“This charge is making a group of law-abiding citizens into offenders,” Mr Jufrie Mahmood said to the Judge as the charge was read out to him. “It is a mockery of our Constitution which guarantees us the right of free speech and assembly.”
Mr Jufrie is one of the 18 activists who are charged with participating in an assembly and procession without a permit on 15 Mar 08. As each one of the accused had the charges read out to them, all indicated that they wanted to engage counsel.
Mr Chia Ti Lik attracted more attention than others when his name was called for the reason that he was counsel-cum-accused.
The court set pre-trial conferences for everyone on 18 Jul 08.
About as many supporters as defendants showed up at the Subordinate Courts to lend their support. One of them, Gerald, wore the Tak Boleh Tahan! t-shirt. The security officer asked him to remove the t-shirt before allowing him to proceed.
Follow the court mention, the activists issued a press statement which was read out by Mr Chia Ti Lik:
We are the 19 Singaporeans summoned to Court for allegedly participating in an assembly and procession without permit near Parliament House on 15th March 2008 – this event is also known as the Tak Boleh Tahan! protest.
The term “Tak Boleh Tahan” is colloquial Malay for “We can’t take it anymore”.
The Tak Boleh Tahan! protest was meant to speak out against the multitude of ill-timed price hikes initiated by the Government, directly and indirectly in areas ranging from GST, public transport to education and healthcare, which have exacerbated the inflationary situation and made it much harder for Singaporeans to cope with the increased cost of living.
Despite rumblings from the ground, the Government had been unwilling to take real steps to reduce the cost of living for the majority of Singaporeans and the poor and lower income groups have been the hardest hit.
When we presented ourselves in front of Parliament House on 15 Mar 08, we did so because we felt that the protest would send a strong message on behalf of our countrymen to the Government not to make life any more difficult for Singaporeans.
In 15 Mar 08, 12 of us were arrested on the spot. Subsequently, another 7 were called up and questioned. By this morning, all 19 of us have been formally charged in Court 23, each with one count of assembly without a permit and one count of procession without a permit.
In light of the price hikes further initiated from the 15 Mar 08 till today, it is clear that the Government remains unwilling to take active steps to make life less unbearable for all Singaporeans.
We are now all the more convinced that the protest was needed and justified and simply had to be done. We are further convinced that our claim as citizens to the right of assembly and freedom of expression was timely and proper. Therefore, we would wish to claim trial to the charges brought against us.
I am the only lawyer in the entire group. But since I am now also a co-accused, I am unable to act as legal counsel for the group. Therefore the group at present is in need of legal representation. We make an appeal for Singaporean lawyers to come forward to represent us in these proceedings.
Watch the video of Mr Chia with the press statement here.