30 Sep 05
The applicants of the Originating Motion (OM) yesterday served the papers on the Minister Wong Kan Seng, and Police Commissioner Khoo Boon Hui at their offices at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Irrawaddy Road.
Ms Chee Siok Chin, Ms Monica Kumar, and Mr Yap Keng Ho took legal action against the two respondents for ordering the police to disperse their peaceful and silent protest out the CPF Building on 11 August 2005.
The action seeks “a declaration that the Respondents acted in an unlawful and unconstitutional manner when the Applicants were ordered to disperse by the police during a peaceful protest.”
The Constitution clearly states that four or less people assembled in public does not constitute an unlawful gathering. Even if the protesters had been a public nuisance, which the police claimed they were, the men-in-blue had no right to order the protester’s dispersal as this violated the rights of the activists which are guaranteed by the Constitution.
The authorities must weigh the rights of the protesters against complaints of nuisance. If the police thought that the group was a nuisance, the officers on the scene had to determine how they were a nuisance. Were the protesters obstructing traffic, blocking the walkway, creating a din, etc? If they were, the police needed to take the necessary action to reduce the “nuisance” effect such as regulate traffic, do crowd control, ask the protesters to be quieter, etc – not to disperse the four individuals who were acting well within their rights.
The end-result would be to ensure that while complaints are attended to, the protesters must, at the same time, be allowed to continue on with their action. The Government is obliged to respect and protect the rights of the four persons. Otherwise, every time a protest takes place, especially one against the Government, the police can use the excuse of public nuisance and shut it down.
The “nuisance” complaint that the police gave was disingenuous, to say the least. Do the police normally summon the riot squad to tend to complaints of nuisance? Also, the fact that a Deputy Superintendent and several other senior police officers responded to the nuisance “complaint” showed that the situation was not a normal one. It is clear that the police had arrived at the scene with every intention of stopping the protest regardless of whether they were legal or not.
The question is thus an important one: Can the Government shut down a Constitutionally protected protest? The court case will help to provide the answer. “This court action is a landmark one,” Mr M Ravi, who is representing the three applicants, said. “The rights of assembly and speech of four million Singaporeans will depend on this case.”
The hearing is scheduled for 21 October 2005 at 10 am at the High Court.