Protest at Parliament House: Activist Seelan Palay had license for event at Speakers' Corner

Wan Ting Koh
Activist and artist Seelan Palay (wearing white shirt) was arrested outside Parliament House on 1 October 2017. (PHOTO: Screenshot of video from The Online Citizen Facebook page)

He successfully applied for 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.

Seelan, who was protesting against the government’s detention of political prisoner Chia Thye Poh, was arrested when he refused to leave Parliament House after being warned by police officers.

The 33-year-old Singaporean’s case was heard at the opening of his trial on Wednesday (26 September) at the State Courts where his supporters packed a small court room. Among them was fellow activist and social worker Jolovan Wham, whose own trial for holding a public assembly without a permit in November 2016 will begin next Monday.

Seelan faces one count of breaching the Public Order Act by taking part in a public procession without a permit on 1 October last year between 2.23pm and 3.15pm from Hong Lim Park to National Gallery and then to Parliament House.

His charge sheet states that he committed the offence 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 allegedly 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, the prosecution said in its opening statement.

According to the prosecution, 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 then stood at the entrance of the driveway of Parliament House with the mirror in front of him.

He was then approached by on-duty auxiliary police officers there but he did not leave despite being told to do so.

Police officers 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 police officers at 3.15pm.

Seelan’s trial is scheduled for two days in the State Courts. If convicted of participating in a public assembly or public procession without a permit, Seelan can be fined up to $3,000.

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