Singapore activist and social worker Jolovan Wham is under investigation by local authorities for protesting outside the city-state’s courts without a permit, by holding up a sign pleading for charges against other activists to be dropped, the police said on Saturday.
Protesting in the country must be done with a permit issued by the police, but they can be held without a permit at the Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park, where events such as protest rallies are often held.
Wham was brought in for questioning due to a photo he posted on social media on December 13, where he stood outside the State Courts holding up a piece of paper that said: “Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa”.
Both of the names mentioned in the paper Wham held up are part of the sociopolitical website The Online Citizen and were charged for criminal defamation for approving a letter to be published on the website alleging “corruption at highest echelons” among Singapore’s cabinet members.
When Coconuts Singapore approached the police for a statement, a spokesperson from the police redirected us to a statement given to Channel NewsAsia whereby the police said they rejected Wham’s application for a permit to stage a protest outside the State Courts.
“The State Courts is gazetted as a Prohibited Area under the Public Order Act, with stricter security protocols,” said a police spokesperson. “(Wham) was well aware that a police permit was required for such an event. Still, he went ahead to protest outside the State Courts on Dec 13, 2018.”
The police also said to Channel NewsAsia that Wham’s other offenses made in the public eye show “a pattern of Wham’s willful disregard for Singapore’s laws”.
Wham was fined S$3,200 (US$2,400) for illegal assembly without a permit, due to him organizing a forum titled Civil Disobedience and Social Movements in November 2016 and inviting Hong Kong campaigner Joshua Wong to speak at the event via Skype teleconference.
However, Wham decided not to accept the fine and instead accepted a 16-day jail term in lieu of the fine.
“I don’t want to pay the fine because I don’t wish to validate a system which does not respect freedom of expression and where even having a harmless Skype call is considered an offense,” he said on Instagram.
Despite Wham saying it was an indoor event, the prosecution argued that the event was marketed as a public event with a Facebook event link.
Wong has come out to denounce the sentencing made against Wham by the Singapore courts as “an embarrassment and a terrible injustice“.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Wham said that this was the first time he was being investigated for such an incident after reportedly posting photos of himself online at various places supporting causes such as workers’ rights.
“Apparently taking a photo at the foot of the steps outside the state courts with a piece of paper showing solidarity is an offense under the public order act,” he said.
“The alleged ‘assembly’ I’m accused of participating in was over in a matter of seconds.”
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