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Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Ms Chee Siok Chin and Dr Chee Soon Juan appeared before High Court Judge Woo Bih Li (pictured) in their appeal against their conviction by District Judge (DJ) Ch’ng Lye Beng for distributing flyers in 2006 without a permit.
A few weeks ago they were also before Judge Woo in another appeal against another conviction by DJ Chia Wee Kiat for protesting outside Parliament House in 2008 during the Tak Boleh Tahan campaign.
In the present appeal, Dr Chee referred Justice Woo to the DJ’s Record of Proceedings which showed that a police witness, licensing officer Yeo Kok Leong, had indicated during examination-in-chief that groups of 5 or more persons distributing flyers for commercial purposes need not apply for a permit.
DPP: By your answer if a group of 5 persons want to distribute pamphlets advertising tuition (for example), do they have to supply an application to the police?
Yeo: No, because its is a commercial cause.
The problem is that under the Miscellaneous Offences Act (MOA) under which the SDP leaders have been charged, there is no provision for commercial activities to be exempted from applying for permits. Mr Yeo admitted to this when he was cross-examined by Dr Chee.
Chee: You had earlier said that, as an example given by the DPP, a group distributing pamphlets for business need not apply for a permit and when asked why, you said it was a commercial cause. Did you say that?
Chee: Where does it say in Rule 2 that any group that wishing to distribute flyers for a commercial cause is exempt uner Rule 2 (1)(a)(b) or (c)?
Yeo: The Rule does not state that.
Dr Chee told Justice Woo that the police were making up the rules as they went along – rules that were not based on the law. “If we claim to be a society that is based on the rule of law, why are the police making up rules?” the SDP leader asked.
Another point that Dr Chee argued was that the Defendants were charged for “intend(ing) to demonstrate opposition to the actions of the Government”.
“Am I missing something here?” he asked. “We are members of the Singapore Democratic Party, a legally constituted political party registered with the Registry of Societies and contesting for political power with the PAP.
“If an opposition party cannot demonstrate opposition to the actions of the Government, then why have an opposition party at all?”
He added that the PAP is trying to curtail and ban the activities of the opposition. Mr Wong Kan Seng and Mr Ho Peng Kee, Minister and Minister of State for Home Affairs respectively, have repeatedly stated that the Government will not allow outdoor political activities.
Does this stand not make a mockery of the Constitution which guaratees citizens the right to freedom of speech, assembly and association?
“We are asking the courts to defend and protect the rights of the citizens of Singapore,” Dr Chee concluded. “I do not wish to break the law but tell me how can I exercise my right to free speech when the Government closes off all avenues?
“The Judiciary has a role to play to prevent the Executive from abusing its power. At the moment, it is clear to the public that the PAP has implemented laws allowing it free rein while ensuring that the opposition is tied up. Judges need to see this and intervene on behalf of justice.”
The Judge reserved judgment just as he did with the first appeal on the Tak Boleh Tahan case. The Defendants will appear before the same judge again next week for a third appeal which involves the protest held during WB-IMF meeting in 2006. They were convicted by DJ Toh Yung Cheong for intending to participate in a procession without a permit.
The SDP spends much time and effort in fighting for freedom of speech because without it, the opposition cannot communicate effectively with the electorate. The people hear only the PAP’s views and come elections, they vote for the ruling party because they think there are no alternatives.
Singaporeans must remember that without political rights, we don’t have economic rights. It is only when we have freedom of expression, which includes a free press, can the views of the people be heard and the government be held accountable, especially during elections.