If you think being charged for “walking” is ridiculous…

Singapore Democrats

If you think being charged for “walking” is ridiculous enough, take a look at this: Six SDP members and activists are charged with distributing flyers in 2006.

Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ms Chee Siok Chin return to court next week to continue their hearing over charges of participating in an assembly “intended to demonstrate opposition to the actions of the Government.”No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you, this is the actual statement on the charge sheet.

(The other three accused persons are Mr Charles Tan, who is away, Mr Jeffrey George and Ms Kirat Kaur, both of whom pleaded guilty.)

This is perhaps the only country where the political opposition is not allowed to demonstrate opposition to the actions of the Government. The Prosecution is relying on the same set of Rules of the Miscellaneous Offences Act used to prosecute the five walkers in Judge John Ng’s case.

Who has ever heard of people being charged for distributing flyers? Apparently not the police officers who were asked to stop the activity on 10 Sep 06, the day of the incident.

Sgt Damien Oh testified that when he first confronted the SDP leaders that afternoon, he did not know what offence the defendants had committed.  

Sgt Damien Oh: But after checking my law book, I realised that there could be an offence under the Miscellaneous Offences Act, but I’m not sure.

Dr Chee Soon Juan: By saying that you are unsure you are also saying that you don’t know what the offence is, am I right?

Sgt Oh: Yes.

Dr Chee: And with everything that you know about this case right up until now, are you saying that you are still unsure about what offence has been committed?

Sgt Oh: Yes.

Dr Chee: Again would it be fair for me to say that you being unsure, you are saying that you really don’t know what offence was committed?

Sgt Oh: Yes.

Dr Chee: So why did you tell Mr George that he was committing an offence?

Sgt Oh: I was just following orders.

Dr Chee: Even if you thought the order was not correct?

Sgt Oh: I am sure my superior will give me the correct order.

Sgt Oh’s colleague, Sgt Derrick Lim, was not any clearer. Under cross-examination by Ms Chee Siok Chin, the officer also admitted that he did not know what the offence had been committed.

Ms Chee: So why did you tell Ms Kaur that she was committing an offence?

Sgt Lim: I was under instructions.

Ms Chee: If you are unsure of the law, how can you maintain law and order?

Sgt Lim: I got directions and instructions from my team In-Charge.

Mr Gandhi Ambalam pressed the officer further during his cross-examination.

Mr Ambalam: So you were acting without thinking?

Sgt Lim: I have no answer.

Mr Ambalam: Do you think before you act?

Sgt Lim: I do not know the answer.

(See full report here)

And these are supposed to be our finest in blue. Mind you, they are not rookie officers but sergeants from the Criminal Investigations Department with nearly 30 years of experience between them.

Even a commissioned officer was equally flummoxed about the law that he was called to enforce. Inspector Patrick Lim, who was deployed to look out for “public disorder incidents”, told the court that the defendants had not committed an offence.

DPP Anandan Bala: From your observation of the defendants distributing flyers, they have not breached the peace?

Insp Lim: Correct

DPP Bala: As far as you’re concerned, they have not committed a crime?

Insp Lim: Based on my personal opinion, they are not committing an offence.

Even a Deputy Superindent of Police who took the stand wasn’t sure what the offence was (see here).

If experienced and senior police officers don’t know that distributing flyers is against the law, how are the defendants supposed to? The officers had all tesified that distributing flyers is a normal activity in Singapore and that the defendants were not disorderly nor did not disturb the peace while distributing the flyers.

So the Attorney-General spends countless man- and court-hours (there has been at least nine police witnesses, two prosecutors, the judge, the court officer, countless bailiffs, and four one-to-two-week tranches spread over almost a year) to prosecute a normal activity conducted in an orderly manner which no one knows is illegal.

There are other interesting points to note in the case: One, only the leaders of the SDP have been prosecuted even though it is common practice for all opposition parties to be distributing flyers. If this is not unlawful discrimination and an abuse of power, what is?

Two, the alleged offence took place in 2006. The defendants were charged only in 2008, a full two years later. Why the long delay in between?

Three, the State newspapers have maintained strict silence on the matter especially with regards to the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses. In a free society, the media would have been all over these police officers. But then again, in a free society would the Attorney-General be prosecuting the opposition for demonstrating opposition?

Hearing continues in Subordinate Court No. 19 next Monday (12 Oct 09) at 9:30 am.

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