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Judge Eddy Tham stepped in repeatedly in today’s trial to rule questions from the Defence irrelevant. This made it possible for the Defendants to establish their cases.
Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Dr Chee Soon Juan and Mr Yap Keng Ho are charged with speaking in public without a permit on 22 Apr 06 during the elections in May this year.
The Defence had wanted to establish two points:
One, that the police had acted at the behest of the PAP to victimise the Defendants because they were engaged in political activity during the elections period.
Two, that the Defendants could not have obtained the police permit to carry out their activity on the said date because the Government had announced that it would not give any such permits.
I. At the behest of the PAP
Police Witness Assistant Superintendent Colin Wong, Chief Investigations Officer at Ang Mo Kio Police Division, revealed on the stand that he had considered activities of opposition political parties as “sensitive”.
“I consider them as sensitive in nature in the same category of cases like housebreaking, missing persons, and murder,” the officer told the Court.
Based on this, ASP Wong had briefed his men on the day before 22 Apr 06 to proceed to the “scene of crime” with video-cameras when they received such calls.
When Dr Chee asked the witness why he considered SDP activity during the election period as sensitive, the Judge interjected and ruled the question irrelevant.
Dr Chee explained that another police witness had testified that his Team Leader had separately told his team to watch out for “sensitive” cases. He later confirmed that “sensitive cases” referred to those involving the SDP.
It seemed that there was a plan to target the SDP during the election period.
Another peculiar incident was that the police had “forgotten” to take down the particulars of the person who had made the initial complaint.
From all this, it was not unreasonable to suspect that the police had acted at the behest of the PAP to victmise its political opponent and undermine the SDP’s campaign effort during the time of the elections, Dr Chee elaborated.
Under the Constitution, the Defendants was entitled to be treated equally under the law and not be singled out for prosecution by virtue of their being members of an opposition party.
As such, Dr Chee said that he needed to adduce evidence to show that the police had not acted independent in an effort to maintain law and order, but was in fact helping to the PAP to suppress legitimate political activity during elections.
Judge Eddy Tham was not moved and maintained that the question was irrelevant.
The SDP leaders then pointed out that during the elections itself, PM Lee Hsien Loong had revealed that the PAP was not beyond “fixing” the opposition. One of the ways that the ruling party could do this was through the police.
In other words, the police action and the charge are politically-motivated to help the PAP maintain its grip on power.
“Surely as a Judge, you are not helping the PAP do this,” the SDP secretary-general said. “In that case you must want to know if there was anything sinister behind the police’s action.”
He also alerted the Judge that the Government had used this line of defence when the CPF protesters had taken legal action against the Home Affairs Minister and the Police Commissioner for being unconstitutional when they ordered the (four) protesters to disperse despite the fact that the Constitution allowed it.
One of the Minister’s and Commissioner’s defence was that the action was taken by persons associated with a political party and was therefore “scandalous” because it was political-motivated.
If the Government can use this line of defence, why couldn’t the opposition?
The Judge, however, stubbornly refused to allow Dr Chee to question the witness along this line and to show that the police had in fact acted on behalf of the PAP.
II. No permission?
The second fact that the Defendants were trying to establish was that the police would not give a licence for political activities in public areas.
The DPP had presented a witness from the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit (PELU) to give evidence that the SDP did not have a permit when it conducted its activity on 22 Apr 06.
Dr Chee then asked the witness whether the police had given any permit to opposition parties to hold outdoor events in the last ten years or more.
“The question is irrelevant,” Judge Tham ordered.
The SDP secretary-general explained that it was disingenuous for the Prosecution to claim that the SDP had not applied for, and did not receive, a permit on 22 Apr 06. This was because the Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng had said in 1994 that the Government “will not allow [speeches by political parties] to be held outdoors.”
Mr Wong has since repeatedly stated that “political talks” will not be allowed in public.
The SDP and its associates have repeatedly applied to the PELU for such permits which have all been denied.
Dr Chee explained that he needed to adduce evidence from the witness that the police had not given, and have no intention of giving, permits for outdoor speeches.
This would show that the DPP was less than honest when she told the Court that the SDP did not have a permit to speak in public.
“You need to see the matter in its totality and not be blinded by the DPP,” Dr Chee noted. “You can’t accuse us of not having a permit when the Government has made in clear that it will not give such permits.”
Judge Tham refused to listen and maintained that this line of questioning was irrelevant.
Dr Chee then asked Judge Tham if he could explain why he ruled the questions irrelevant. The Judge refused.
The hearing continues tomorrow at 9:30 am.