The Online Citizen

Effigy burning – would Gilbert Goh be breaking the law?

Effigy burning – would Gilbert Goh be breaking the law?
January 26
15:45 2014

By Andrew Loh

In a TODAY report in August of 2008 on the relaxation of rules for the use of Speakers’ Corner, it said that protests like the burning of effigies and holding gay pride events at the park “will have a place in Singapore”.

The government had announced the day before that the rules would be relaxed to encourage Singaporeans to speak up, and in the words of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2004, to “let a hundred flowers bloom” at the park.

“Once in a while, Think Centre says they want to go to the Speakers’ Corner and they want to plant 100 flowers there, let the hundred flowers bloom.

“Well, I think go ahead. They want to water the flowers, go ahead.

In 2008, the government further liberalised the use of the park with effect from 1 September 2008.

“BURN an effigy of a Singapore political leader? Organise a gay pride event outdoors? From next week, protests like these will have a place in Singapore,” the 2008 TODAY report, titled “More open field”, said.

TODAY, 26 August 2008

TODAY, 26 August 2008

“We want to be as open as possible,” said MHA senior director (policy and operations) Tai Wei Shyon then.

Beginning 1 September 2008, “Singaporeans can organise and participate in any demonstration at Speakers’ Corner” except those that involve race and religion” without having to obtain a police permit,” TODAY said.

“Permanent residents (PRs) can also participate in these demonstrations, in recognition of the stake they have in Singapore. But they have to apply for a permit if they wish to give a speech or organise a protest themselves.

“Foreigners will have to apply for a permit to conduct or participate in any activity” to make the distinction that the political rights of citizens are different from those of non-citizens.”

“There are no limits (to the protests) subject to public safety,” said the then Singapore Police Force director (operations) Wong Hong Kuan.

However, following Saturday’s fare hike protest at Speakers’ Corner, the rules seem to have changed, in particular with regards to the burning of effigies.

Mr Gilbert Goh, the organiser of the protest, had planned to burn an effigy of the Minister of Transport, Mr Lui Tuck Yew, at the event, which was scheduled to begin at 5pm.

At 4pm, Mr Goh told The Online Citizen (TOC), several police officers in plainclothes approached him and asked about his plans, in particular about burning the effigy.

Mr Goh says he is unsure how the police came to know about the plan but he had posted about it on his Facebook page days before the event on Saturday.

He said the police told him that he is not allowed to burn the effigy as it would or might “stir up the crowd”, Mr Goh says.

The police warning was confirmed by the Sunday Times, in its report the next day:

Sunday Times, 26 January 2014

Sunday Times, 26 January 2014

The police’s warning to Mr Goh seems to contradict what the TODAY newspaper reported in 2008, and what the Ministry of Home Affairs had reportedly said.

Even an article in the Singapore Law Review in 2008 said the MHA had “indicated express permission for activities including effigy burning” at Speakers’ Corner when the rules were relaxed.

The new rules were to be administered by the National Parks Board, or NParks for short.

In the TODAY report, it said that NParks is ready to take on this new role and specifically mentioned that “effigies can be burnt.”

“Our primary motivation is to keep Speakers’ Corner for use in as well-maintained conditions as possible … If there’s a need to make good on anything, we can follow up,” said Dr Leong.

“So, don’t damage our shrubs.”

Which means effigies can be burnt but with care.

Whether one agrees with the burning of effigies or not, what is of more concern is how rules and regulations are enforced, and whether they are enforced with consistency.

As with the anti-gay sex law, Section 377a, at times our law enforcers seem not to know the government’s position on these things.

Also, should Singaporeans and members of the public believe what the mainstream media report? Was the TODAY report accurate? Why were there no corrections all these years from the authorities if TODAY’s report was erroneous?

Which law would Mr Goh have contravened if he had burned the effigy? Would he be prosecuted if he had burned the effigy, although news reports and distinguished publications like the Singapore Law Review had said the authorities had in fact allowed such a thing?

