Distributing flyers trial: Confused officers

April 26, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

The comedy of errors continued in the on-going trial of Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Dr Chee Soon Juan and Ms Chee Siok Chin as prosecution witnesses could not get their stories straight.

The SDP leaders are being charged with assembly without a permit when they were distributing flyers on 10 Sep 06 outside the Raffles City Shopping Centre together with Mr Jeffrey George, Ms Hakirat Kaur and Mr Charles Tan. Mr George and Ms Kaur pleaded guilty while Mr Tan is away.

The police officers contradicted each other, signed off erroneously on their reports, didn’t know what offence had been committed, and couldn’t agree on what they observed.

They were testifying in the continuation of the trial that started in January this year. Because it could not finish then, it was adjourned to 13-23 Apr 09.

What was the offence again?

Let’s begin with the offence itself. It was revealed during cross-examination that when the police had confronted the activists and warned them that they were committing an offence, the officers did not know what the offence was.

The flyers announced the protest during the WB-IMF meeting held in Singapore in September 2006.

Sgt Damien Oh Jin Wei said that when he first confronted Mr Jeffrey George on the day of the incident, he was unsure what offence Mr George was committing.

“But after checking my law book, I realised that there could be an offence under the Miscellaneous Offences Act,” the officer added. “But I’m not sure.”

Dr Chee then asked the officer whether the contents in the flyer he had seized constituted an offence to which Sgt Oh again said he was unsure.

“By saying that you are unsure you are also saying that you don’t know what the offence is, am I right?” Dr Chee queried.

“Yes,” Sgt Oh admitted.

“And with everything that you know about this case right up until now, are you saying that you are still unsure about what offence has been committed?” asked Dr Chee.

“Yes.”

“Again it would be fair for me to say that you being unsure, you are saying that you really don’t know what offence was committed?” Dr Chee continued.

“Yes,” came the shocking reply.

So why did the Sergeant tell Mr George that he was committing an offence when the officer himself did not know what offence was being committed? The officer replied that he was just following orders.

“Even if you thought the order was not correct?” Dr Chee pressed.

“I am sure my superior will give me the correct order,” replied the witness.

“I do not know the answer”

CID officers in action on 10 Sep 06

CID officers in action on 10 Sep 06

Mr Oh’s colleague, Sgt Derrick Lim Yong Khiang, was also at a loss as to what offence was being committed. Under cross-examination by Ms Chee Siok Chin, the officer admitted that he did not know what the offence was when he confronted Ms Hakirat Kaur.

“So why did you tell Ms Kaur that she was committing an offence?” asked Ms Chee.

“I was under instructions,” Sgt Lim replied.

“If you are unsure of the law, how can you maintain law and order?” Ms Chee continued.

Looking embarrassed, the witness could only repeat, “I got directions and instructions from my team In-charge.”

Mr Gandhi Ambalam pressed the officer further during his cross-examination: “So you were acting without thinking?”

“I have no answer,” the officer surrendered.

“Do you think before you act?” Mr Ambalam persisted.

“I do not know the answer.”

And these are our finest in blue in a First World government? Note that both officers are not new recruits. They are sergeants from the CID with nearly 30 years of police experience between them.

Even a commissioned officer was equally flummoxed about the law that he was called to enforce. Inspector Patrick Lim, who was deployed to look out for “public disorder incidents”, told the court that the accused persons had not committed an offence.

“From your observation of the defendants distributing flyers, they have not breached the peace?” prosecutor Anandan Bala asked during re-examination.

“Correct,” Mr Lim affirmed.

“As far as you’re concerned,” the DPP went on, “they have not committed a crime?”

“Based on my personal opinion, they are not committing an offence.”

DPP Bala tried his best to salvage the situation by hinting to the Inspector about the law under which the defendants have been charged: “On 10th September 2006, were you aware of the subsidiary legislation of the Miscellaneous Offences Act (MOA)?”

“No,” came the reply.

Who can blame the Inspector? Even an officer as senior as a Deputy Superintendent couldn’t be clear what the offence was. In his testimony earlier on in the trial, DSP Mohd Hassan could not make up his mind whether the act of distributing flyers or the content of the flyer constituted the offence (see here).

Distributing flyers a “normal activity”

So why were the officers so unsure about what offence had been committed? The simple truth is that groups distributing flyers is such a common occurrence that no reasonable person would deem the activity illegal.

Indeed, the officers testified that distributing flyers was a “normal activity”. They said that they had on past occasions taken flyers as passers-by and had never considered distributing flyers a criminal offence. What Singaporean would?

And yet the Attorney-General is insisting that by not applying for a permit to distribute flyers, the defendants have committed an offence under the MOA.

Can the rule of law be any more butchered? Can the Constitutional right of being treated equally under the law be any more undermined?

The defendants have repeatedly made the case that the Executive’s decision to prosecute the defendants is an abuse of power.

But trial judge Mr Chng Lai Beng insisted that he is concerned only with whether the defendants did carry out the activity in numbers of five or more and whether there was a permit for it. Dr Chee told Judge Chng that he will be submitting further on this point.

Read how the licensing officer shockingly makes up the law as to who needs to apply for permits and who doesn’t in the next instalment.