Chee Soon Juan’s closing submissions for trial of May Day Rally 2002

October 6, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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Below are excerpts of Dr Chee Soon Juan closing submissions which he made at the conclusion of his trial. He is charged for wilfull trespass and speaking with a permit when he tried to hold a rally on Labour Day (May 1, 2002) outside the Istana.

In the other trials in which I was involved, and where Mr Bala Reddy was also the prosecutor, the police had readily used their videotapes as evidence. So when they didnt play their tapes in this case, it roused my suspicion.

Why this was so became clear as the police witnesses took the stand and said what they said which was in complete contrast to the events that had taken place outside the Istana on May 1, 2002.

I will show that their evidence contradicted each other almost in a comical fashion and as you will see, Your Honour, is indubitably refuted by visual evidence from even their own video-tape. I will also relate the reasons, or rather the factors, why they had to stoop to such a level to make their case.

Let me first address the facts, or rather the artifacts, of the case as presented by the police witnesses. I will do this under five categories:

I. Who ordered the arrest?

When it was put to DSP Lim that it was ASP Teo Chun Ching who ordered the arrest of both accused, Lim replied: I ordered the arrest of Chee and the arrest of the second accused was done by Teo. In his testimony, ASP Teo also said that DSP Lim directed officers to arrest the first accused, which was me.

Nowhere in the transcripts, however, showed DSP Lim ordering the arrest. Even the polices audiotape transcript of the event, taped by Insp. Abdul Rani, does not show DSP Lim ordering my arrest.

This incident is even more bizarre when you consider the fact that ASP Teo gave evidence that when DSP Lim was warning me to leave, he (ASP Teo) was two to four metres behind Lim and that he could hear his boss directing officers to arrest me. Yet Abdul Rani, who was standing right behind me, did not have this recorded.

There are two possible conclusions from this: One, DSP Lim and ASP Teo were trying to cover up their own ineptness. Two, Insp. Abdul Ranis tape-recorder and our video-recorder had both momentarily malfunctioned at the same precise moment that DSP Lim uttered the words of my arrest. What is the possibility of the latter happening?

II. Did anyone tell them?

When it was put to DSP Lim when he told Gandhi and I about our charges, Lim said: They were told in the lock-up of the charges. I have, on oath, said that no one had told us of the charges the entire time we were in the lock-up and the prosecution has not disputed that fact.

And because I knew this for a fact, I pressed DSP Lim to reveal who it was that told us the charges. He replied that one of his officers had told us. I pressed him further and he finally admitted that he did not know for a fact that Gandhi and I were told of our charges when we were in the lock-up and had simply assumed that one of his men had done so.

I am not so concerned with the fact that no one had informed us of the charges as I am of the fact that Lim, a senior police officer holding the rank of DSP, would not forthrightly tell the court that he did not tell us of our charges or that he wasnt sure if any of his officers did or not, but that he would say that we were told in the lock-up and then subsequently recant when he was finally cornered.

III. Commander of division didn’t know

Under cross-examination, DSP Lim told the court that he only came to know about the rally the day before. This is despite the fact that:

1. I had made an application to the Public Entertainments Licensing Unit (PELU) to hold a rally on May 1, 2002 outside the Istana and issued a media release about it, which were reported by the media.

2. The PELU had rejected my application which was also reported by the media.

3. I had said that the rally would go on despite the rejection of my application. All this took place in the public arena (media).

4. The Istana was a major venue located within his jurisdiction.

The weirdest part of all this is that his subordinates, ASP Teo and SSSgt Douglas Yeo, testified that they both knew about the rally at least a few days before May 1, 2002. ASP Teo had even arranged for a briefing for officers on 30 April 2002, the day his boss learned of the matter. Is all this remotely believable? Are we talking about the Singapore Police Force or the Hollywood Keystone Cops?

In all seriousness, what relevance does DSP Lims ignorance have anything to do the case? Lim told the court that I was at the Istana to speak (he later changed it to give a rally) at 12 noon on May 1, 2002. The media release I issued on April 29, 2002, the day before Lim came to know of the event, stated clearly that the rally would begin only at 2 pm. He probably didnt know this too and therefore moved in to confront me when I arrived at 12:15 pm outside the Istana.

IV. Where was Douglas Yeo?

SSSgt Douglas Yeo testified that he was 8-10 m from me when I was talking to the crowd. He was actually right behind me as their videotape shows. In another shot he is seen walking away from the crowd.

V. The 30 to 50 miracle

All three officers, DSP Lim, ASP Teo, and SSSgt Yeo, testified that when I arrived at the scene, a crowd of 30 people surrounded me. After 2 minutes, the crowd swelled to 50.