Why did the police warn Mr Goh that burning effigies was “illegal” when in 2008 the MHA seemed to have indicated that it wasn’t?

TOC has written to NParks to ask for clarification of the rules regarding the burning of effigies at Speakers’ Corner.

We will post NParks reply if or when we receive it.

After he was warned, Mr Goh then told the police that he will not be carrying out the planned burning.

“We still want to be law-abiding,” he said.

  • Warum Soh

    Why is Andrew more concerned about th legality of effigy burning than whether it is the correct thing to do so, even in the context of a protest?

  • Red n white

    Warum Soh , Andrew is protesting but not stupid ok! If the police says no – that is the best thing – it just shows that the Police Chief has bullied a citizen by depriving him of a right that has been gazetted since 2007. Burning effigy is allowed in Hong Lim Park. Now that the Police is wrong again – the netizens need to know and hold them accountable. Why are them to be illegal – what is your agenda?

    • Darren

      Red n white, Andrew is a well respected alternative media writer. He may have not as much power as the PAP govt, but here on TOC, his views are read and heard by many. As mentioned, he is correctly pointing out the mistake made in 2007. But is he also saying “Eh, last time police say can, now say cannot. Actually nothing wrong to burn something in Hong Lim what. Let him burn lah, why now cannot?” If that is the case, IMHO, this is not what Andrew should be doing. TOC and Andrew, as an alternative media and viewpoint, have the responsibility to push for what is right among Singaporeans, aside from pointing out the mistakes of the mainstream media. It cannot only choose to point out mistakes, but conveniently ignore what is wrong for our society.

      • sensibility

        I’ve said this before, I’m saying it again.
        TOC has a very wide readership for people looking to read what they won’t find in MSM. Many of us certainly don’t wish TOC to tarnish its own credibility with thoughtless, one-sided crass pieces or making quotes taken out of context.

        • Darren

          Well Said. After all, is it not the aim of alternative media to prove in some way that it is a credible, well reported form of media? It is for this reason that I continue to read TOC and The Independent, as well as a couple of others for my fix on the thoughts and viewpoints of Singaporeans aside from the MSM. I have quite given up on the likes of TRS and TRE though, to be honest.

  • Sensibility

    Because we don’t need the law to tell us that a symbolic burning of a dummy with a real person’s face on it is no different from it being a criminal psychological intimidation and death threat. Let’s just say someone’s face is placed on a figurine, and stabbed, decapitated, burned. How would that someone feel? Threatened? Traumatized? A pig’s head hanging on a door alone strikes worry to people, let alone a burning, named effigy?

    Protesting against something many are unhappy are about is one thing. Threatening an individual just because he’s the most visible in the public sphere is another. Keep it civil. Resorting to primitive tribal acts of scolding and burning will only be regressive to society.

    Does GILBERT GOH want Singapore to regress to a place where lawless acts spring up now and then, causing human casualties and crippling the country? Read the news around the world. Does he want that? Should people condone such acts?

    • Richard Yee

      Totally agreed. And Andrew seems to think that of the law allows to, then they show be allowed to do so, regardless of whether it is primitive, tribal, or regressive.

    • Maasehyah Ephrayim

      But Sensibility, you have not proven burning an effigy is “lawless”. That is what the writer is emphasizing. Which law is broken by such burning?

      • nelsonmandala

        u print a pic of anton casey
        u make a strawman(u cannot steal 1 from the farm becoz we hav no farm in singapoor)
        u paste anton casey effigy..u burnt liked CNY offerin..
        let us know if kanna charged or not?

  • Andrew Leung

    We don’t want anything to be burned or burnt, whether effigy, flags, posters, books or bras. Please respect Public Order and not incite burning of Ministers/MPs or any other persons and objects. Mr Gilbert Goh can burn himself up if he want to protest with fire and save the people. MHA must standby SCDF Ambulance, Riot Police Unit and Gurkha Battalion. Please issue Special Police Powers for Hong Lim Park and arrive on time.

