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Two plead guilty on first day of trial. Rachel Zeng reports.

19 in court to face illegal assembly and procession charges

Rachel Zeng

Two plead guilty while rest claim trial

Subordinate Court 5 was packed with familiar faces from the civil society yesterday.

19 activists and members of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) began their trial at the Subordinate Courts on Thursday at about 9.30 am. They are being charged for staging an illegal assembly and an illegal procession on the 15 of March this year outside Parliament House. They were protesting the high cost of living in Singapore.

All but one of the defendants are facing two charges each, one for illegal assembly and the other for carrying out an illegal procession. Francis Yong, Vice Chairman of the SDP, was the only defendant facing one charge of illegal assembly. The trial was heard before District Judge Chia Wee Kiat and only four of the accused are being represented by legal counsels.

Shortly after the Court was called to rise and the Deputy Public Prosecutor Mr Isaac Tan made the necessary announcements, he informed the court that one of the defendant, Mr Ng E- Jay, who blogs at sgpolitics and was a member of the now defunct SG Human Rights group, had decided to plead guilty for the first charge involving illegal assembly. Court was adjourned thereafter till 11.00 am so that matters regarding Mr Ng’s plea could be discussed.

When Court resumed at 11.00am, several applications and questions were raised. One of the questions raised was regarding a video clip of the event made by the police on 15 March 2008. Some of the defendants informed the judge that they have yet been shown the video. Mr Chia Ti Lik also applied to the court that a copy of the video be made available to all of the accused regardless of whether they are being represented by legal counsels or otherwise. In the middle of all the questions and applications regarding the video, the DPP informed the judge and the defendants that the video is no different from the ones available on the internet. Mr Jufrie Mahmood questioned the court about which version of the video the court is relying on since the DPP insisted that the one taken by the police was no different from the ones available on the internet. Mr Jufrie said he could save time and watch it via the internet instead of waiting for the DPP to make a copy available to the defendants.

“I still need a copy of the video though” he ended saying, inviting much chuckle around the courtroom.

To conclude the issue of the video, the DPP stated that he will make the copies available for all the defendants if the prosecution decides and intends to use the video as court evidence.

Court was later adjourned so that Mr Ng could be tried in a separate courtroom. He was later slapped with a fine of $600 for being part of an illegal assembly outside Parliament House on 15 March 2008.

When the Court resumed at 3.30 pm, the charges were read out to each of the 18 remaining defendants individually. Mr Yap Keng Ho questioned the Court about the charges that he faces as he was neither part of the alleged assembly nor the alleged procession. Instead, argued Mr Yap, he was there along with the crowd of spectators and police officers, taking footages of the behaviour of the police officers. Hence he applied to the Court that he be tried separately from the rest. All the other defendants agreed with his stand but the application was dismissed by the judge.

Just before the trial ended for the day, Mr Jeffrey George also made a separate application for his trial to be adjourned to a further date as he has to be out stationed for a month starting from tomorrow but his application was also rejected by the judge. He pleaded guilty in the end so that he can get back to his work. He was fined $1200 altogether for illegal assembly outside Parliament House and for illegal procession.

The hearing will continue for the remaining 17 defendants on Friday in Subordinate Court 5 at 9.30am.

Read also: Amnesty Int'l calls for support for "peaceful activists".

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