It is incredible enough for all three men to independently come up with the exact same numbers (initial crowd of 30 increasing to 50) but it is even more fantastic when all three described exactly the same situation that there was a commotion within the crowd and, therefore, action had to be taken. This is despite the fact that all three stood at different distances and places from me: Teo was 2-4 m, Yeo was 8-10 m, and Lim right inside at the gates of the Istana.

ASP Teo said: It was a commotion, passers-by moved (in) to see what was going on, that is why I say (feel) it was a commotion. Let us view the tape again. It is clear that no passers-by had moved in and therefore, according to Teos definition of a commotion, there could have been no commotion. When asked if the crowd was noisy, Teo said no. No passers-by joined the crowd which was quiet, and yet there was a commotion.

In his next sentence, Teo reiterated: The size of the crowd also grew when the first accused was speaking. We have established from the visual evidence that the crowd didnt grow.

The question centres now on me speaking to the crowd. When pressed, ASP Teo revealed: There were questions posed to the first accusedhe was on and off. Is this called speaking to a crowd? The truth is that Teo saw reporters asking me questions and my answering them which accounts for my speaking on and off. Yet he could not bring himself to tell the truth but instead insisted that I was speaking to a crowd.

Maybe they were so observant that each one really saw a crowd of 30 swelling to 50 in 2 minutes. The problem is that the video-tape, their video-tape showed a crowd that could not have numbered to more than 20, and whose size remained static, that is, you could see that the number of people who surrounded me at the beginning were the same number of people at the point when DSP Lim stepped in to confront me.

The evidence that you see before on the videotape is a irrefutable as it is damning of the witnesses testimonies. It is not a matter of opinion or a case of the their word against ours. It is one that can be verified and has been verified right before your very eyes.

Let us now consider the question of the commotion that the three police officers had said had taken place. Again, taking a look at the video evidence, where is the commotion? Am I hallucinating or was everyone there just standing quietly listening, taking notes and photographs of me?

All three testified that I had spoken to the crowd even though none of them were close enough to hear who was going on. They couldnt hear that I was not giving a speech (because I was not scheduled to speak until 2 pm that afternoon) but merely answering some of the reporters, questions. The three witnesses couldnt even verify the identities of the people in the crowd and all, upon cross-examination, admitted that it is possible that they could have been journalists. In fact, they were all journalists save for the few who were police officers in plainclothes.

In and of themselves, these inconsistencies could have been honest mistakes and genuine misjudgments. But when you see them being repeated by three different officers in various instances, one can only that the only thing genuine about this entire sorry episode is the officers attempts to desperately try to paint a picture that I had, by my actions, created a volatile situation that had, in the words of DSP Lim, threatened law and order and that they could have caused a stampede and that they, therefore, had to do what they did. From the video, it is clear that all this could not have happened.

Am I angry? Of course, I am. But not at officers. I hold nothing against them. Given the situation, they had to show that they were tough as anything less would have earned them a swift rebuke from the PAP, and even put their careers in jeopardy.

But I am sad because I, too, am an officer in the police. Every year when I don my uniform, I wear it with pride and I discharge my responsibilities to the best I know how, and I tell my men to do the same. I have on a couple of occasions been faced with danger to the point that I have had to draw my revolver. One of them involved the arrest, together with my fellow officers, of 17 illegal immigrants near Hougang Avenue 1. I was asked to put up a statement of brief facts of the case as my team and I were going to be put up for letters of commendation. I was not surprised that nothing came of it given my role in the opposition.

One law for the PAP another one for the SDP

This brings me to my next argument. If it is true that the police are so concerned with law and order as DSP Lim keeps on saying they are and that that is ostensibly the reason why the PELU had denied my application, then why did the police allow the NTUC to hold a demonstration where 4,000 protesters carrying banners, placards, flags, poles and loud hailers marched in the middle of the city centre to rage against the United States for allegedly supporting Mr Francis Seow, the former solicitor-general? No commotion then? No disorderly behaviour then? No threat to law and order then?

Remember, there were 4,000 protestors there. There are only two of us here. The hypocrisy boggles the mind, doesnt it? Why we continue to insult our own intelligence, numb our own conscience, and keep up our pretence is beyond me.

The prosecution will say that this example is irrelevant to our case. Is it really? The NTUC demonstration I just related strikes at the very question of the rule of law. One of the most important aspects of the rule of law, although by no means the only one, is that everyone, from prime minister to peasant, is treated equally under the law. This obviously is not happening in Singapore as I have just pointed the case with the NTUC demonstration in 1988.

I can site many other examples where the PAP has been treated very differently from their political opponents. In the interest of time, I will relate just one more. During the 1991 general elections, opposition candidates were prevented from entering into polling stations without permission while PAP candidates had no such restrictions imposed.

