The international media was not there, neither were there scores of policemen and policewomen or helicopters circling above. There was no big crowd and the only photographers clicking away were a handful – from the local press and some members of the public.
There was to be no 3-day stand-off either.
Hong Lim Park one year on and members of the Singapore Democratic Party were there to revisit their previously failed attempt to walk from the park to the Istana in their struggle for democracy.
The walk was scheduled to kick off at 3pm – as announced on their website. Led by its chairman Mr Gandhi Ambalam, the group of about 7 arrived at 3.10pm, wearing white t-shirts specially printed with the words “Democracy Now” in front and “Freedom Now” on the back.
They then sang the song which is synonymous with the American Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome” and started their walk – first to Parliament House and then on to the Istana – where they intended to hand over a letter to the Prime Minister.
In a stark contrast to the proceedings last year (picture left), there was almost an absence of local security personnel. One would have missed them if not for their ubiquitous video cameras which trailed and recorded every step of the activists’ journey.
All the way from Hong Lim Park to the Queenstown Remand Prison, the police officers (in plain clothes) never once took a break in their recording – even when the group took a breather and went into a shopping mall to visit the public restrooms. The police officers could be seen waiting outside the restrooms – with their video cameras.
The walk to their final destination was peaceful and without any incidents – except for Mr Ambalam being approached by one of the officers at one point and given a verbal warning that he was engaging in an illegal activity.
The activists handed out flyers to members of the public whom they met along the way. Mr Ambalam was especially heartened to see students, who were studying at the SMU compound, readily accepting the flyers. “In the past they would not even smile at us. Now they do”, he quipped.
At the Istana
At the Istana, Mr Ambalam and the members were met by police guards at the main gate. “We are here to deliver a letter to the prime minister,” Mr Ambalam informed the guards. The officer looked around and for a moment didn’t seem to know what to do. A few moments later, another official (in civilian clothes) approached the group.
Mr Ambalam shook his hands and told him that he has a letter for the PM. The official took the letter, in a brown envelope, opened it and asked, “Just one sheet of paper, right?”
“Yes”, came the reply. He shook hands again with Mr Ambalam who thanked the official and the activists took their leave.
It was a brief and rather cordial encounter.
(Watch the short video of the encounter below.)
Destination Queenstown Remand Prison
After almost 3 hours of walking, the activists reached their destination – Queenstown Remand Prison, where their secretary general Dr Chee Soon Juan, is being held for trying to leave the country while being a bankrupt.
(Dr Chee was originally fined $4,000 but was sentenced to 3 weeks jail when he opted not to pay the fine. “He did not pay because it was partly a matter of principle,” said his sister, Ms Chee Siok Chin. “It’s ridiculous that they even flagged a fine on a bankrupt”, she added.) (link)
Mrs Chee and her three children (2 daughters and a son) joined them shortly outside the prison gates, where the members were to hold a night vigil for Dr Chee. As in past vigils, candles were lit on the ground as the sky darkened and a slight drizzle began to fall.
As Mr Ambalam told me, they intended to stay a while to show support for Dr Chee.
Read also: Activists marked 16 Sept with WALK + Vigil by Uncle Yap (link)
Video of Mr Ambalam handing over the letter to the Istana official[youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=7ApXS9d8V-k]
Video of the walk, September 16, 2007
Video of last year’s walk, September 16, 2006