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Is the Singapore police ignorant about the laws governing indoor forums?

Police seemed ignorant about law governing indoor forums

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Darren Boon, Andrew Loh

Is the Singapore police ignorant about the laws governing indoor forums?

That is the question on the mind of filmmaker Mr Martyn See. He had originally organised a public forum at the premise of Bestway Auditorium on 20th June 2009 at Prince Edward Road.

However, the filmmaker and activist was surprised to receive an email from the Tanglin Police Division requesting him to furnish the police information regarding the names of speakers and the format of the Operation Spectrum forum under the Public Entertainment and Meetings Acts.

Mr See told The Online Citizen: “It was unexpected.  My immediate thought was to verify if the email was true.  So I called the police.”

Mr See explained to the officer that indoor talks are exempted from permits as announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2004.  “I then assured him that there will be no foreign speakers,” said Mr See in his blog. Still, the officer was insistent that he provide the details about the forum.  Mr See agreed to do so through email.

Mr See wrote an email to Mr K. Shanmugam, Minister for Law and Second Minister for Home Affairs quoting, excerpts from PM Lee’s speech in 2004.  A carbon copy of the email was also sent to the Tanglin Police Division.

It was only after a week on Jun 26, two days before the forum that Mr See received a reply from the Public Entertainment and Liquor Licensing Unit informing him that indoor talks are indeed exempted from permits.  He has “no idea” why the authorities took a week to reply to him.

Mr See told The Online Citizen that he had received email and queries prior to the incident as to what constitutes the requirement for a legal permit.  “My case has illustrated where the OB markers are concerned,” he said.

Mr See has also released the exchange of emails on his blog.

Organising the forum had been an uphill task for Mr See.  The forum was initially scheduled to be held on Jun 20 at Bestway Building but had been cancelled due to what the properties management said were “ongoing police investigations”.

“And I still don't know on what basis did the police "investigate" Bestway Properties for hosting the first forum, originally intended on 20th June,” said Mr See.

The forum was held on Jun 28 at the Quality Hotel instead and was attended by 40 people.

In a separate case, another filmmaker, Mr Seelan Palay, has run into potential trouble with the police as well. Mr Seelan had made and screened the film, One Nation Under Lee, to the public in 2008. During the screening, officers from the Media Development Authority seized a copy of the film.

He is being investigated  under section 21 of the Films Act which states that —(1) Any person who —(a) has in his possession;(b) exhibits or distributes; or(c) reproduces,any film without a valid certificate, approving the exhibition of the film, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction.

You can read a transcript of Mr Seelan’s interview by the police here.

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