  • Darren

    IMHO, there should not even be a debate on whether it is right to burn an effigy. I suppose the rioters at Little India thought it sensible to burn a police car. Will burning effigies ensure a change in the fare hike, or help win an elections, for instance? No. What will help is more Singaporeans joining in to effect change in ways that highlight our substance as Singaporeans. The call for change must be led by those who are worthy. Gilbert Goh’s methods I’m afraid might lead us down to road to something worse.

    TOC is a popular source of alternative viewpoints for Singaporeans. By calling into question TODAY newspaper’s publication that “burning an effigy” would be alright a couple of years back, it has highlighted well a gaffe made in the past by the authorities. By if the police has indeed told GIlbert of the current illegality of the action, I believe this is what most Singaporeans want to see. The pointing out of this gaffe is well done, but the implication through this article that well, Gilbert would have been well within his rights to burn an effigy, is not. For he might have been right due to a loophole in the law, but not right for the purposes of our society today.

    • Maasehyah Ephrayim

      Darren, the law is the law. If there is no law against effigy burning, thrn it is legal whatever your personal feelings about it.

      • nelsonmandala

        aha u r wrong…
        onced i parked me motrsikal on a side road with NO yellow or whitelines
        i was fined for not adherein to a unique singapoor rule:
        the rules is it says its wasn’t authorise to do so for u hav NO rights to park in such area unless there is a sign to says
        PARK ERE!
        so in the eyes of shortpants mata law
        u must hav an approval from the onglim polis post to start a bonfire
        2nd advise..pls also obtained anda liscend from the min of envoirment for approved burnin
        last butt not least..u muz charter 1 civil defence portable medic/fireman on site to control the fire(juz in case it mite spread to the polis post hut

  • Andrew Leung

    Mr Gilbert Goh should start a Political Party. He has enough candidates for a GRC and have supporters manpower with guaranteed 25% unhappy voters. He can work in alliance with other parties. He has 2 years to raise funds and walk the ground. He can follow DPP and get a Masters in Public Policy. Please let us see your manifesto soon. We want to see more Public Intellectuals and not Public nuisance. More unhappiness means more violence in future. Singapore is post Little India Riot new normal.

    • Stan

      “Though we fail to burn an effigy yesterday, we are glad to be the first civil group to test the unchartered territories of our civil rights in the area of effigy-burning.” – Gilbert Goh on Facebook

      Andrew, I really don’t think he is keen on starting a political party and making real change. To me, a real impact is made when a crowd of 10000 arrives to listen to a Worker’s Party rally, for instance, not Gilbert Goh being allowed to burn an effigy. Sadly, Gilbert seems to think that pushing to be allowed to burn something in public = more rights for Singaporeans. Like you said, we need more public intellectuals, not public nuisances.

  • Terence Lim

    Gilbert has since clarified on his Facebook: “At 4pm when I stepped on to speakers’ corner, a police inspector in plainscothes and another plainsclothes police officer approached me and cautioned us nicely but firmly not to burn the effigy as it may incite violence during the protest. They said they would arrest me on the spot if the effigy is burned.”

    It is about the act of burning apt hat might incite ping violence and not the act itself that Gilbert was warned about. In his enthusiasm to find fault, Andrew has jumped the gun.

  • Andrew Loh

    Whether burning effigies is acceptable or not, each person will have his views. My interest is in how laws are enforced, as I said in the article. And if the law allows someone to burn effigies, then anyone (citizens) should be allowed to do so. How that act of burning effigies will go down with members of the public is up to each member of the public to decide.

    • Darren

      There is also no specific law against a rich caucasian wealth manager mocking the poor, or a woman obstructing traffic at a public carpark. There is even no law to say that SMRT is not allowed raise fares if it continues to have breakdowns. But would we shrug it off and say “its up to them to decide whether to do it, as long as its within the law”? You, Andrew, have led the way in showing us why we should not. This should not be much different as well, IMHO.

