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Dr Chee Soon Juan again called on Singapore’s judicary to protect the political freedoms of the people in an appeal hearing today at the High Court. He made the statement before High Court Judge Woo Bih Li (pictured). Together with Mr Gandhi Ambalam and Ms Chee Siok Chin, Dr Chee is appealing the conviction for attempting to participate in a procession during the World Bank-IMF meeting in 2006.
This is the third appeal that Judge Woo is hearing. The other two are the Tak Boleh Tahan protest outside Parliament House in 2008 and the distribution of flyers at Raffles City in 2006. He has reserved judgment for all three cases.
In the present appeal Dr Chee cited cases in the UK where the House of Lords ruled that police, in stopping citizens from conducting an assembly, must have evidence that a potential breach of peace is real, imminent and immediate:
If not kept within proper bounds, [the duty to prevent a breach of the peace] could be a recipe for officious and unjustified intervention in other people’s affairs. The common law guards against this danger by insisting that the duty arises only when the police officer apprehends that a breach of the peace is “imminent” or is “about to take place” or is “about to be committed” or will take place “in the immediate future” His apprehension “must relate to the near future”. [LaPorte v Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, 2006]
Dr Chee pointed out that the police had no information that if the procession were allowed that there would be an imminent, real and immediate threat to public disorder. The police’s decision not to issue the permit was based purely on imaginary situations that something might happen somewhere at some point in time, none of which can be concretely determined, to disrupt to public peace.
“Does this sound like reasonable and proper policing?” he asked.
The DPP argued that demonstrations might start off peacefully but may degenerate into violence to which Dr Chee countered that in that case, all football matches should either be banned or played away from the public. This is because there is always the possibility that a minority of the spectators would create a fracas.
“Law enforcement must deal with people who cause trouble and not deprive the overwhelming majority who have the right to watch a game – or to protest – in a peaceful manner,” Dr Chee added.
He also brought up the cases involving PAP MPs who were assaulted or threatened with assault. Mr Seng Han Tong was burned and hit by members of the public on two separate occasions. Yet, public functions of the PAP continue to be allowed whereas peaceful ones conducted by the SDP are prosecuted. Officers present at the scene in the SDP’s activities have repeatedly testified that the participants had acted orderly.
On the point of the Appellants not having a permit, Dr Chee pointed out that there wasn’t one to be had. DSP Marc E Kwan Szer, assistant director of the licensing division, had testified that:
The police’s policy on outdoor demonstrations and processions is one of disallowance. The policy position has always been to disallow demonstrations and processions. We would not treat any applications for such activities during the World Bank-IMF period differently. (emphasis added)
“Where in the Constitution,” Dr Chee asked, “does it say that demonstrations cannot be allowed? This is the central question that this court must answer. Such a policy clearly runs against Article 14 of the Constitution. Accordingly, it must necessarily be null and void. The charge against us cannot stand.”
Dr Chee further pointed out not only was such a policy unconstitutional, it was also not applied to organisations favoured by the PAP. The NTUC was allowed to hold a demonstration in 1988 against the US Embassy and CASE was allowed to conduct marches in 2007 and 2008.
Such an abuse and arbitrary application of power must be checked and the one body to do this is the Judiciary. He cited former Chief Juctice of India Mr P N Bhagwatie:
The judiciary is one such institution on which rests the noble edifice of democracy and the rule of law. It is to the judiciary that is entrusted the task of keeping every organ of the State within the limits of power conferred upon it by the Constitution.
The SDP chief also quoted Canada’s Chief Justice Madam Beverly McLachlin who wrote in December 2005:
Judges must resist…making ‘law’ out of what cannot be just, and hence, in a profound sense, cannot be legal. To do otherwise is to allow injustice to hide itself under the cloak of false legality.
Dr Chee pointed out that Singapore has international obligations as far as respecting democratic freedoms are concerned. The United Nations will be reviewing Singapore’s human rights record in its Universal Periodic Review next year. The PAP Government will have to address these concerns.
Why does it bother to do so? Because it is part of the international community, and that means having to abide by international norms. Being a signatory to the UN Charter, Singapore has a duty to uphold the principles contained therein. Two of these principles are the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech of its citizens.
The PAP has always maintained that the Singapore must not ape the West in these political values. Years ago it cited that ‘Asian values’ preferred the communitarian concept of society over self as opposed to Western-democratic values of emphasizing individual rights.
But countries like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and even Malaysia have all made the decisive shift towards democracy where governments respect the fundamental freedoms of their citizens.
These freedoms are espoused by the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights of which Singapore is a part. Gone is the foolish talk that democratic freedoms of speech, assembly and association are Western concepts.
“Sadly, however, the PAP continues to cling on to the tired and anachronistic notion that the political freedoms are not good for Singapore,” Dr Chee concluded.
“We ask you to look at the big picture and see that the future does not belong to continued denial of constitutional freedoms to Singaporeans. Instead the future belongs to a global system based on the rule of law where people enjoy democratic freedoms and are empowered to hold their governments democratically accountable. This is possible only when the people’s rights to free speech and peaceful assembly are respected and protected.
“The decision this court makes today will have far-reaching and profound repercussions for this country in the years to come.”