By Andrew Loh
The National Parks Board (Nparks) said on Friday that it did not cancel the approval given to activist Han Hui Hui to hold the “Return Our CPF” protest on 27 September at Speakers’ Corner.
This was revealed to the Straits Times by the unnamed spokesman for Nparks.
The 27 September protest has resulted in several participants, including Ms Han, being given conditional warnings or being charged with the offence of public nuisance.
Ms Han, and blogger Roy Ngerng, face an additional charge of organising a demonstration without approval.
Altogether 14 people were investigated by the police for the incident.
Out of the group, five have been issued conditional warnings, which means that they are not to commit a similar offence within a stipulated period (usually between 12 to 24 months). If they did the conditional warning would be withdrawn and the charge against them will proceed, along with the charge for the new offence.
Six of the 16 will face charges in court on Monday, while the outcome of police investigations into the remaining three people “will be made known to them in due course”.
Under the Penal Code, anyone found guilty of causing public nuisance may be fined a maximum of S$1,000.
For organising an illegal demonstration, the penalty is a maximum fine of S$5,000.
Nparks has also confirmed that those facing police charges will not be allowed to hold any events at Speakers’ Corner.
This is an extension of the decision it made earlier this week when it barred Ms Han and the rest from holding an event at the park today, 25 October.
It is unclear when Nparks would lift the ban.
Those who have been given conditional warnings, however, are free to hold events at Speakers’ Corner, the spokesman for Nparks said.
The second charge against Ms Han and Mr Ngerng falls under the Parks and Trees Act (Parks and Trees Regulation) which says that
“… no person shall, except with the approval of the Commissioner and in accordance with the terms and conditions of such approval —
(a) carry out any public speaking;
(b) organise or participate (other than solely as a member of an audience) in any performance or exhibition; or
(c) organise any demonstration,
at the area in Hong Lim Park known as the Speakers’ Corner and delineated in the Schedule to the Public Entertainments and Meetings (Speakers’ Corner) (Exemption) Order 2008…
On the day of the event on 27 September, the investigation officer at Hong Lim Park had told Ms Han:
“Police did not approve your permit regarding the march.” [See here.]
When asked if a permit is needed to hold a march in Hong Lim Park, the police officer did not answer and instead referred the protesters to the NParks officer who was also there with the police.
But the NParks officer did not address the question too.
Under the Public Order Act, Hong Lim Park is gazetted as an “unrestricted area” where permits for “assemblies and processions” are exempted.
The POA states [emphasis added]:
“The area in Hong Lim Park and delineated in the Schedule is designated as an unrestricted area whereby no notice under section 6, and no permit under section 7, of the Act shall be required for the holding of all assemblies or processions or both therein.”
So, while Nparks now says it did not cancel the approval given to Ms Han to hold the “Return Our CPF” event, the police are nevertheless charging her for “organising a demonstration without approval.”
Mr M Ravi, the lawyer who is acting for the six protesters facing charges, said, “The Public Order Act exempts any requirements for permits for free speech and protests in Speakers’ Corner. It is unclear if there is a requirement in law to apply for a permit.”
“So the Commissioner may be exceeding his jurisdiction in this matter,” Mr Ravi added.
As for the public nuisance charge, Mr Ravi said, “The definition of public nuisance is too broad and lacks certainty.”
He also described the police as being “overzealous” in its prosecution of the six protesters, given that it has given warnings to five others.