  • rockabyebaby

    WAH LAU HOI! Only 100 flowers when we are 3.3-3.5 Millions TRU-BLU strong hor PM3 Lee Hsien Loong! Didn’t you at GE2006 as PM3 to get your mandate as PM3 given to you by PM2 as instructed by your apapa PM1 DECLARED THAT.. “WE ARE AN OPEN AND INCLUSIVE CIVIL SOCIETY”!!! SO WHY ONLY LET “A hundred flowers bloom”???

    Can not Hong Lim Park now known as Speaker’s Corner perimeter take in AT LEAST A THOUSAND FLOWERS TO BLOOM!!! Your limitation SHOWS. Like your being the lucky one to have 20 years of apprenticeship to become PM3!!! And so too that there will be no one else with your privilege as the AkKia of PM1 that you declred too! LHLLL leh?

  • Andrew Leung

    The Government must update the 2008 Law for Effigy Burning at Hong Lim Park Act. This is post 9/11 and 12/13 Little India. They must submit their Effigy Burning Plans indicating size, scope and duration etc for approval to the SCDF and Nparks for Fire Safety Assessment and replanting of damaged grass patches. They must have Fire Extinguishers and put a deposit fee for fire damages. Dr William Wan must write a ST article condemning Effigy Burning of the Transport Minister and be tasked to write 1 Kindness Article per week to ST for the most Unhappy People Nation in the World.

  • dazzleworth

    Can burn PAP (not state) flag or not?

  • Soong See Choo

    is dunging the effigy into a pool of water considered lawless in Speakers’ Corner?

    • nelsonmandala

      r u commando trained?
      dunkin only applied to commando and prison guards

  • Kumantong Wonder

    We are planning to “Hit The Little People” instead.

  • Kumantong Wonder

    Burning of paper effigy is ok during 7th month. You just paste the photo of the person on the paper figurine, and burn at the “burning station” with the comfort right below Your HDB void-deck. Before burning , take a photo or video . After that post online or youtube.

  • Kumantong Wonder

    During Halloween, wear the face.mask of that particular person and walk around town, with no extra probs.

  • voodoo_artiste

    Gilbert, next time no need to burn. I teach you some simple tricks that no biased law or arbitrary rules of the elite can ever suppress. The whole concept is to direct negative energies to the individual you have mind. Afterall, the people’s anger/frustration etc. needs to be directed to be effective and the best way is to use an effigy/piñata and allow people to poke pins, kick, punch and curse the effigy with all sorts of things (e.g. curse it to get cancer, curse it to die painful death, use any type of spells you fancy to curse the name etc. etc.), then the psychological/psychic energies of many people will eventually reach the target and hit any elite hard. This is an effective way of “people power” and basically no law can ever prevent that. All the “people” being oppressed just need to collectively concentrate their psychic forces and curse the person (the more “people energy” which is closer in space & time for the event the better), the effigy is there just to focus their energies/emotions that’s all. The elite sure scared of this because absolutely no defense against this. If the elite is really a good upright and just person, then no one will really deep down in their sub-conscious want to curse the effigy, and the psychic energy will have less effect, simple as that. Conversely, the amount of real anger of the people will naturally be proportionate to the number of people wanting to hit out at the effigy and hence the higher the energy/emotions associated with it and hence the more impact will be sent via voodoo. No need to burn in public. After the voodoo event, you may want to take your time to burn the effigy in private. The evil elites very scared of this method one and practically no defence against this collective mind power. The upright, just and non-corrupt elite, no need to fear, because if they really done right, not many people will want to curse them, so insufficient psychic power transmitted plus really good people will be protected. For the bad elites, many types of evil spirits may visit them as directed by “many people” wishes. Try it lah, Poke pins, kick, punch, and heap most evil curses on the effigy, this method no way any authority or the police or anyone can say its against law, right? LoL. It may sound funny or ridiculous to someone (but having said that, burning effigy is also the same fundamentally), but don’t underestimate voodoo power ok? Throughout history, many human cultures already know how to direct these energies, so don’t do it unless the “people power” really desires it.