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Can a person be guilty of committing an offence if law enforcers had given permission for him to carry out that activity? Apparently yes, according to High Court Judge Quentin Loh as he dismissed the appeals of Dr Chee Soon Juan, Ms Chee Siok Chin, Mr Chong Kai Xiong, Mr Seelan Palay and Mr John Tan.
The appellants were found guilty of taking part in an assembly without a permit on National Day in 2009. They were appealing their conviction by District Court Judge Kessler Soh (see here).
Judge Loh had asked the Prosecutor during the appeal hearing in August 2011 if a person can be guilty of an offence when the police had previously stated a similar activity in 2009 was legal (see here). He ruled against the activists at the hearing this afternoon – after a break of more than nine months.
The appellants had gathered at Toa Payoh Central on May Day in 2009 to distribute flyers and sell Tak Boleh Tahan T-shirts (watch video). The police had on that occasion released a statement that the gathering did not constitute an offence. The statement read:
Police received a call from the Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council reporting that Chee Soon Juan was distributing pamphlets, and had set up a table selling books and T-shirts at Toa Payoh Central. Police observation in response to the call confirmed it. Chee did not stage an unlawful assembly or an illegal outdoor demonstration. (emphasis added)
The group then went ahead and conducted a similar activity on 9 August, the National Day, that year also at Toa Payoh Central (watch video). This time the group was charged for assembly without a permit.
Judge Loh answered his own question today saying, in effect, that the police statement cannot be used as a defence. In his written judgment, Mr Loh said:
A police communique or press statement does not amount to an authoritative statement on whether criminal liability has been made out in a particular instance.
More importantly, his judgment continues to uphold the PAP Government’s policy of banning public assembly for political purposes. This runs counter to the Constitution of Singapore as well as international norms as spelt out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Singapore is one of the few countries left in Asia that forbids public assembly. Malaysia has recently instituted democratic reforms including the abolition of the Internal Security Act and the relaxation of assembly laws. Even the Burmese regime has relaxed its political control.
In Singapore, however, freedom of assembly and speech as well as freedom of the press continues to be tightly controlled by the ruling party.
Singaporeans must realise that without our political rights of freedom of assembly, our concerns over issues such as the foreign-worker policy, income inequality and housing prices – in other words, bread-and-butter issues – cannot be effectively addressed by the people, the opposition and civil society.
The PAP will continue to monopolise the media and control political information to delay, and even prevent, reform of its policies.
The appellants will apply to Judge Quentin Loh for leave to take the case to the Court of Appeal because the matter is of public interest. The Judge allowed the appellants 30 days to make the application.
Read also Rights and Leverage by Yawning Bread.