Singaporean charged for protesting with no permit highlights country’s strict laws

By: Johanna Chisholm - Posted on: November 30, 2017 | Current Affairs

Amnesty International has said the charges brought against the Singaporean activist ‘reinforces a climate of intimidation’

A girl holds up a sign that reads ‘ Free speech!’ at a protest at Hong Lim Park, or Speaker’s Corner, in Singapore, 05 July 2015 Photo: Wallace Woon

Activist Jolovan Wham has been charged with holding unauthorised public assemblies yesterday by prosecutors in Singapore, which could leave the 37-year-old to face up to three years in prison and a fine of $8,100.

Wham was taken into custody on 28 November and was held for several hours before being told that he would face trial the next day for seven separate charges, which included not obtaining the appropriate police permit for the gatherings and one charge of vandalism.

Human rights groups from across the globe were stunned by the charges, with a statement from Amnesty International, an international human rights watchdog group, calling for ‘urgent action’ on Wham’s arrest.

In their statement, the group claims that the activist’s arrest ‘reinforces a climate of intimidation’ through a criminal justice system that they say is being used to intimidate and harass peaceful activists.

“This charge also violates his universal rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” the statement continues.

The seven charges that Wham faces are for organizing peaceful assembles over the course of one year. One of these gatherings included holding a public vigil that protested the execution of Malaysian Prabagaran Srivijayan in July 2017, who was given the death penalty for importing heroin into Singapore back in 2014.

Another one of the charges was for holding a public gathering that featured a pro-democracy advocate, Joshua Wong, who had Skyped in from Hong Kong to address the gathering.

In Singapore, it is illegal for people to organise public gatherings that feature foreign speakers without first obtaining the appropriate permits from the police.

“Wham is recalcitrant and has repeatedly shown blatant disregard for the law, especially with regards to organizing or participating in illegal public assembles,” said the Singapore Police Force in a written statement.

Apart from the charges laid against Wham for not obtaining the correct permits, he also faces a charge for vandalism. This charge comes from an event where he was organizing a public assembly to commemorate the 30th anniversary of activists who were arrested in Singapore in 1987, an event that was later called Operation Spectrum.

During the event, Wham was said to post two sheets of paper on the walls of a train he was riding, which had messages written on them that read: “Justice for Operation Spectrum survivors #notodetentionwithout trial” and “Marxist conspiracy? #notodetentionwithouttrial”.

Following yesterday’s hearing, Wham was released on bail for $8,000 and he is now awaiting a pre-trial conference that will take place on December 13.

For just the vandalism charge, Wham could face a maximum fine of $2,000 and up to three years in prison with a maximum of eight strokes of the cane, though first time offenders are typically able to avoid the cane portion of this punishment.