CSJ: Trial a mockery of justice

November 24, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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Dr Chee Soon Juan read this statement in Court today.

This trial will go down in the annals as one of the most shambolic and disgraceful legal exercises. From day one it has been fraught with sloppiness and, I daresay, outright mischief on the part of the Prosecution.

Shenanigans galore

The about-turn of the DPP not to use the video evidence and then changing her mind again halfway through the proceedings has turned this trial into a farce, one bordering on the comedic.

Then there are the contradictions and inconsistencies of the more than a dozen police witnesses tripping over each other to maintain the incredible story that they acted independently of their political master, prompted into action only by this phantom ‘Peter’, a member of the public, whose identity they conveniently forgot to record.

At least two key witnesses, Sgt Lester Wong Wong and Sgt Nor Hasdian, who received and disemminated the first information to the rest of their colleagues told the Court one thing and then minutes later, when prompted by the DPP, said something diametrically opposite.

Another witness, ASP Colin Wong, admitted that he had briefed his officers the day before our event at Yishun and would have us believe that the police did not have prior knowledge of the SDP’s campaign activities.

One of the witnesses had, in fact, admitted that he transcribed and translated the video recording immediately upon returning to the police station. This was at 12 noon on a Saturday!

What was the hurry?

In 1997, Senior MInister Goh Chok Tong admitted that when opposition candidate Tang Liang Hong lodged a police report against PAP leaders, the report was immediately given to Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng who then passed it on to Lee Kuan Yew who, in turn, instigated ten of his colleagues to launch a massive lawsuit with him against Tang.

This was done in the ministers’ personal capacities. In other words, the police were used to benefit the personal activities of the PAP leaders.

Handing over the report was a blatant breach in police procedure that itself warranted an investigation. Its perpetrators ought to be brought to justice.

And we are expected to believe, in the persent case, that the police acted without instructions from the PAP and that it was a member of the public that had lodged the complaint?

I am in no doubt that the video and its transcript were placed at Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s desk the minute they were processed, hence the rush to transcribe it that very morning itself.

Another officer, a DSP no less, came up with the fairy tale that he made duplicate copies of the video because he “happened to be the one who knew how to operate the machine.” A total of five officers had, at some point, the original tape in their custody. As I mentioned it is obvious that copies were given to PAP leaders.

The fact that we were stopped by the Judge when we asked the witness whether copies were given to the PAP is more than interesting.

Then there was the mother-of-all monkey businesses. Police witness ASP Jeremy Koh was caught being in the courtroom and colluding with other witnesses. Even to a layperson this was an outrageous breach of the most fundamental of court practices, outrageous in its daring and brazenness.

The fact that this incident registered barely a ripple in the subsequent proceedings which continued as if nothing had happened, speaks volumes.

(Even our application of a Criminal Motion to the High Court for the trial to be aborted because of the tainting of the evidence by Jeremy Koh’s presence received short shrift. The Judge, Mr Choo Han Teck, didn’t bother to hear our arguments.

And if you take into account the Registrar bizarrely fixing the Criminal Motion hearing on the day after it was filed, leaving the applicants without time to prepare our case, you begin to, if you haven’t already, form the picture that the entire machinery was moving inexorably towards its inevitable conclusion.)

Collectively, the actions of the Prosecution and the evidence given by the police witnesses serve to remind us of how the ruling party continues to use state instruments to, in the infamous words of our dear leader Mr Lee Hsien Loong, “fix” the opposition.

A Constitution waiting to be applied

Be that as it may, I have no interest in using these matters in my defence. For even without the video evidence I would never have denied doing what I did on 22 April 2006. Why deny something I am proud of?

In the premises, was there really a need for the Prosecution to resort to such puerile tactics to secure a conviction?

So why am I bringing all this up? My intention is to demonstrate that the charge is not simply one of the police enforcing the law, but rather the PAP misusing and abusing its powers in a political game designed to crush the opposition.

But while the police may be in a difficult position to defy their boss, the Judiciary should have the wherewithal to resist being dragged into such political ignominy.

In such a case, should not our Judicial system look into the motivation of the Executive and determine for itself if the spirit of the law has been breached in this case? Should not our Judges, sworn to uphold the rule of law, be interested to see if there has been any abuse of the law by the ruling party to persecute the opposition?

Justice is, I want to believe, foremost in the mind of this Judiciary. And how is justice kept alive? Former US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren said: “It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive.”

