By Andrew Loh
There is no rational basis for the revocation of the permit originally granted to activist Han Hui Hui to hold a speech and demonstration event at Speakers’ Corner on 25 October, says M Ravi, the lawyer for Ms Han.
Mr Ravi, in his letter to the National Parks Board (NParks) on 23 October, Thursday, said the revocation constitutes “a breach of our client’s rights of freedom of speech and assembly under Article 14 of the Constitution.”
He also said that Ms Han “emphatically rejects” the NParks’ characterisation of Ms Han being interviewed by and assisting the police as constituting a “case”, as NParks described it in its press release, against Ms Han.
The NParks, in a joint statement with the Singapore Police Force on Tuesday, had said that since Ms Han was “assisting the Police into investigations into an incident which occurred during the ‘Return Our CPF Event’ at the Speakers’ Corner on 27 September 2014”, it is cancelling “the approvals granted” to Ms Han to hold another event on 25 October.
The Nparks also said that “no approval will be granted for any application” that Ms Han “may make to speak or organise any demonstration or performance/exhibition at the Speakers’ Corner until the conclusion of Police investigations or resolution of your case.”
It said the notice to Ms Han “will take immediate effect”.
It is unclear what exactly NParks had meant by describing Ms Han’s assistance with the Police as a “case”, given that Ms Han has not to date been arrested or charged with any offence relating to the event on 27 September.
“Insofar as this ban is prompted by your mischaracterisation of the fact that she has been interviewed by the police and has been assisting them in their enquiries as constituting a “case” against her, it is submitted that this is in itself an error of law that vitiates your decision,” Mr Ravi’s letter says.
The NParks had cited the authority given to it under the Parks and Trees Act (PTA) for the cancellation of the approval given to Ms Han.
However, in his letter to NParks, Mr Ravi said that imposing such a ban on Ms Han is ultra vires of the PTA, in the context that Ms Han’s assisting the Police in its investigations “does not constitute nor can it be construed as an implication, assertion or proof of guilt of any offence.”
Also, Mr Ravi says, it does not constitute evidence of breach of any law or of the terms and conditions of approval for the Return Our CPF event.
“There is therefore no rational basis for the revocation and it is wholly unreasonable as being based on irrelevant considerations,” Mr Ravi’s letter says, adding that the ban on Ms Han under the PTA is “beyond the limited powers” of the Act.
He also rejects NParks’ decision not to grant any approvals to Ms Han “until the conclusion of Police investigations.”
Besides being ultra vires of the PTA, Mr Ravi said such a decision by Nparks to restrict Ms Han from holding events at Speakers’ Corner may last indefinitely.
“It is an indeterminate, wholly disproportionate and oppressive ban,” Mr Ravi says in his letter.
He also took issue with the short notice given to Ms Han about the revocation of the approval given to her.
“The very short notice you have imposed effectively precludes our client from seeking any sort of legal redress in the Courts in time to enable the event to proceed,” Mr Ravi said. “This is regrettable.”
He says that the ban or restriction on Ms Han for an “indeterminate period of time” is “in principle a profound threat to her Constitutional rights.”
“[Our] client has instructed us to formally request that this ban be lifted immediately and in any event not later than 1600 hours on 24 October 2014, failing which our client reserves the right to apply to the Court for relief without further notice to you.”
Letter to National Parks Board Headquarters 23.10.14