Overnight vigil for 3 prisoners of conscience

There will be a candlelight vigil from 8pm, Wednesday 17 December 2008 outside Queenstown Remand Prison for the three jailed citizens – activists Isrizal Mohamed Isa and Muhammad Shafi’ie Syahmi Sariman, and the Assistant Secretary-General of the SDP, John Tan.

They were convicted for contempt of court for wearing t-shirts bearing only an image in and around the New Supreme Court Building whilst another hearing was going on in May 2008. This was interpreted to have scandalised the Singapore Judiciary.

The charges were brought against the three in the Attorney-General’s capacity as the “Guardian of the Public Interest” (as recorded in the submissions made by the AG). Contempt of court is a serious charge with consequences that impinge upon the fundamental liberty of a person, and this power of the Courts should be exercised with great wisdom.

Given that the matter was pursued 4 to 5 months after the fact; and that the sentences passed (7 days in jail for Isrizal and Shafi’ie, 15 days for John as well as each being ordered to be pay costs of $5000 plus disbursements to the Attorney-General) are one of the heaviest sentences, did it really serve the public interest to have theses cases brought to court?

If it is indeed such a grave public interest issue, was there anything else that could have been done to resolve the matter more efficiently and effectively? Perhaps they could have been warned on the day of the incident itself, or stopped, or had the t-shirts confiscated. Instead, state resources have been ploughed into putting these brave souls, who did not apologise based on reasons of conscience and convictions, behind bars.

The vigil will be a show of solidarity and support, as well as to welcome Isrizal and Shafi’ie, who will be released the next morning (Thursday, 18 December) at 9.30am. Regrettably, John would still be serving his sentence, which would have commenced on 16 December 2008.

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