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District Court Judge Jasvender Kaur ruled that discriminatory enforcement of the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act is not irrelevant. She said this in the on-going trial of Dr Chee Soon Juan and Mr Yap Keng Ho who are charged with speaking in public without a permit on 8 Apr 06.
Both defendants have been making the case that the police have acted in a politically discriminatory manner in their prosecution of the case.
This is most clearly demonstrated when hawkers, big and small, openly promote their wares on the streets and talk to their potential buyers using loud speakers. Some even play loud music or have performances to attract customers.
Yet when Dr Chee and Mr Yap interacts with people in the course of selling The New Democrat, the SDP’s newspaper, they are prosecuted.
Mr Yap emphasized this point when he made submissions at the close of the Prosecution’s case. He said: “The legislation made all sorts of exemptions and exceptions…that such an act is only for the abusive purpose against opposition politics. License will never be issue to opposition in particular such as SDP. The only meaningful purpose of making any application as such is only to prove that the licenses will never be approved.” (Full transcript of Mr Yap’s submissions found at http://uncleyap-news.blogspot.com/2008/02/submission-for…)
“This is irrelevant,” DPP Lee Tse Haw rebutted.
“No it is not,” Judge Kaur shot back. “Discriminatory enforcement of the Act is not irrelevant.” Nonetheless, she decided that the defendants had a case to answer.
When Dr Chee Soon Juan took the stand he recounted how he had seen street vendors selling all manner of goods from pots and pans to cleaning detergents to medicinal herbs.
These sellers very often use loud speakers to communicate with on-lookers. Is this speech? Major corporations are seen throughout Singapore touting the products and services, often using state-of-the-art sound systems to attract passers-by with offers and incentives.
Mr Yap Keng Ho had video-taped some of these hawkers in action and wanted to play it in court as part of the evidence. The Judge refused to allow this.
Dr Chee then added that the police were singling out the SDP. He illustrated this by pointing to the fact that under the law, five or more persons gathered in a public area is considered illegal. This means that every political party and every politician, both ruling and opposition, are committing an offence every time they go for their Sunday walk-about. But the police have singled out the SDP and investigating it for illegal assembly when party members were selling books along Orchard Road last year.
In addition applications for public events by the opposition are invariably turned down. Dr Chee pointed out the most glaring example: While the police allowed the Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) to conduct a public rally outside Parliament House in Mar 07, they rejected the SDP’s application for a similar event this year.
“Your Honour, political discrimination by the PAP in Singapore is not a new thing,” the SDP leader said. “Singaporeans know this. It is dishonest for any one not to acknowledge this fact.
“We appeal to our country’s judges to right this wrong for this is precisely what you have sworn to do – to ensure the fair application of laws and to uphold justice if this is not done.”
Judge Kaur then asked if Dr Chee had sought remedy for this by way of appeals to the Minister or through administrative law such as Judicial Review.
Dr Chee said that he has appealed, in vain, to the Home Affairs Minister on previous occasions when applications were turned down by the police and is considering taking the matter before the courts.
“In fact,” he added, “it was Minister Wong Kan Seng who said that the Government would not authorise protests of any kind.”
“When did he say that?” the Judge enquired.
“I can’t remember the exact date but it was reported in the Straits Times,” Dr Chee said. “I can get you the reference if you want.”
The Judge then wondered aloud in what context the Mr Wong’s comments were made.
Why don’t we find out by calling Mr Wong to the stand, Dr Chee said in making the application for the Minister to testify in court..
“But why do you want to do this when you have not applied for a permit in this present case?” Judge Kaur said.
“Isn’t it disingenuous for the Government to prosecute us for not having a permit or not applying for one when it will not grant us permits in the first place?” Dr Chee replied.
Ms Kaur rejected the application for Mr Wong Kan Seng to take the stand.
At the end of the defence presenting its case, the Judge directed parties to exchange written submissions by 7 Mar 08, and exchange replies to each other’s submissions by 18 Mar. The Judge will give her decision on 26 Mar.
In his submissions at the close of the Prosecution’s case, Mr Yap Keng Ho pointed out that “famiLee Leegime’s ministers and MPs” are exempt from applying for permits to speak in public.
“What’s that?” the puzzled Judge asked.
“It’s the term referring to the Lee family spelt f-a-m-i-l-e-e,” Mr Yap explained.
“Oh, you mean the Lees,” Judge Kaur clarified.
The two prosecutors let out audible chuckles. The court bailiffs couldn’t suppress their sniggers either. And when the DPP stole a quick glance at the Judge, he found her trying to stifle a giggle herself.
Dr Chee calling the police?
When Dr Chee took the witness box, he testified that he had seen hawkers selling their wares without licences.
“Did you ask them whether they had permits?” DPP Lim Tse Haw asked.
“Yes, I asked some of the them,” Dr Chee replied, adding that they did not have permits.
“And did you call the police to report them?” the DPP pushed.
“And make their lives more miserable than they already are?” Dr Chee responded.
That’s what we want to know too
DPP Lim continued his line of questioning: “So how do you know if these hawkers were not prosecuted for speaking without a permit?” He was obviously trying to corner the defendant.
“That’s why we have been asking the police to produce the records, haven’t we?” Dr Chee replied. “If you show us the records, we will be able to ascertain once and for all whether the police have been acting in a discriminatory manner against the SDP.”
“In fact,” Dr Chee continued, “that is what we have been asking ASP Sim (head of the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit) to show us the records of how many times the police have approved applications by the opposition for public speeches. But this was refused by the judges both in this trial as well as the previous one.”
“Her Honour didn’t say no,” DPP Lim jumped to Ms Kaur’s defence.
The Judge thought for a while and said: “Yes, I did say that there was no need for ASP Sim to provide the information.”
So without the information, how can it be determined that there was no discrimination on the part of the police?
The questioned was left unanswered.