gazetted as a prohibited area, imposing strict security protocols.
Wham disregarded the protocols when he stood on the steps to pose for a photo before entering the building.
He was in the venue to attend a court hearing for a criminal defamation case involving The Online Citizen (TOC) editor Terry Xu and TOC contributor Daniel De Costa Augustin.
Based on closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera footage, Wham held up the sign for about 15 seconds while a woman photographed him.
After the photo was shot, Wham placed the sign inside his back and entered the building. He later posted the photo on his social media accounts.
The photo was eventually reposted on a HardwareZone forum, resulting in a police report lodged by a member of the public.
The trial for Wham’s case was held last year involving seven witnesses, including three police officers who had served as investigating officers on Wham’s case at different periods since 2018.
The courts heard that Wham had applied for a police permit to stage a one-man assembly outside the State Courts building at 9 pm on Dec 9, 2018, but was denied.
His public assembly on Dec 13 did not have a corresponding permit.
Meanwhile, Wham’s defence team said he was not staging a protest or public assembly but simply posing for a photo.
“It does not constitute an offence under the (Public Order Act) because it’s not an assembly. It’s a photo-taking session, to put things simply,” said Eugene Thuraisingam, one of Wham’s lawyers.
The police officers and the witnesses also agreed that Wham’s actions did not disturb anyone nor was an offence in itself.
However, the act of holding a sign still constitutes an offence, explained the second investigating officer on the case, Assistant Superintendent of Police Pek Shun Fu.
“While he did not specifically draw anyone’s attention, I still note that there were passersby walking around, and there is a possibility that they could have seen what happened. I could not rule out that possibility,” said the officer.
Judge Teo said while convicting Wham that “Any claim that he was being prosecuted for merely taking a photo would be intentionally misleading – rather, this case was for his demonstrating his opposition to the actions of the Attorney-General’s Chambers in prosecuting Mr Terry Xu and Mr Daniel De Costa by publicly holding up that sign in that area which he knew was prohibited.”
Terry Xu comments on the case
Commenting on the case, Mr Xu highlighted in a Facebook post on Friday some clarifications on what happened.
“As a person who was at the court and saw the CCTV footage repeated a couple of times, I can confidently say that this portion of the write-up is poorly reported and misleading to the general public,” he said.
He was referring to the ST report noting, “Two passersby were shown walking past Wham while he held up the sign, but they did not stop to look at him.”
Mr Xu said that the two passersby had already walked passed Wham “and their line of sight to the sign were blocked by a structure.”
“So even if they were to turn around and look towards Wham’s direction, they couldn’t have seen what was written on the sign.”
According to Mr Xu, the investigating officer “who insisted that the passersby had seen the sign, couldn’t answer which point in time did the two see the sign,” when asked in court by Mr Thuraisingam.
“The judge also had to intervene to get the investigating officer to answer the question, which was not answered at the end,” he noted.
“Also, the sign wasn’t held for 15 seconds; the process of taking the photo with the sign was,” added Mr Xu.
Wham is scheduled for sentencing in February./TISG
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