In court last Friday, Dr Chee Soon Juan queried police witness, Station Inspector Yeo Kok Leong, on why he took so long to reply to Dr Chee’s application for a permit for a protest on 15 Mar 08.
Mr Yeo, OC of the Compliance Management Unit at the Police Central Division, was under cross-examination in the on-going trial of the Tak Boleh Tahan (TBT) protesters. He is in charge of processing applications for permits for assemblies and processions.
Dr Chee had made an online application on 28 Dec 07. SI Yeo did not reply until 25 Jan 08 – 28 days later. The unit had stated in its acknowledgment slip that “The normal processing time for an application is 7 working days.” (emphasis theirs)
“Was my application a normal one?” Dr Chee asked.
“This is confidential,” SI Yeo replied.
“Are you running a police department or the mafia? A simple question of whether my application is a normal one or not is shrouded in such secrecy,” Dr Chee said.
(Earlier, the SDP secretary-general had noticed that the police printout of his computerised application form, which the prosecution submitted as evidence, included his date of birth. But Dr Chee had not entered this piece of data as the online application did not ask for an applicant’s birthdate.
“How did my date of birth get onto your computer printout when I did not give the information?” the SDP secretary-general enquired.
“This is confidential,” the witness replied.)
Judge Chia Wee Kiat stepped in and wanted to know the relevance of Dr Chee’s question.
“When my application takes such an abnormally long time to process, surely you must be interested in knowing if it was treated normally, especially since I am part of the political opposition” Dr Chee answered.
Dr Chee explained further that he intended to show that the police had acted in bad faith and deliberately delayed replying so that there would be no time for him to appeal the decision and, if the appeal fails, take up a judicial review.
“The question of mala fide (dishonest intent) on the part of the police must surely be relevant,” Dr Chee explained. “The word ‘fixed’ comes to mind. Are we going to be convicted based on the machinations of the police?”
The Judge was unmoved and disallowed the question.
Dr Chee added: “Your Honour, with your ruling you are in fact encouraging the police to abuse their powers. In future instead of taking one week to reply as they stipulate why not take four weeks, eight weeks to process an application or, worse, reject the application just the day before the event?”
Lawyer and co-defendant Mr Chia Ti Lik pointed out that the DPP seemed to be very protective of the witness. Mr Chia explained that he would normally allow his opponent some leeway to establish his intent through the questions.
“By the DPP’s protectiveness it almost seems as if there is intentional effort to help the police cover up the things they did and not let the public see the truth.” Mr Chia explained. “I urge you to allow the question because if the prosecution has nothing to hide, the subject will amount to nothing.”
The defendants stood up to register their unhappiness over Judge Wee’s decision not to allow the defence to determine if there was political discrimination on the part of the police when it rejected the application and then dragged their feet in replying to Dr Chee.
The protesters have consistently argued that while the police allow political activities by the ruling party and its supporters, it denies such permission to the opposition. Such inequality before the law is forbidden by the Constitution. And yet judges, in this and past trials, will not allow defendants to show how the police and the Executive have been abusing their powers and politically discriminated against the opposition.
The hearing was scheduled from 23 Oct – 7 Nov. The next earliest date for its continuation will be 26 Feb 09 because some of the defendants have other trials in the coming weeks.