SINGAPORE — Social worker and activist Jolovan Wham’s appeal against his conviction and sentence for organising a public assembly without a permit and refusing to sign a police statement has been dismissed by the High Court.
“Allowing any person organising a public assembly to ignore and defy the Commissioner’s decision, instead of challenging it in Court, is to allow that person to take the law into his own hands. Such vigilante conduct cannot be condoned,” said Justice Chua Lee Ming in his judgement on Friday (25 October).
Justice Chua also rejected Wham’s arguments that the provision under the Public Order Act (POA) that prohibited him from holding a public assembly without a permit contravened Article 14 of the Constitution of Singapore. The latter protects the right of all Singapore citizens to “assemble peaceably and without arms”. He was unconvinced by the defence’s assertion that the permit requirement contravenes Article 14 because there is no practical remedy if the Commissioner of Police acting in bad faith refuses to grant a permit.
“The appellant’s submission would lead to the absurd result that any law that requires a permit or licence to be obtained before an activity may be lawfully carried out, can be struck down simply by arguing that the power to grant the permit or licence may be exercised in bad faith,” said Justice Chua.
On Wham’s argument that he did not have a legal obligation to sign his statement, which he had confirmed to be true and correct, the judge said, “This does not make any sense.”
He noted that requiring the police officer who recorded the statement to obtain the statement-giver’s signature is “meaningless” if the police officer does not have the concurrent power to require the statement-giver to sign his statement. “Being required to sign his statement does not mean that the statement-giver has to sign the statement where he disagrees with its contents. He can amend his statement before signing it,” said Justice Chua.
Facts of the case
In February, Wham was fined a total of $3,200 after being found guilty of the two offences.
On 26 November 2016, Wham organised an event titled “Civil Disobedience and Social Movements” to discuss issues relating to civil disobedience and democracy in social change. Wham had publicised the event held at The AGORA, Sin Min Lane, on Facebook and it was open to the public.
Among the speakers was prominent Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong Chi-Fung, who addressed the audience through a live Skype call.
But the event required a police permit due to Wong’s involvement as he was a foreigner. On 23 November 2016, a police officer advised Wham to apply for a permit under the Public Order Act. But he did not so so.
On 20 December 2016, a police investigator recorded a statement from Wham at the Police Cantonment Complex. After it was read back to him, Wham affirmed that the statement was true and correct, but he refused to sign the statement.
During the trial, Wham testified that he had asked for a copy of the statement if he were to sign it but his request was rejected.
Following his conviction, Wham told the court that he would serve the default jail term of 16 days instead of paying the fine.
In a Facebook post on Friday entitled “Today’s High Court judgement for Skyping a foreigner without a permit”, Wham said that his lawyers would be filing an appeal against the judgement in a month’s time.
The 39-year-old, an outspoken advocate for foreign worker rights, has had numerous brushes with the law due to his activism. In May, Lee Hsien Yang, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s estranged younger brother, paid a security deposit of $20,000 for Wham to appeal against a contempt of court conviction.