Chee Soon Juan’s closing submissions (Part II)

October 7, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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Below is the second and final part of Dr Chee Soon Juan’s closing submissions which he made at the conclusion of his trial. He is charged for wilfull trespass and speaking with a permit when he tried to hold a rally on Labour Day (May 1, 2002) outside the Istana.

Am I angry? Of course, I am. But not at officers. I hold nothing against them. Given the situation, they had to show that they were tough as anything less would have earned them a swift rebuke from the PAP, and even put their careers in jeopardy.

But I am sad because I, too, am an officer in the police. Every year when I don my uniform, I wear it with pride and I discharge my responsibilities to the best I know how, and I tell my men to do the same. I have on a couple of occasions been faced with danger to the point that I have had to draw my revolver. One of them involved the arrest, together with my fellow officers, of 17 illegal immigrants near Hougang Avenue 1. I was asked to put up a statement of brief facts of the case as my team and I were going to be put up for letters of commendation. I was not surprised that nothing came of it given my role in the opposition.

One law for the PAP another one for the SDP

This brings me to my next argument. If it is true that the police are so concerned with law and order as DSP Lim keeps on saying they are and that that is ostensibly the reason why the PELU had denied my application, then why did the police allow the NTUC to hold a demonstration where 4,000 protesters carrying banners, placards, flags, poles and loud hailers marched in the middle of the city centre to rage against the United States for allegedly supporting Mr Francis Seow, the former solicitor-general? No commotion then? No disorderly behaviour then? No threat to law and order then?

Remember, there were 4,000 protestors there. There are only two of us here. The hypocrisy boggles the mind, doesnt it? Why we continue to insult our own intelligence, numb our own conscience, and keep up our pretence is beyond me.

The prosecution will say that this example is irrelevant to our case. Is it really? The NTUC demonstration I just related strikes at the very question of the rule of law. One of the most important aspects of the rule of law, although by no means the only one, is that everyone, from prime minister to peasant, is treated equally under the law. This obviously is not happening in Singapore as I have just pointed the case with the NTUC demonstration in 1988.

I can site many other examples where the PAP has been treated very differently from their political opponents. In the interest of time, I will relate just one more. During the 1991 general elections, opposition candidates were prevented from entering into polling stations without permission while PAP candidates had no such restrictions imposed.

There are many other examples but I dont have time to relate all of them. Suffice it to say that the police and many other instruments of the state have been used by the PAP for its own purposes to suppress the opposition and perpetuate its rule.

What Mr Reddy is talking about is not the rule of law but the rule by law. The rule by law occurs when a government introduces laws and amends the constitution to curtail the fundamental rights of freedom speech, assembly, and association of the people. It then uses the police to ensure that these laws are strictly applied but only to the opposition.

Breaking unjust laws

What does the rule of law, or the absence thereof, have to do with this case? If, as we have shown, the police selectively apply the law to the opposition and then selective prosecutes the opposition and not the ruling party, then the police have acted in bad faith.

This is exactly what they have done by arresting Gandhi Ambalam and I for exercising our constitutional and universal rights by holding a peaceful rally on May 1, 2002 which was Labour Day and a day when all democratic countries celebrated by having workers hold public events.

Did I break the law? It is unclear from the evidence that the prosecution has presented. Even if I did, is it morally and constitutionally wrong? Challenging and defying an unjust law, such as the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act and the way it is wielded, is not only not wrong but the duty of every citizen in this country. Because no law, in a democracy, can be imposed that would in effect negate the democratic process.

Resistance to unjust laws has a rich history. People who truly believe in the rule of law such as the Mahatma Gandhi, as Mr Reddy pointed out, take serious issue with unjust laws, laws that oppress instead of serve the people. As a result, Mahatma Gandhi deliberately and repeatedly flouted the law, was prosecuted and imprisoned on several occasions. The most famous was the defiance of the Salt Laws.

Gandhi had organized a rally to raid non-violently Salt Works. It is like trying to non-violently gatecrash the PSA if he were, heaven forbid, a Singaporean. But if he was, Mr Reddy would probably jump to prosecute him and ask him whether he had applied for a license with PELU and, if not, then he would have breached the law and thereby committed an offence. Yes, Gandhi would have committed an offence under an unjust law put in place to oppress the people.

Was he wrong? Was the Mahatma a common criminal? Today, Gandhi is considered in the league of saints. Likewise Martin Luther King Jr, who has a national holiday declared in his honour in the United States; Nelson Mandela, the former South African president; and Kim Dae Jung, the South Korean president, just to name a few, have all broken their countries unjust and undemocratic laws and have served time in jail. Have they broken laws or committed offences? Yes. Were they morally wrong? Of course not.

Please dont for one minute think that I am comparing myself to these great freedom leaders. I couldnt hold a candle to them. But Mr Ambalam and I want to do for our country, in however humble a manner, what Gandhi, King, Mandela, and Kim did for theirs. The principles whether in India, America, South Africa, or Korea apply in Singapore too.

Free speech and restrictions

Our constitution guarantees us the right to freedom of speech, assembly, and association. There are restrictions of course. I agree that it is prohibited for someone to shout Fire! in a crowded enclosed space if there is not one. Free speech and assembly is not a free-for-all. But to use these restrictions to stymie the opposition and prevent citizens from coming together, worse for the PAP to selectively apply it to its political opponents but not to itself, is not in keeping with the idea and spirit for which these restrictions were made. It is a travesty of the rule of law when the constitution is mocked in such manner.

I have crossed swords with Mr Bala Reddy on four separate occasions in as many years. I have nothing against him and hope that when all this is over, that is, when the PAPs monopoly on power is finally broken and democracy comes to our shores, that we can sit over a drink and have a laugh over all this. Until then, he and the police must do what they must do and we will have to continue our struggle for freedom and human rights in Singapore.

I long for the day when we can all be free again to listen to our consciences and not be forced to perpetrate such kinds of injustice, tell such kind of lies, betray our fellow citizens in such a shameful manner all because of the PAP.

If the police have acted in bad faith and, worse, they lied in their evidence, then Your Honour is duty bound to reject the prosecutions case. If you dont, you will be accepting the kind of slip-shod evidence that the prosecution witnesses have presented to this court and made a mockery of justice.

The universal freedoms of speech and assembly is not a subject solely for parliament to debate. In a democratic and just society, which we all want to see our nation become, the judiciary must also shoulder that responsibility to uphold and protect the rights of the citizens in the absence of which a gaping, aching hole of injustice opens up in our community and in our persons, a hole that no amount of money, cars, or shares can ever fill.

I am not a criminal and no amount of time in prison can shake my belief that freedom, justice, and democracy must be embraced if we are to join the civilized world. Do the right thing, Your Honour, acquit Gandhi Ambalam and I, and I promise you that you will be on the right side of History.

Thank you.