[Singapore] Activist in hot water for posting photo; alleged offense tantamount to ‘illegal assembly’

For posting a photo of himself holding a sign supportive of two fellow Singaporeans charged with criminal defamation, civil rights activist Jolovan Wham is under police investigation for another “illegal assembly.”

On 2 March 2019, Wham was interrogated at the police station and his phone confiscated for the alleged offense.

“This is probably the shortest ‘illegal assembly we’ve seen yet,” said journalist and fellows activist  Kirsten Han on her Facebook page, where she posted the photo.

On 13 December 2018, Wham shared a photo of himself on Facebook holding a sign outside the State Courts that said, “Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa.” Supposedly, the act is in violation of the law “protesting without a valid permit.”

Xu, the chief editor of the website The Online Citizen, and De Costa  were charged with criminal defamation on 13 December 2018.

“The Singapore police force has deliberately mischaracterized the photo I took,” Wham said in a Facebook post on 3 March 2019.

“The ‘event’ on December 13 was not a protest. My intention was to take a picture to post on social media to show my solidarity with the two men. If it was meant to be an outdoor protest, I would not have left immediately after the photo of me was taken.”

In news reports, the police were quoted as saying, “he (Wham) is well aware that a police permit was required for such an event. Still, he went ahead to protest outside the State Courts.”

Wham disputed the police claims and said he applied for a permit for an event he wanted to organize on 10 December 2018 for Human Rights Day. He said the police did not indicate in the rejection letter that the State Courts is a prohibited area.

The police also said “these repeated offenses reflect a pattern of Wham’s willful disregard for Singapore’s laws” to which Wham reacted “what is more accurate is that the government shows a blatant disregard for the rights of citizens to assemble peacefully as guaranteed under our constitution.”

On 21 February 2019, the courts imposed a sum fine of SGD 3,200 (around USD2,300) for organizing a public discussion on 26 November 2016 featuring Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who spoke through Skype. Out on bail, he chose to serve the default 16-day jail time instead of paying the fine.

Wham is scheduled to hear the sentence for the contempt of court charges against him on 20 March 2019.

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