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A group of Singaporean pro-democracy activists won a rare legal victory after being acquitted of involvement in an illegal march two years ago, according to court documents obtained Wednesday.
Public prosecutors had charged the five activists with “participating in a procession without a valid permit” but District Judge John Ng ruled that there was no evidence to support the government’s case.
The activists were charged after walking together wearing T-shirts with the words “Democracy Now” and “Freedom Now” in order to circumvent laws against public assemblies of more than four people, part of the strict political controls in Singapore.
If convicted, they could have been punished with a fine of up to 1,000 Singapore dollars (700 dollars) each.
“They did not carry any of the usual paraphernalia associated with a protest or a rally march such as placards and banners,” Ng said in a written judgement handed down Tuesday.
“Based on the evidence in this case, what the defendants had carried out did not in my view amount to a procession,” said Ng.
Chee Siok Chin, one of the five acquitted activists, said the court ruling should not be seen as a step forward for pro-democracy activists in Singapore.
“It still does not vindicate the fact that we were exercising our basic rights, although I do hope this ruling will encourage Singaporeans to see this type of peaceful assembly is no big deal,” Chee said.
“It’s really nothing sinister, it’s not trouble making,” she added.
Earlier this year, Singapore tightened its rules on public assembly so that any political gatherings outside a designated zone known as Speakers’ Corner would require a permit, regardless of the number of people involved.
Previously, political gatherings of five or more people outside a designated free-speech park were deemed illegal without a police permit.
The restrictions were imposed ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November involving world figures led by US President Barack Obama.