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The trial for 11 SDP leaders and associates began today. They have been charged for participating in an assembly without pemit, to wit, for publicising the Tak Boleh Tahan (TBT) campaign on 9 Aug 08 (watch video of the event here) at Toa Payoh Central.
The TBT campaign focused on the escalating prices of foodstuff and other basic necessities in 2008. The group was distributing pamphlets about the widening income divide in Singapore and the plight of the working poor. The surprising twist in this case is that a similar event had taken place earlier that year on 1 May.
Several people had gathered, also at Toa Payoh Central, to commemorate May Day. Back then, however, the police had issued the following statement:
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.
He was however peddling his books and T-shirts without a hawker’s permit.
As this may be a case of illegal hawking, the Police has referred the matter to the National Environment Agency.
Given that the police had categorically stated that it was not an offence to do what the TBT campaigners did on 1 May 08 (watch video of the event here), the group went ahead and conducted the same activity on 9 Aug 08.
If it was not an unlawful assembly on 1 May, why was it one on 9 Aug?
The defendants presented the newspaper article (below) which contained the police statement to DPP Sellakumaran as well as a video of the group’s activity on 1 May.
The hearing was stood down for the Prosecution to consider the material. The following day, the DPP announced that the AG’s Chambers would proceed with the charge.
SDP’s Tak Boleh Tahan Campaign at Toa Payoh
Leong Wee Kiat
2 May 08
Wearing red T-shirts with the Malay words “tak boleh tahan” — which means “cannot take it” — members of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) once again took to the streets, as they had done on May Day in previous years.
Last year, SDP chief Chee Soon Juan and his sister Chee Siok Chin walked around the island to raise awareness about poverty. This year, the pair, joined by other SDP members and supporters, descended on Toa Payoh Central and set up a booth at a walkway near Toa Payoh Community Library.
They then began to hand out leaflets containing accusations of greed and exploitation by the Government.
The SDP members, who were selling T-shirts, buttons and books at their booth, also urged passersby to sign two petitions.
The first, addressed to the Prime Minister, contained five demands relating to ministerial salaries, the entry of foreign workers, the release of Central Provident Fund savings and transparency in the financial dealings of Temasek Holdings and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC).
The second, to Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng, urged him to resign over the escape of Jemaah Islamiyah detainee Mas Selamat Kastari from the Whitley Road Detention Centre — a suggestion that has been dismissed by the Prime Minister.
When asked if the SDP had informed the authorities about their May Day activities or applied for a permit, Dr Chee said that the Opposition party had not.
The SDP has in the past run afoul of the law for staging public events and illegal protests without the necessary permits.
In response to media queries, the police said: “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.
“He was however peddling his books and T-shirts without a hawker’s permit.
“As this may be a case of illegal hawking, the Police has referred the matter to the National Environment Agency.”