It’s official – promoting a cause is illegal: Part I

September 12, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

Ms Jaslyn Go walked into the police station on 10 Sep 08 to be questioned for being part of an illegal assembly on National Day this year. The group of activists were distributing Tak Boleh Tahan! flyers at Toa Payoh Central.

So what did Ms Go wear for the interview? The Tak Boleh Tahan! T-shirt. It certainly caught the attention of the officers manning the reception counter.

After being greeted by Inspector Tan Sin Choon, Ms Go was ushered into the interview room. When the Inspector started with his questions, Ms Go started with her note-taking.

“You don’t have to take notes while I’m questioning you, you can copy later. I’ll show you the statement at the end,” Inspector Tan said.

When he was done with the questions, Ms Go asked why it was illegal on some occasions to distribute flyers and not on others.

“Pamphleting is not illegal but promoting a campaign or a cause is illegal,” replied the Inspector.

What? Real or not? Since when did promoting a cause or a campaign become illegal? How do these guys come up with such things, anyway?

“Go and ask a lawyer,” the officer said. “Or go to the AG Chamber’s website. Next time if you are unclear go to the police post first and get clearance on whether something is illegal or not before you support it.” Ms Go was beginning to wonder if she was living in Pyongyang.

Apparently perturbed by her taking down his every word, the officer quickly showed her the section of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, citing that promoting a campaign and cause is an offence. (We’ll talk more about what the Act says in Part II.)

Asked why the police have not taken action against other political parties conducting similar activities, the officer replied that it was because the police did not receive any calls about them.

What about the police statement saying that the Tak Boleh Tahan activity held on 1 May 08, where activists were also distributing flyers at Toa Payoh Central, was legal? Inspector Tan said he was not aware of that and asked Ms Go to send him the information.

Perhaps, the good Inspector should meet with his superiors once in a while and get clued in to what’s going on at his station.

But was the Inspector really so clueless or was he just playing games? When asked the same question by another activist he interviewed, the Inspector revealed that the 1 May TBT event was just distributing flyers. The 9 Aug TBT event is different — it was promoting a cause.

If you’re thoroughly confused at this point, it’s okay, you’re not alone. The inanity of the answer notwithstanding, why did Inspector Tan give two different answers to the same question?

When the questioning was over and the statement finally shown to her, Ms Go started jotting down its content. “You can’t copy my questions, you can only copy your answers,” the officer said.

“How do I know what question I am answering if I don’t copy down the questions especially when most of my answers are ‘Yes’ and ‘No’?”

Appropriately stumped, the Inspector reached for his handy-dandy, evade-all-hard-questions, civil-service-manual answer: “It’s the rule.”

That’s the nub of the problem: It’s the rule — real or not, it’s the rule.