The police have declared that no licenses will be given for outdoor political events. This is no secret. However, they have repeatedly avoided stating this stand in court. Until now, that is.
Licensing officer Mr Yeo Kok Leong said in court last week that the police would not issue a permit if they received an application from a political party.
He was testifying in the continuing trial of five SDP members and activists (Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Ms Chee Siok Chin, Mr Chong Kai Xiong, Mr John Tan, and Mr Charles Tan who is away) who are charged with taking part in an illegal procession on 16 Sep 07 to mark the anniversary of the protest at the Speakers’ Corner during the WB-IMF annual meetings in Singapore in 2006.
Under cross-examination by Mr John Tan, Station Inspector Yeo said that even if the defendants had applied for a permit for the procession, it would not have been granted.
Mr Tan had cited a letter written by the assistant director of media relations, DSP Paul Tay, that said that the “police do not issue permit for outdoor political events in public places, due to the potential for disorder and unruly behavior. This applies to events organized by all political parties.”
Tan: You are saying now, that if this outdoor event [16 Sep 07 anniversary walk] is political, then sorry, no permit. Is that right?
Yeo: DSP Paul Tay issued a press statement that outdoor political party events will not be issued with a police permit. That’s all.
Tan: So you knew about this outlawing of political outdoor events, and in your routine practice, you are applying that?
Tan: Would it be correct to say that you know that the SDP is a political party?
Tan: And so, if I as the assistant secretary-general of the SDP or any of our members were to apply for an outdoor event, you would have said no?
Tan: Therefore in the trial today would it have made any difference if we had applied for a permit?
Yeo: There was no application received. If the application was received to commemorate the first anniversary of the WB/IMF event, the police may reject the application.
Tan: Mr Yeo, can I suggest what you’re saying that the police would have rejected, not just may, but would have rejected the application?
Yeo: We will reject the application.
This is a significant admission by the licensing officer who had hitherto refused to categorically state that he would not approve applications for outdoor political events.
Mr Yeo, who processes all applications for licences ranging from massage parlours to public protests, has repeatedly evaded answering questions in the past about whether he rejects applications just because they are outdoor political events. In other cases, the judges disallowed the defence to ask the licensing officer questions along this line. (Mr Yeo is also the witness in the cases involving the distribution of flyers by SDP leaders on 10 Sep 09 and the Tak Boleh Tahan protest on 15 Mar 08.)
In the present case, Mr Yeo only made his position clear because District Judge John Ng had directed the officer to answer Mr John Tan’s questions.
It is spurious to charge citizens for not having a permit to conduct a protest when no such permit will be granted. This is basic common sense.
More than common sense, however, the law is very clear on such a matter. A policy to ban all outdoor political events is ultra vires (in excess of) the Constitution and should be void.
The House of Lords, from which much of Singapore law is developed, has stated unambiguously that “a man commits no crime if he infringes an invalid byelaw” and that “it is open to a defendant to raise in a criminal prosecution the contention of a byelaw or an administrative act undertaken pursuant to it is ultra vires and unlawful and that if he establishes that he has committed no crime.”
The hearing could not be completed with its alotted period (30 May – 15 Jun 09) and was adjourned to another set of dates.