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The Straits Times is living up to its reputation again. On the first day of the trial of two Falungong practitioners, the police presented as evidence a banner which they seized from the protesters. It read: “Stop persecution of Falungong in China.”
The Straits Times reporter, Mr Khushwant Singh, wrote it as “Stop prosecution of Falungong in China.” It may have been the misplacement of a couple of letters but readers of English will know that there is a world of difference between ‘persecution’ and ‘prosecution’. One denotes unlawful, and often, brutal treatment while the other signals that due process has been accorded.
The huge banner (see photo) with the blackest of words on the whitest of backgrounds was spread out for the audience to see in the tiny courtroom – at least twice. The furthest observer would still be less that 10 feet from the exhibit. It would have taken someone with severe eyesight problems to make the error. Either that or Mr Singh wasn’t paying attention.
Or was the Straits Times trying to play down the matter? This would be the subject matter when the reporter is summoned to court (see below).
The case involves two Singaporean Falungong practitioners who held a protest outside the Chinese embassy against the Chinese government for torturing and harvesting the organs of imprisoned followers of the faith (see S’pore tries to deport 73-year old granny amidst organ harvesting scandal in China).
Not to be outdone, Lianhe Zaobao reported that the Chinese characters on the banner read: “Hunger strike against China for the compassionate persecution of Falungong” when the actual words were “Hunger strike against the Chinese communists for the inhumane persecution of Falungong.” Compassionate persecution? Uniquely Singapore.
Biggest crowd, smallest courtroom
The case attracted an audience of close to 100. Yet the courtroom in which the trial was held was one of the smallest – a grand total of 12 seats were available, one third was taken up by the police and their ISD cousins.
The room was so crammed that even the lawyers did not have space to put their documents and exhibits. In addition four seats were reserved for the press – all local.
Defence exhibits seized
On the second day of the hearing something else rather strange happened. As defence counsel Mr M Ravi was walking in, the police stopped him and confiscated the photographs of tortured individuals and mutilated bodies.
The lawyer argued that the pictures were for his case without which he could not proceed. This fell on deaf ears and so Mr Ravi had to go to the courtroom without his defence material. After a protracted plea with the judge, the pictures were finally returned.
When Mr Ravi was walking out of the Subordinate Courts for lunch, the police again wanted to seize the pictures. This is in spite of the judge’s decision to return the pictures to the defense lawyer.
A large crowd of Falungong observers, police officers and registry officials quickly built up around the protagonists.
Mr Ravi told the police they had no right to take his exhibits and walked off, with scores of Falungong supporters in tow, and leaving the flummoxed police behind.
Straits Times reported subpoenaed
In the meantime, the defense counsel had applied to subpoena Mr Khushwant Singh as a witness to question the reporter why he had written ‘prosecution’ in place of ‘persecution’ in the Straits Times report.
When Mr Singh was finally located, he refused to sign the subpoena stating that he wanted to consult SPH lawyers first. He had to be brought before the judge during which it was explained to him what the subpoena meant before he relented and received the subpoena.
It is understood that the Lianhe Zaobao reporter will be subpoenaed later.
Defence witness harassed
On yet another front, police briefly detained Mdm Chen Peiyu for possession of a knife in her luggage. Mdm Chen is an elderly Chinese national who was originally charged together with the two Singaporeans.
But the charges against her were dropped because the authorities wanted her deported. Mr Ravi, however, had applied for her to be a witness which ensured that she was around to testify.
The police said they found a knife in Mdm Chen’s luggage. But the granny said that she always carried this with her to peel and slice fruit. She was due to depart Singapore immediately after testifying and therefore had her luggage with her.
One question that needs to be asked is why did the police find the knife only on the second day when the elderly lady was present on both the first and second days?
More important, is this matter going to be reported by the local media to distract readers about the grave misreporting in the Straits Times and Lainhe Zaobao, while at the same time create the impression that Falungong are a violent group? Tomorrow’s newspapers will tell.
All in all, it was a crazy day in court. The coming days may see more eyebrow-raising events taking place. Stay tuned.