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A CASE of double standards?

UPDATE: 20 Feb 2008: CASE to hold its annual “Walk With CASE” event on March 16, 2008. Its website says: ““Walk with CASE” is a mass event which will bring together over 5,000 consumers…”

By Andrew Loh

Every year, on March 15, consumer rights group around the world mark World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) with celebration – and protests.

WCRD is an annual day for celebration and solidarity in the international consumer movement.

It is a day “for promoting the basic rights of all consumers, for demanding that those rights are respected and protected, and for protesting the market abuses and social injustices which undermine them.”

A CASE for a big outing

On the same day last year, the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) held a “Walk With CASE” event to mark World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD).

From the pictures on its website, the event seems to be a rather big one, attended by a large crowd of supporters. Captions accompanying the photos include: “The crowd surging forward” and “The placard-holding crowd..”, “The rain fails to dampen the mood of the crowd”, and “CASE Executive Director Mr Seah Seng Choon holding a placard”. (See here)

A closer look at the pictures reveals men, women and children taking part in the event – complete with custom-made umbrellas, goody bags for the participants and even placards with various slogans. CASE’s website says:

“Learn about your rights as a consumer and be entertained by educational skits. Participants will receive a “Walk with CASE” T-shirt, umbrella and goodie bag, as well as a chance to take part in a lucky draw.” (link)

All well and good. A very public event indeed.

A case of double standards?

And so, seeing that CASE was allowed to hold such a big and public event commemorating an international occasion, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) applied to the police for a permit to hold a “protest rally outside Parliament House on 15 March 2008 for World Consumer Rights Day”. (link)

The SDP made its application to the police on Dec 28, 2007.

After a month of not hearing from the police, SDP secretary general, Dr Chee Soon Juan, wrote to the Licensing Officer, Police Licensing Division, on the 23rd of Jan 2008:

“Your acknowledgment slip states that the “normal processing time for an application is 7 working days.” It has been almost one month since my application was submitted.” (link)

Fearing that the police would only respond in the “11th hour”, the SDP’s lawyer, M Ravi, followed up with a letter to the police one week later, on the 29th of Jan:

“Our client records his dismay that in the past your refusal to issue a permit usually reaches our client at the 11th hour after the public has been informed of the rally and logistical arrangements have been made.

This not only creates much inconvenience to our client and fellow citizens but is an unusual departure from the much celebrated tenet of efficiency of our civil service. Such a late response also violates the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act ("Act").

In this regard, we would like to draw your attention to Section 13 (2) of the Act that states "the Licensing Officer shall, if so requested by the applicant or the licensee, as the case may be, furnish the applicant or the licensee within 7 days of being so required with the grounds of such refusal in writing." (link)

Two days later, on the 31st of January, the police replied. According to the SDP website:

Dear Mr M Ravi,

Re: Application for Police Permit for Protest Rally outside Parliament House

We refer to your letter dated 29 January 2008.

We would like to inform you that we have replied to your client on 25 Jan 2008. His application for a police permit has been rejected.

Yours faithfully,

YEO KOK LEONG

OC Compliance Management Unit

Central Police Division

Mr Ravi wrote back the next day, 1st of February:

“Please let us have the grounds of your decision for refusing the said permit pursuant to Section 13 (2) of the Act, so that our client can appeal to the Minister accordingly.”

2 weeks later, February 13, Dr Chee wrote to the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Wong Kan Seng, who is also Deputy Prime Minister. (See the letter here.)

In his letter, Dr Chee reminded the minister that CASE had “conducted a protest march on the same occasion last year on 18 Mar 07.” Dr Chee attached several pictures taken off CASE’s website with his letter.

“It is my sincere hope that you will not deny our application to conduct the same type of activity on the same occasion and at the same venue as CASE's event last year.”

Dr Chee also reminded the minister:

“When you took your oath as a cabinet minister, you swore to uphold the Constitution of Singapore. This means that in the process of discharging your duties, you may not show favour towards organisations affiliated to your party such as CASE while discriminating against citizens of Singapore, including the opposition.”

NOTE: The SDP website says that :

“The photographs shown below were taken from CASE's website. They have since been removed. They were available on the website up until the SDP published our police application on 7 Jan 08. We had anticipated this and downloaded the pictures for safekeeping to be used on an occasion such as this.”

The pictures are still there – click here.

What to make of this?

It is indeed a sad day for Singapore that one group of people affiliated with the government is perceived to be treated differently – or more favourably - from another, and especially when the authorities do not even bother to give reasons for their denial of permits for certain events while doing so for others.

As with so many denials of permit throughout the years for non-government public events, Singaporeans once again wonder if the rule of law is biased or applied selectively.

Perhaps the same reasons will be given. That:

“It is an open area where there is potential for breach of peace, public disorder, and unruly behaviour.

“You may be well behaving, but there may be other people whom you come across when you cycle who may stop you, may want to debate with you and that may attract a crowd, therefore will result in problems the police want to avoid.”

Then again, does that not also apply to the CASE’s event last year – with a crowd of men, women and children, a minister, PAP MPs with placards in their hands, in a very public area around the Singapore River?

Click on pictures to enlarge.

Read also:Government using hyperbole to justify public protests banBy Gerald Giam.

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