Don’t hide behind the letter of the law, Your Honour. Have the courage to apply the spirit of the law. And the spirit of the law demands that Singapore’s opposition cannot be curtailed in its right to speak to the people while the ruling party freely propagates itself and its views.

Let me make myself perfectly clear: The spirit of the law demands that everyone be treated even-handedly under the law.

But if the Judiciary so chooses to be co-opted in to the PAP’s hideous exercise of decimating anything and everything that stands in its path to unbridled power, then so be it. It, too, will have to face the consequences when the time comes.

I have been urged to point out that selling our party publication, The New Democrat, is different from making a speech and to ask to be acquitted because at no point were we making a speech because all we were doing was selling the newspaper.

But for me to raise these technical points is to miss the forest for the trees. It doesn’t matter if I was simply selling a newspaper or if I were addressing voters. The important thing is that I had the right to do both and that right must be recognized and respected.

In this context, it is meaningless – unseemly, in fact – for me to quibble about whether my actions on the said dates amount to public speaking or merely the selling of my party newspaper.

The substantive point that I would like to focus on is that the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act has been used by the PAP to prosecute and deter legitimate political activity.

Its application has been selective and targeted to ensure that the political opposition’s ability to reach out to the people in an effective manner is crippled.

Street vendors, hawking all manner of goods, are found all over the island doing exactly what we did on 22 April. Doesn’t it seem strange to this Court that the police singled out the SDP for prosecution when they let everyone else continue on with their sales?

Isn’t there something in our Constitution about citizens being treated equally under the law that you, the Judge, should at least show some interest?

The fact that you have denied us the right to adduce evidence that this charge was nothing but political vengeance on the part of the ruling party is revealing. May I add that in time to come, it will also prove hugely embarrassing for the Judiciary.

Encouraged by the punishment

I stand before you with nothing to hide, no tricks up my sleeves and, most important, with absolutely no remorse.

I come to this courtroom armed with only my faith in democracy and my belief that one day I will be vindicated, and that Singapore will be a free and democratic country.

I wish deep in my heart that I were wrong and that somehow, not for my own sake because I have prepared myself to go to jail again but for the sake of my country and my fellow citizens, that we will not be found guilty.

But I am also not one to indulge in wishful thinking.

Indeed, if I had an ounce of hope that the evidence we establish would have a bearing on the verdict I would pour my heart and soul into this courtroom battle.

But alas, after having gone through several trials where I have repeatedly tried to bring reason and the spirit of democracy to bear on the judicial process, I say with a heavy heart that I am convinced that no words, no fact, no call to reason can alter the verdict.

Your hearts have been hardened with fear and no amount of persuasion can enlighten you at this time. I hope, however, that one day they can be healed by courage, the courage to face the truth, the courage to dispense justice and fairness to the citizens of this country.

I speak not out of spite. I have only the highest respect for your achievements and your elevation to the bench. But I will not shirk my responsibility to speak the truth to you. Because everyone, no matter the status or the title he attains in life, will have to face the truth sooner or later.

This is why I ask not for mercy. Only one who has done wrong need ask for mercy.

There are at least two reasons for the administration of criminal justice: deterrence and rehabilitation. What will punishing me achieve? Do you think it will rehabilitate me and deter me from doing what I am doing?

If it did, would I be standing here before you charged with the same offence for the fourth time? In fact, every hour, every day, every month that I spend in jail only strengthens my resolve to fight this oppression.

I might add that Singaporeans witnessing this ridiculous situation will not be frightened off. What happens in this courtroom today makes them want to contribute even more to the struggle for justice and democracy in Singapore.

In other words, the punishment you mete out has the opposite of the intended effect.

There is a difference in punishing someone who has committed a crime versus punishing someone who is fighting for democracy and the rights of the people. The former you can curtail but the latter you only encourage.

Surely you are intelligent enough to see that injustice in the political arena cannot be cleansed by injustice in the courtroom. On the contrary, it only serves to foment the anger of the people.

Seen from this vantage, you realize that my fight is not in this Court which renders but only one opinion. There is another opinion that will be made and it will resonate far beyond the confines of this Court and deep into history.

And this is the opinion of the public both in Singapore and throughout the world.

The defence therefore cannot rest its case – the case of The People v PAP. It will not rest until we achieve democracy in this country.

Chee Soon Juan

23 November 2006