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District Court Judge Kessler Soh convicted eight SDP leaders and activists for asssembly without a permit at Toa Payoh Central on 9 Aug 08. The group was distributing Tak Boleh Tahan (TBT) flyers on National Day criticisng the high ministerial salaries and lack of public assistance for the poor in Sngapore.
The main contention in the case was that the group had conducted a similar activity a few months earlier on May Day (see here). On that occasion, however, the police has said that there was no illegal assembly. If an activity was not an offence on 1 May, how can it become an offence a few weeks later? Obviously, according to Judge Soh, it can.
The Judge proceeded to pass various sentences for the Defendants Dr Chee Soon Juan, Ms Chee Siok Chin, Mr Jeffrey George, Mr Chong Kai Xiong, Mr Seelan Palay, Mr John Tan and Mr Francis Yong. Mr Gandhi Ambalam will be sentence at a later date due to questions raised about his convictions record.
The sentences ranging from $900 to $1,000 and six or seven days of imprisonment in default depending on the fine. The Defendats have appealed the verdict.
During the trial Superintendent Deep Singh had testified that he had received a 999 call alerting the police to the assembly on at Toa Payoh on 9 Aug 08 (event video). He said that he then sent a team to observe the activity. When it was fed back o him that there was a group of more than four persons, he decided to take action and warn the group to disperse even though activity was perfectly peaceful.
Under cross-examination, Mr Singh revealed that he had also received a police call about the TBT group distributing flyers on 1 May also at Toa Payoh Central (event video). His officers scouted out the area and saw “seven persons wearing the red TBT T-shirts and sistributing flyers.”
Mr Singh, however, concluded that there was no illegal assembly and issued the statement which was published in the Today newspaper on 2 May:
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.
The Prosecution conceded that the police had issued the above statement and did not dispute its veracity as published in the newspaper.
Dr Chee testified that it was based on Mr Singh’s statement on 1 May that the group went ahead with the same activity on 9 August. How can two similar events be legal and not illegal at the same time?
Besides there were other political parties that were out and about distributing flyers on 9 Aug 08 namely the Workers’ Party and National Solidarity Party (video). Why was the SDP singled out for prosecution?
Another point that has been repeatedly raised at these trials is that Home Affairs Minister Mr Wong Kan Seng has stated openly that no permits will be granted for outdoor political activities. Why accuse citizens of not applying for a permit when none would be given?
None of these points mattered to the Judge who was only concerned that there was more than four in the group, there was no permit for the asssembly, and that the assembly took place in a public place.
Such a blinkered approach made by this and other judges (Mr Toh Yung Cheong, Mr Ch’ng Lye Beng, Mr Chia Wee Kiat, Ms Thian Yee Sze, Ms Jasvender Kaur, Mr John Ng, and Ms Jill Tan) is very worng. The judges have all refused to look into the motivations behind the police actions.
Contrast this with how English courts, including the House of Lords, view the matter:
It is now well established that the courts have power to examine the way in which public servants like the police use discretionary powers given to them under a statutory regime. The wider the power, and the more it impinges on persinal liberty, the more anxious the court will be to ensure that it is used to achieve the purpose for which it was granted and not for any ulterior or extraneous purpose.
The Defence has repeatedly made the argument that the PAP is abusing executive powers to deny the opposition and citizens of the freedom of speech and assembly in order to continue to safeguard its own political power, and appealed to the courts to intervene to protect these constitutional rights.
Some of these cases are now being heard on appeal by High Court Judge Woo Bih Li. See here.
Before sentence was passed Dr Chee told the court:
We are proud of what we have done which is to stand up for our rights as citizens of this country. We will be vindicated in time because what we are fighting is just and right. This system has shown total disregard for the rule of law. For too long, Singaporeans have been deprived of their voice. This cannot continue.
While all this is going on, the High Court is also hearing contempt of court charges against Mr Alan Shadrake whom the Government has accused of “scandalising the court”.