Dr Chee Soon Juan, Mr John Tan and Ms Chee Siok Chin made an application to the High Court yesterday for leave to appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal over their conviction for participating in an assembly without a permit on 9 August 2008.
In normal circumstances, the matter would end at the appeal. However, in cases where public interest is concerned, appellants can pursue the matter to the three-judge Court of Appeal.$CUT$
The present case is the last of a series of prosecutions of political activists conducting protests in Singapore. The defendants have repeatedly argued in court on three actions by the Executive which are unconstitutional:
One, it prohibits all forms of outdoor political activity which runs counter to Article 14 of the Singapore Constitution which guarantees Singaporeans the right to freedom of speech, assembly and association.
Two, it illegal discriminates against political activity (as opposed to commercial activity). This is not provided for in the law and contradicts Article 12 of the Singapore Constitution which states that all mulct be treated equally under the law.
Three, PAP-friendly and pro-Government organisations are allowed to conduct outdoor political activity while opposition parties and pro-democracy groups are banned which also contravenes Article 12.
The application taken out by the three SDP leaders seek to determine the following questions of law:
Whether there should be a balance between the people’s rights to assemble peaceably (Article 14(1)(b) of the Constitution) and the need to restrict such rights in the interest of national security or public order (Article 14(1)(b) of the Constitution). And if so,
Whether an outright order to not allow outdoor political activity defeats our rights to assembly and tilts the balance in question 1.
Whether the police through its licensing officer is best placed to determine the extent to which the restriction as prescribed in Article 14(2)(b) should be imposed. Our current case has proved that the police themselves could not discern the legality or illegality of two similar events.
The application will be heard by Justice Quentin Loh who will determine if the case will be allowed to be heard by the Court of Appeal.
Public assembly is the right of citizens which should not be arbitrarily removed by the government. It is also an important tool which the people use to ensure that policies and legislation work to their interests.
The current economic problems that Singaporeans face such as influx of foreign workers, non-accountability of the GIC and Temasek Holdings, and income inequality (and so on) are mainly due to the fact that the people have not been able to assemble in public and speak openly and freely against these policies.
As Nobel laureate for economics, Professor Amartya Sen notes:
Political and civil rights give people the opportunity to draw attention forcefully to the general needs and to demand appropriate public action. The governmental response to acute suffering often depends on the pressure that is put on it and this is where the political rights (voting, criticizing, protesting, and so on) can make a real difference.