SINGAPORE: Activist Jolovan Wham Kwok Han was convicted on Monday (Feb 15) of organising a public assembly without a permit, vandalism and refusing to sign his statement to the police, said the Singapore Police Force (SPF).
“All three charges were in relation to the illegal gathering Wham organised to commemorate the 30th anniversary of ‘Operation Spectrum’,” said the police.
Wham was sentenced to a global fine of S$8,000, or 32 days’ imprisonment in default. Two other offences of organising a public assembly without a permit and refusing to sign his statement to the police were taken into consideration for sentencing.
In a media statement, Wham said that he would serve a prison sentence instead of paying the fines in relation to the public assembly and vandalism offences.
The police initiated investigations following a report on Jun 4, 2017 in relation to Facebook posts made by Wham about a “protest” held on an MRT train a day before.
Investigations revealed that Wham handed out books titled 1987: Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On, and blindfolds to at least five other people.
Six of them joined him in the protest on the MRT train, where they were photographed reading the books, said the police. Two other people took the photographs and fielded questions from members of the public.
Wham posted the photographs on social media with a caption stating that the group had gathered to commemorate the 30th anniversary of “Operation Spectrum”, said the police.
Wham also affixed two A4-sized sheets of paper on a panel in the MRT train, a public property, with the following messages: “MARXIST CONSPIRACY? #notodetentionwithouttrial” and “JUSTICE FOR OPERATION SPECTRUM SURVIVORS #notodetentionwithouttrial”.
“For this act, he was charged with vandalism under Section 3 of the Vandalism Act,” said the police.
Under the Public Order Act, a gathering or meeting of people for the purpose of commemorating an event is defined as an assembly, said the police. No permit was granted to Wham to organise the assembly.
Another protest later that year was also taken into consideration during the sentencing. On Jul 13, 2017, Wham organised a gathering outside Changi Prison Complex to commemorate a then-impending judicial execution.
He also created a Facebook event asking members of the public to participate in the “vigil” and stated on the social media platform that a permit had not been sought, said the police.
In sentencing, District Judge Marvin Bay said Wham was a “repeat offender” under the Public Order Act and noted that there was a “degree of escalation from the previous offence”.
“The escalation is pronounced in the prolonged nature of his offending of some two hours, which involved the described activities on a number of MRT trains on different lines,” he said, adding that there was a “degree of planning and preparation” for the offences.
The judge said that while there was largely no demonstration of “belligerence or overt antagonism” from the protesters, who “apparently avoided crowded trains”, their actions would have caused confusion and “possibly a degree of anxiety” among commuters.
“I am mindful that the protesters did remove their signs, did not cause damage to property and left no mark other than their transient presence (on the train),” he said.
The judge recognised Wham’s guilty plea on the charges, and said a “measure of consideration is merited for not proceeding on with a full trial as was the case in his previous court proceeding”.
“BLATANT DISREGARD … FOR THE LAW”: POLICE
“Wham has repeatedly shown blatant disregard and disdain for the law,” said the police.
“(He) could have exercised his right to political expression legally by holding a protest at Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park or by publishing his views online.
“The Speakers’ Corner is the proper avenue for Singaporeans to express their views and conduct public assemblies without the need for a permit, subject to certain conditions being met.
“Given how densely populated Singapore is, the approach to allow public protests at Speakers’ Corner, or elsewhere with a permit, allows the authorities to assess and manage public-order risks.”
The police said the Government takes a “zero-tolerance” approach to illegal demonstrations and protests as these may lead to public order incidents.
“The regulation of public protests allows the Government to uphold public order to ensure a peaceful and stable society,” they added.
“Vandalism of public property, however minor, should not be condoned. The police will enforce the law against those who choose to commit an offence.”