Not surprisingly, Chee Soon Juan; Gandhi Ambalam & Yap Keng Ho, are spending their days and nights in Queenstown Remand prison now. For speaking in public without a police permit. A permit which would not have been granted in the first place even if they did apply. That’s the ruling party’s police state for you.
I wanted to write a bit more but I’m just too disgusted & sick with this sorry farce of a case which was played out in our Courts. So for now, I’ll just leave my readers with a link to the videos of the incident for which our “independent” judiciary found the 3 of them “guilty”. Plus a few other stuff below.
There is an ongoing night vigil outside the prison. More details here.
Two very different news reports by Reuters and one of our local government-controlled news media TODAY…
Singapore jails opposition leader over public speaking by Koh Gui Qing, 23 Nov 2006
SINGAPORE, Nov 23 (Reuters) – A Singapore court jailed an opposition leader for five weeks on Thursday over his failure to pay a fine for speaking in public without a permit.
Chee Soon Juan, one of Singapore’s most vocal opposition politicians and leader of the tiny Singapore Democratic Party, committed the speaking offence on April 22, two weeks before the country’s general election.
The court initially fined him S$5,000 and because he refused to pay, he and two of his supporters were jailed.
“Every hour, every day, every month that I spend in jail only strengthens my resolve to fight,” the 44-year-old Chee told the court before the verdict was read.
Chee hugged his wife and three young children before police led him away.
A vocal campaigner for human rights and free speech, Chee was jailed for eight days in March for questioning the independence of Singapore’s judiciary. He was jailed for five weeks in 2002, and 12 days and one week in 1999 for speaking in public without permit.
Chee grabbed world headlines in September, when he and a small group of supporters spent four days in a public park as Singapore police blocked them from holding a protest march during the IMF-World Bank annual meeting in Singapore.
SDP supporters Yap Keng Ho and Gandhi Ambalam were fined S$2,000 and S$3,000 respectively. As they also refused to pay, they will be jailed for 10 days and three weeks respectively.
Singapore has been criticised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International for its tight controls on political expression, and the use of defamation lawsuits by Singapore’s leaders to silence and bankrupt opposition politicians.
The city-state has been ruled by the People’s Action Party (PAP) since independence in 1965. Its Public Entertainments and Meetings Act (PEMA) prohibits public speaking unless speakers have been licenced by the government.
“The PEMA has been used by the PAP to prosecute and deter legitimate political activity,” Chee told the court.
Chee — declared bankrupt in February after failing to make libel payments of S$500,000 ($322,000) to former Prime Ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong — said he had “absolutely no remorse” for his actions, and vowed to continue fighting for democracy in the city-state.
The SDP did not win any parliament seats in the May election, but won 23 percent of the votes in the wards that it contested.
Chee and his sister, Chee Siok Chin — also a senior member of the SDP — are also facing a defamation lawsuit launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father Lee Kuan Yew over an article in the SDP’s newsletter.
Chee Siok Chin told Reuters that a group of SDP supporters will hold vigils outside the Queenstown Remand Prison to protest against the imprisonment.
An acerbic critic of the Singapore government, Chee has had several run-ins with the PAP. In 1993, months after he ran in a by-election for the SDP, Chee was sacked from his job as a lecturer at the National University of Singapore, which accused him of improperly using S$226 (US$137) for postage.
When Chee said the evidence was fabricated, he was sued for defamation by his former department head — a PAP member of parliament — and ordered to pay $200,000 plus court costs.
For the fifth time, Chee chooses jail
After launching 45-minute verbal attack in Court
TODAY, Friday • November 24, 2006
Loh Chee Kong
FOR the fifth time in seven years, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan has gone to jail. On each occasion the court had imposed a fine — $5,000 in this latest instance — which he refused to pay, opting instead to make a speech and undergo a prison term.
With the media watching and his 20-odd supporters applauding, Chee launched a verbal attack after he had been found guilty of speaking in a public place without a permit, along with SDP member Gandhi Ambalam and party supporter Yap Keng Ho.
All three told District Judge Eddy Tham that they were “prepared to go to jail” and would persist with breaking the law.
Yap was the only one who prepared a written submission in which he argued that the charge was politically motivated.
Chee and Gandhi, both of whom said they had “absolutely no remorse” about their actions, chose to address the Court.
Chee spoke for almost 45 minutes, during which he raised no legal arguments, claiming he had lost faith in the proceedings.
Then, as his supporters in the public gallery clapped, Chee asked rhetorically: “What punishment do you think will rehabilitate or deter us? If it would, I wouldn’t have been charged with the same offence for the fourth time. Any punishment you can mete out will have the opposite of the intended effect.”
DJ Tham waited for the applause to die down before warning the supporters that they would be asked to leave the courtroom if they “didn’t know how to behave”.
