Police summon Jolovan Wham for posing in public with smiley face

Social worker and civil rights advocate Jolovan Wham poses with smiley face placard in Toa Payoh in a photo that has been cropped and brightened. Photo: @JWham/Instagram
Social worker and civil rights advocate Jolovan Wham poses with smiley face placard in Toa Payoh in a photo that has been cropped and brightened. Photo: @JWham/Instagram

When is a photo a protest and a piece of cardboard a threat? Social worker and civil rights advocate Jolovan Wham will find out as he is now under formal police investigation over a photo of him holding a smiley face in public. 

Wham said Wednesday that he has been ordered to report to Tanglin police, around two months after he took the photo in a show of solidarity with two youths under separate probes for photos they took of themselves demanding climate action. 

“About 2 months ago, I held up a placard at Toa Payoh Central, took this picture and left immediately after. I’ve now received a letter that I’ve violated the Public Order Act and will have to be at Tanglin police division this Sunday at 2pm,” Wham wrote on Twitter. 

“I did it in response to someone in sg who got investigated by the police for participating in a climate strike,” he added in another tweet today. 

In response to Coconuts Singapore’s inquiries, the police said they were unable to comment further on the matter as it is the subject of an ongoing investigation.

On March 28, Wham posted a photo of himself with the smiley face online. It was taken outside the Toa Payoh Central Community Club, around the same spot where one of the climate activists had taken a photo. 

It is illegal to hold public demonstrations without a permit in Singapore, even if it is just a silent protest involving one person. And the only public place Singaporeans have been granted a permit to do so is the Speaker’s Corner in Hong Lim Park.

Police said in April that they were investigating a 20-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman under the Public Order Act after photos of them posing in public with signs calling for climate action were posted online.

They were said to be founders of “fridays4futuresg,” a name that appears to be borrowed from a similarly named campaign by famed Swedish environment activist Greta Thunberg. 

If convicted for his act of postmodern civil disobedience, Wham faces a S$3,000 fine.

In 2018, artist Seelan Palay was jailed two weeks after refusing to pay a fine after being convicted of an unlawful procession. He had walked from Hong Lim Park to the Parliament House while holding a mirror.

Other stories to check out:

Singapore duo investigated for taking Greta-inspired climate photos
HDB will repair Bukit Merah home where concrete fell on boy
Crowds swarm Geylang Serai market ahead of Hari Raya celebrations

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