There are many other examples but I dont have time to relate all of them. Suffice it to say that the police and many other instruments of the state have been used by the PAP for its own purposes to suppress the opposition and perpetuate its rule.

What Mr Reddy is talking about is not the rule of law but the rule by law. The rule by law occurs when a government introduces laws and amends the constitution to curtail the fundamental rights of freedom speech, assembly, and association of the people. It then uses the police to ensure that these laws are strictly applied but only to the opposition.

Breaking unjust laws

What does the rule of law, or the absence thereof, have to do with this case? If, as we have shown, the police selectively apply the law to the opposition and then selective prosecutes the opposition and not the ruling party, then the police have acted in bad faith.

This is exactly what they have done by arresting Gandhi Ambalam and I for exercising our constitutional and universal rights by holding a peaceful rally on May 1, 2002 which was Labour Day and a day when all democratic countries celebrated by having workers hold public events.

Did I break the law? It is unclear from the evidence that the prosecution has presented. Even if I did, is it morally and constitutionally wrong? Challenging and defying an unjust law, such as the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act and the way it is wielded, is not only not wrong but the duty of every citizen in this country. Because no law, in a democracy, can be imposed that would in effect negate the democratic process.

Resistance to unjust laws has a rich history. People who truly believe in the rule of law such as the Mahatma Gandhi, as Mr Reddy pointed out, take serious issue with unjust laws, laws that oppress instead of serve the people. As a result, Mahatma Gandhi deliberately and repeatedly flouted the law, was prosecuted and imprisoned on several occasions. The most famous was the defiance of the Salt Laws.

Gandhi had organized a rally to raid non-violently Salt Works. It is like trying to non-violently gatecrash the PSA if he were, heaven forbid, a Singaporean. But if he was, Mr Reddy would probably jump to prosecute him and ask him whether he had applied for a license with PELU and, if not, then he would have breached the law and thereby committed an offence. Yes, Gandhi would have committed an offence under an unjust law put in place to oppress the people.

Was he wrong? Was the Mahatma a common criminal? Today, Gandhi is considered in the league of saints. Likewise Martin Luther King Jr, who has a national holiday declared in his honour in the United States; Nelson Mandela, the former South African president; and Kim Dae Jung, the South Korean president, just to name a few, have all broken their countries unjust and undemocratic laws and have served time in jail. Have they broken laws or committed offences? Yes. Were they morally wrong? Of course not.

Please dont for one minute think that I am comparing myself to these great freedom leaders. I couldnt hold a candle to them. But Mr Ambalam and I want to do for our country, in however humble a manner, what Gandhi, King, Mandela, and Kim did for theirs. The principles whether in India, America, South Africa, or Korea apply in Singapore too.

Free speech and restrictions

Our constitution guarantees us the right to freedom of speech, assembly, and association. There are restrictions of course. I agree that it is prohibited for someone to shout Fire! in a crowded enclosed space if there is not one. Free speech and assembly is not a free-for-all. But to use these restrictions to stymie the opposition and prevent citizens from coming together, worse for the PAP to selectively apply it to its political opponents but not to itself, is not in keeping with the idea and spirit for which these restrictions were made. It is a travesty of the rule of law when the constitution is mocked in such manner.

I have crossed swords with Mr Bala Reddy on four separate occasions in as many years. I have nothing against him and hope that when all this is over, that is, when the PAPs monopoly on power is finally broken and democracy comes to our shores, that we can sit over a drink and have a laugh over all this. Until then, he and the police must do what they must do and we will have to continue our struggle for freedom and human rights in Singapore.

I long for the day when we can all be free again to listen to our consciences and not be forced to perpetrate such kinds of injustice, tell such kind of lies, betray our fellow citizens in such a shameful manner all because of the PAP.

If the police have acted in bad faith and, worse, they lied in their evidence, then Your Honour is duty bound to reject the prosecutions case. If you dont, you will be accepting the kind of slip-shod evidence that the prosecution witnesses have presented to this court and made a mockery of justice.

The universal freedoms of speech and assembly is not a subject solely for parliament to debate. In a democratic and just society, which we all want to see our nation become, the judiciary must also shoulder that responsibility to uphold and protect the rights of the citizens in the absence of which a gaping, aching hole of injustice opens up in our community and in our persons, a hole that no amount of money, cars, or shares can ever fill.

I am not a criminal and no amount of time in prison can shake my belief that freedom, justice, and democracy must be embraced if we are to join the civilized world. Do the right thing, Your Honour, acquit Gandhi Ambalam and I, and I promise you that you will be on the right side of History.

Thank you.