Singapore: Drop charges against Jolovan Wham and stop on-going crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly

Civic Space 4 min read
ARTICLE 19

Summary

Article 19 condemns the seven charges made against Activist Jolovan Wham for organizing public gatherings. These charges are incompatible with the rights to freedom of expression and to assemble peaceably, which are both enshrined in Singapore’s Constitution. ARTICLE 19 calls on the Singaporean Government to immediately drop all charges against Wham and stop all restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and assembly.

Wham, a prominent social activist in Singapore was arrested and taken into police custody on 28 November 2017 for allegedly organizing three separate assemblies over the past year without permits. After being investigated for several hours by the police, Wham was released on bail and charged the following day with seven offences under the Public Order Act, Vandalism Act, and the Penal Code. Wham faces three charges under Section 7 of the Public Order Act; three charges under Section 180 of the Penal Code for refusing to sign cautioned statements on different occasions and one charge under Section 3 of the Vandalism Act.

All of the public gatherings for which Wham has been charged for allegedly organizing were peaceful and posed no threat to public order. Most recently, his arrest on 13 July 2017 was in connection with the assembly held without a permit outside Changi Prison for Malaysian prisoner, Prabagaran Srivijayan, who was about to be executed for drug trafficking. His previous arrest on 3 June was for allegedly organising a silent protest on Operation Spectrum in a train without permit. And over a year ago on November 26, 2016, he was arrested for allegedly organizing a forum involving Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist from Hong Kong via Skype.

Organisers of protests without permits in Singapore face a fine of up to S$5,000, with repeat offenders liable for a fine of up to S$10,000, a maximum six-month jail sentence, or both. For the vandalism charge, Wham faces a fine of up to S$2,000, or a jail term of up to three years with between three to eight strokes of the caning. His case has been set for pre-trial on 13 of December 2017.

Article 19 believes that the prosecution of Jolovan Wham is part of an on-going crackdown on freedom of speech and assembly in Singapore and scare tactic to silence dissent. All peaceful protests must be protected as a universal human right enshrined in Singapore’s Constitution and international law.

Section 7 of Singapore’s Public Order Act requires that any assemblies held in a public space acquire a police permit. Organising or participating in a protest or assembly without a permit is a criminal offence with a heavy penalty. Right to assemble and freedom of expression are fundamental rights in any democratic countries and under international law. When a right is subjected to a permit or prior authorization; it becomes privilege rather than a right. Notifications are to enable local authorities to protect the protests that are peaceful and consequently, the authorities should also take measures to facilitate assemblies and protect the content of their messages to comply with international human rights standards.

We call on the Singaporean government to uphold these rights and stop misusing the criminal justice system to silence its critics and human rights defenders. It must:

  1. To immediately drop all charges against Jolovan Wham;
  2. To end all form of harassments, warnings , intimidation, criminalization and penalization against human rights defenders and individuals facing arrests and investigation including eight activists that been called for investigation; The Online Citizen Terry Xu; journalist, Kirsten Han; and artist, Seelan Palay who was arrested for his performance outside parliament to commemorate the 32-year detention of Chia Thye Poh;
  3. Repeal or reform all legal provisions that violate the fundamental human rights and violate freedom of expression and assembly, including Section 7 of the Public Order Act.