He found the three men guilty because the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt the three “essential ingredients” of the charge: That the public was addressed; the activity was carried out in a place accessible to the public; and the activity was conducted without a licence. This took place in a multi-purpose court in Yishun on April 22 this year.
There were more speeches when DJ Tham gave the trio a final chance to speak.
“Only the guilty need a mitigation plea,” said Chee, whose wife and three children were in the courtroom for the first time during these proceedings.
Gandhi said it was “an honour” to be sent to jail. Yap asked the Court to give him the maximum sentence — a fine of $10,000.
Instead, DJ Tham, who found the allegations against the judiciary “totally and wholly unmeritorious” fined Chee $5,000. Gandhi was asked to pay $3,000 and Yap $2,000.
They refused to pay the fines, asking for jail terms instead.
Chee will spend five weeks in jail, Gandhi three weeks and Yap 10 days.
Chee and Yap have also been charged with speaking without a permit at other venues. The latter could find himself in further trouble for defying a court order and posting on his blog still-frames from a video recording that the police originally wanted to use as evidence.
And finally, here’s Chee Soon Juan’s statement in court which the TODAY report called a “verbal attack”……….
Trial a mockery of justice, SDP, 23 Nov 2006
Dr Chee Soon Juan read this statement in Court today.
This trial will go down in the annals as one of the most shambolic and disgraceful legal exercises. From day one it has been fraught with sloppiness and, I daresay, outright mischief on the part of the Prosecution.
The about-turn of the DPP not to use the video evidence and then changing her mind again halfway through the proceedings has turned this trial into a farce, one bordering on the comedic.
Then there are the contradictions and inconsistencies of the more than a dozen police witnesses tripping over each other to maintain the incredible story that they acted independently of their political master, prompted into action only by this phantom ‘Peter’, a member of the public, whose identity they conveniently forgot to record.
At least two key witnesses, Sgt Lester Wong Wong and Sgt Nor Hasdian, who received and disemminated the first information to the rest of their colleagues told the Court one thing and then minutes later, when prompted by the DPP, said something diametrically opposite.
Another witness, ASP Colin Wong, admitted that he had briefed his officers the day before our event at Yishun and would have us believe that the police did not have prior knowledge of the SDP’s campaign activities.
One of the witnesses had, in fact, admitted that he transcribed and translated the video recording immediately upon returning to the police station. This was at 12 noon on a Saturday!
What was the hurry?
In 1997, Senior MInister Goh Chok Tong admitted that when opposition candidate Tang Liang Hong lodged a police report against PAP leaders, the report was immediately given to Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng who then passed it on to Lee Kuan Yew who, in turn, instigated ten of his colleagues to launch a massive lawsuit with him against Tang.
This was done in the ministers’ personal capacities. In other words, the police were used to benefit the personal activities of the PAP leaders.
Handing over the report was a blatant breach in police procedure that itself warranted an investigation. Its perpetrators ought to be brought to justice.
And we are expected to believe, in the persent case, that the police acted without instructions from the PAP and that it was a member of the public that had lodged the complaint?
I am in no doubt that the video and its transcript were placed at Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s desk the minute they were processed, hence the rush to transcribe it that very morning itself.
Another officer, a DSP no less, came up with the fairy tale that he made duplicate copies of the video because he “happened to be the one who knew how to operate the machine.” A total of five officers had, at some point, the original tape in their custody. As I mentioned it is obvious that copies were given to PAP leaders.
The fact that we were stopped by the Judge when we asked the witness whether copies were given to the PAP is more than interesting.
Then there was the mother-of-all monkey businesses. Police witness ASP Jeremy Koh was caught being in the courtroom and colluding with other witnesses. Even to a layperson this was an outrageous breach of the most fundamental of court practices, outrageous in its daring and brazenness.
The fact that this incident registered barely a ripple in the subsequent proceedings which continued as if nothing had happened, speaks volumes.
(Even our application of a Criminal Motion to the High Court for the trial to be aborted because of the tainting of the evidence by Jeremy Koh’s presence received short shrift. The Judge, Mr Choo Han Teck, didn’t bother to hear our arguments.
And if you take into account the Registrar bizarrely fixing the Criminal Motion hearing on the day after it was filed, leaving the applicants without time to prepare our case, you begin to, if you haven’t already, form the picture that the entire machinery was moving inexorably towards its inevitable conclusion.)
Collectively, the actions of the Prosecution and the evidence given by the police witnesses serve to remind us of how the ruling party continues to use state instruments to, in the infamous words of our dear leader Mr Lee Hsien Loong, “fix” the opposition.
A Constitution waiting to be applied
Be that as it may, I have no interest in using these matters in my defence. For even without the video evidence I would never have denied doing what I did on 22 April 2006. Why deny something I am proud of?
In the premises, was there really a need for the Prosecution to resort to such puerile tactics to secure a conviction?
So why am I bringing all this up? My intention is to demonstrate that the charge is not simply one of the police enforcing the law, but rather the PAP misusing and abusing its powers in a political game designed to crush the opposition.
