Singapore fines activist $3.2k for event where Hong Kong’s Joshua Wong appeared via Skype

Jolovan Wham. Photo: Lawrence Chong / Facebook
Jolovan Wham. Photo: Lawrence Chong / Facebook

After broadcasting a Skype discussion with famed Hong Kong democracy campaigner Joshua Wong, a local activist has been slapped with a $3,200 fine on grounds that he organized a public assembly without a permit.

Jolovan Wham, 39, was found guilty last month for violating public order laws because he failed to apply for a police permit before inviting Wong, a non-Singaporean, to speak to an audience here in Singapore via video chat. Wham had also refused to sign a statement he gave to police in relation to the event, Channel NewsAsia reported.

In response to the sentence passed earlier today, the activist informed the court that he plans to serve a 16-day prison sentence in lieu of paying the fine.

Back in November 2016, Wham held an indoor forum that gathered local activists Seelan Palay and Kirsten Han — editor-in-chief of independent online publication New Naratif — in a discussion about the role of civil disobedience and democracy in building social movements. Wham also invited Wong — the face of the Umbrella Movement pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong — to speak via Skype.

The prosecution argued that the event was a public event that had thousands of invitees and 366 people indicating that they would attend the event on Facebook. Han assured on Twitter today that there were actually less than a hundred people present at the event.

Nonetheless, the court took issue that Wham went ahead with the event despite having been notified by the police earlier that a permit was needed. In Singapore, the approval of the Ministry of Manpower is required if a speaker is a foreigner and is giving a talk on racial, communal, religious, cause-related or political topics. Apparently, this even applies to non-Singaporeans like Wong who never set foot in the country.

According to Channel News Asia, District Judge Kessler Soh asserted that Wham’s “willful refusal to comply” was an aggravating factor in the case.

Wham also refused to sign the witness statement he gave to the police as he was not provided a copy of it. Doing so is a chargeable offense as well, and he could have been jailed for up to three months and/or fined $2,500.

For organizing a public assembly without a permit, Wham could have been fined up to $5,000.

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