CJ Yong dismisses Chees May Day appeal

May 8, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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Chief Justice Yong Pung How threw out Dr Chee Soon Juans appeal against his conviction for attempting to hold a public rally outside the Istana on May Day last year.

Dr Chee had argued that the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act and the way it was applied was unconstitutional and undemocratic (see submissions below).

The brief hearing was again filled with side remarks and comments from Mr Yong. Right from the beginning the Chief Justice asked Dr Chee who he was. When the SDP Secretary-General said that he had appeared before the Chief Justice on a previous occasion, Mr Yong said that he could not remember. (This was in spite of his now famous I-had-a-good-breakfast remark he made at Mr Gandhi Ambalam during Mr Ambalams appeal.)

Mr Yong then asked Dr Chee what his occupation was. Im a psychologist by training, Dr Chee replied.

Have you given yourself an assessment? asked Mr Yong.

Not lately, Dr Chee said, but I assure you that I am fully capable to conduct this appeal myself.

Later, when Dr Chee said that he wanted his rights to be returned to him and to Singaporeans in general, the Chief Justice asked if Dr Chee was a member of parliament.

When Dr Chee replied in the negative, Mr Yong remarked that Dr Chee then could not speak for the people.

You dont need to be a member of parliament to speak up for the people, do you? Dr Chee shot back to which the Chief Justice muttered something and quickly moved on.

When Dr Chee finished his submissions, Mr Yong remarked that it was only a nine-minute address. Then at the end of the hearing, the Chief Justice demonstrated that he could not remember Dr Chees name again…

Chees submissions

Good morning Your Honour,

This is not the first time I come before you. As before the issue is about freedom of speech in Singapore which I continue to hold dear as my right as a citizen of this country. In making this appeal, I hope to impress upon you the continued lack of democratic freedoms in this country freedoms that our constitution guarantees the people of Singapore.

I have argued previously that no law should deny us, the citizens of this country, the right to freedom of speech and association. Yet when you compare this with what the PAP is doing, one is left in no doubt that the Governments measures are repressive and anti-constitution. Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Wong Kan Seng recently declared that: The government does not authorise protests and demonstrations of any nature. This is because, the government claims, of law and order problems.

Not only does this decree go against the constitution, it also is applied only against the opposition. In 1988, the police allowed 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 of America? There were only two of us who wanted to speak at a May Day rally on May 1, 2002.

One law for the ruling party and another one for the opposition is something that is fundamentally inimical to a democracy – which we claim to be.

We must make up our minds; are we a democracy? If we are, then what Ive just cited the railroading of citizens rights, and the selective and discriminative use of laws against the opposition cannot be condoned. If we are going to tolerate such political chicanery and brazen manipulation, then let us dispense with the deceit of telling the world that the rule of law is respected here.

One of the cardinal principles of the rule of law is that everyone gets equal treatment under the law, regardless of political affiliation. Another canon of democracy rests on the fact that elected officials are prohibited from enacting policies that undermine the right of citizens to speak and congregate freely once they get into office. The behaviour of the PAP Government clearly shows contempt for the rule of law and democratic values.

I have already served the prison sentence when I refused to pay the fine when I was convicted last year. I cannot get my time back. So why am I appealing? Because I would like you to return me my right to be able to address my fellow working Singaporeans on an occasion as important as May Day.

That is all.