But while the police may be in a difficult position to defy their boss, the Judiciary should have the wherewithal to resist being dragged into such political ignominy.
In such a case, should not our Judicial system look into the motivation of the Executive and determine for itself if the spirit of the law has been breached in this case? Should not our Judges, sworn to uphold the rule of law, be interested to see if there has been any abuse of the law by the ruling party to persecute the opposition?
Justice is, I want to believe, foremost in the mind of this Judiciary. And how is justice kept alive? Former US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren said: “It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive.”
Don’t hide behind the letter of the law, Your Honour. Have the courage to apply the spirit of the law. And the spirit of the law demands that Singapore’s opposition cannot be curtailed in its right to speak to the people while the ruling party freely propagates itself and its views.
Let me make myself perfectly clear: The spirit of the law demands that everyone be treated even-handedly under the law.
But if the Judiciary so chooses to be co-opted in to the PAP’s hideous exercise of decimating anything and everything that stands in its path to unbridled power, then so be it. It, too, will have to face the consequences when the time comes.
I have been urged to point out that selling our party publication, The New Democrat, is different from making a speech and to ask to be acquitted because at no point were we making a speech because all we were doing was selling the newspaper.
But for me to raise these technical points is to miss the forest for the trees. It doesn’t matter if I was simply selling a newspaper or if I were addressing voters. The important thing is that I had the right to do both and that right must be recognized and respected.
In this context, it is meaningless – unseemly, in fact – for me to quibble about whether my actions on the said dates amount to public speaking or merely the selling of my party newspaper.
The substantive point that I would like to focus on is that the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act has been used by the PAP to prosecute and deter legitimate political activity.
Its application has been selective and targeted to ensure that the political opposition’s ability to reach out to the people in an effective manner is crippled.
Street vendors, hawking all manner of goods, are found all over the island doing exactly what we did on 22 April. Doesn’t it seem strange to this Court that the police singled out the SDP for prosecution when they let everyone else continue on with their sales?
Isn’t there something in our Constitution about citizens being treated equally under the law that you, the Judge, should at least show some interest?
The fact that you have denied us the right to adduce evidence that this charge was nothing but political vengeance on the part of the ruling party is revealing. May I add that in time to come, it will also prove hugely embarrassing for the Judiciary.
Encouraged by the punishment
I stand before you with nothing to hide, no tricks up my sleeves and, most important, with absolutely no remorse.
I come to this courtroom armed with only my faith in democracy and my belief that one day I will be vindicated, and that Singapore will be a free and democratic country.
I wish deep in my heart that I were wrong and that somehow, not for my own sake because I have prepared myself to go to jail again but for the sake of my country and my fellow citizens, that we will not be found guilty.
But I am also not one to indulge in wishful thinking.
Indeed, if I had an ounce of hope that the evidence we establish would have a bearing on the verdict I would pour my heart and soul into this courtroom battle.
But alas, after having gone through several trials where I have repeatedly tried to bring reason and the spirit of democracy to bear on the judicial process, I say with a heavy heart that I am convinced that no words, no fact, no call to reason can alter the verdict.
Your hearts have been hardened with fear and no amount of persuasion can enlighten you at this time. I hope, however, that one day they can be healed by courage, the courage to face the truth, the courage to dispense justice and fairness to the citizens of this country.
I speak not out of spite. I have only the highest respect for your achievements and your elevation to the bench. But I will not shirk my responsibility to speak the truth to you. Because everyone, no matter the status or the title he attains in life, will have to face the truth sooner or later.
This is why I ask not for mercy. Only one who has done wrong need ask for mercy.
There are at least two reasons for the administration of criminal justice: deterrence and rehabilitation. What will punishing me achieve? Do you think it will rehabilitate me and deter me from doing what I am doing?
If it did, would I be standing here before you charged with the same offence for the fourth time? In fact, every hour, every day, every month that I spend in jail only strengthens my resolve to fight this oppression.
I might add that Singaporeans witnessing this ridiculous situation will not be frightened off. What happens in this courtroom today makes them want to contribute even more to the struggle for justice and democracy in Singapore.
In other words, the punishment you mete out has the opposite of the intended effect.
There is a difference in punishing someone who has committed a crime versus punishing someone who is fighting for democracy and the rights of the people. The former you can curtail but the latter you only encourage.
Surely you are intelligent enough to see that injustice in the political arena cannot be cleansed by injustice in the courtroom. On the contrary, it only serves to foment the anger of the people.
Seen from this vantage, you realize that my fight is not in this Court which renders but only one opinion. There is another opinion that will be made and it will resonate far beyond the confines of this Court and deep into history.
And this is the opinion of the public both in Singapore and throughout the world.
The defence therefore cannot rest its case – the case of The People v PAP. It will not rest until we achieve democracy in this country.
Chee Soon Juan
23 November 2006