He had a license to hold an event at the Speakers’ Corner, but activist and artist Seelan Palay chose to continue his performance beyond Hong Lim Park at the National Gallery and Parliament House, a district court found on Wednesday (3 October).
Seelan was protesting against the government’s detention of political prisoner Chia Thye Poh when he was arrested for refusing to leave Parliament House after being warned by policemen. He was fined $2,500 under the Public Order Act. If he fails to pay the fine, he will have to spend two weeks in jail.
The 33-year-old Singaporean had claimed trial to his single charge of taking part in a public procession without a permit from Hong Lim Park to the National Gallery, and then to Parliament House between 2.23pm and 3.15pm on 1 October last year.
He committed the crime to commemorate the arrest of Dr Chia, who was detained under the Internal Security Act in October 1966 for allegedly conducting pro-communist activities against the Singapore government. Dr Chia was imprisoned for a total of 32 years – 23 years in detention without trial followed by another nine years of house arrest.
Seelan was also protesting against the government’s actions in the detention and the requirement of a license for public entertainment in the form of performances outside the Speakers’ Corner.
During the two-day trial, the court heard that Seelan had applied for the use of Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park before 1 October last year for an event titled “32 Years”. His application was approved by National Parks. Seelan also publicised the event on Facebook.
The event began at Speakers’ Corner at around 2pm on 1 October with Seelan making a speech to some 30 attendees. In his speech he quoted Dr Chia, “My ideal has not been dampened after more than 30 years under detention. In fact, prison life can only make a person more determined to fight against oppression and for a just, fair and democratic society.”
Seelan concluded his speech by asking the attendees two questions, “Can a liberated human mind be constrained by a state sanctioned space, the space being in which he was detained. …can a liberated work of art be contained within a state sanctioned space?” He added that he would show the attendees “the answer” to the questions.
He then walked out of Hong Lim Park towards the National Gallery through South Bridge Road. While on the steps of the National Gallery, Seelan used a marker to draw on a mirror that he held before standing in front of the building entrance with the mirror in front of him.
Seelan then went to Parliament House through Parliament Place. He stood at the entrance of the driveway of Parliament House with the mirror in front of him.
He was approached by on-duty auxiliary police officers there but he did not leave despite being told to do so.
Policemen who were called to the scene told Seelan that he was committing an offence under the Public Order Act and asked him to leave. When Seelan refused, he was arrested by the policemen.
In court on Wednesday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Dwayne Lum asked District Judge Salina Ishak to impose the maximum penalty of a $3,000 fine for the crime, given that Seelan had committed related offences in the past and was unremorseful.
In mitigation, Seelan said he did not threaten Singapore’s public order, national security, relations with other countries or commit an immoral act. He added his belief that his right to freedom of speech and expression under the Constitution was still valid.
Seelan was fined $1,800 in March 2010 on two charges of taking part in an assembly or procession without a permit. He was also fined $900 in October 2010 on one count of the same crime. He did not pay the fines on both occasions and served jail terms in default.
For participating in a public assembly or public procession without a permit, Seelan could have been fined up to $3,000.
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