By Dylan Cheng
It is with great dismay that I share this incident with everyone.
I am formerly an intern with the renowned human rights lawyer, M Ravi. One of the tasks that I was assigned to do was to assist him in conducting research on a particular case that the firm is handling. Many know Mr Ravi as an advocate of human rights and a firm believer of justice and equality. Thus the case that I am working on should not come to anyone as a surprise.
It is the ‘Hong Lim Park CPF Protest’ case, which involves the blogger, Roy Ngerng and a few other individuals that partook in the protest in September 2014.
Two weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my lecturer and he asked me what I have been busy with in recent weeks. I told him that I was conducting research on the ‘Hong Lim Park CPF Protest Case’. He felt that it was a good opportunity for me to gain relevant experience and made no further comments about it.
A few days later, a close friend of mine texted me and told me that my lecturer had said that I should be careful about what I am doing.
I was rather confused when I got the message. After much contemplation, it dawned upon me that he might have wanted me to be careful about what I am doing because the group of people that I am defending consists of individuals that are opposing the government and its policies openly.
My lecturer was apparently worried that by helping in their defence, I am putting myself in a very unfavourable position. The government might see me as part of a ‘rebellious and trouble-making’ group that is opposing them (government).
Why did he make such an inference? Well, it is not hard to see things from his perspective.
Let us look at J.B Jeyaratnam, Chee Soon Juan and many others who openly challenged the government and its policies. What was the outcome of their defiance and their reluctance to conform to the unbefitting policies (in their opinion) that the government had implemented? J.B Jeyaratnam was bankrupted as a result of a libel suit against the PAP leaders. As a result of his bankruptcy, he was stripped of his NCMP seat in 2001. Chee Soon Juan was also bankrupted for the same reason.
The point that I am trying to establish here is that Singapore is being engulfed in the fear of opposing the ruling party.
Many shudder at the thought of being sued or persecuted. Some adopt the ‘shut up and move on’ mentality, citing the fear of getting into unnecessary trouble.
The climate of fear limits one’s freedom of speech and expression, which is enshrined in Article 14 of our Constitution.
My position is clear and aboveboard. I am being assigned to conduct research on the ‘CPF Protest Case’ to help in the defence of the ‘clients’ that engaged the firm for their defence.
The fundamental principle that a lawyer or any individual that is partaking in the defence is to wholly secure, defend and fight for the rights of anyone or any group that have engaged us.
It is wrong and a general misconception to think that such a principle is entirely for the sake of professionalism as a legal practitioner.
Securing and fighting for the rights of another and to provide him/her a proper and reasonable defence goes beyond the ambit of professionalism.
It is the duty of every individual to stand up for his/her compatriots in distress. It is a moral obligation that one owes to another individual apart from the contractual obligations that we owe to our ‘clients’.
If one’s ability to discharge a fundamental right like this is being impaired by the fear of persecution, the growth of our society will be stunted. Singapore would have taken a step backwards in terms of progress.
The process of defending our clients can be daunting at times but this should not deter any legal practitioners from doing what they are supposed to do; to provide every individual a proper defence.
I am largely disappointed that my own law lecturer is disapproving of my involvement in the defence of five ordinary citizens of Singapore. Our very own prominent Criminal Lawyer, the late Mr.Subhas Anandan once said, “Even the most heinous offender deserves a proper trial.”
I think his statement is self-explanatory. I do not think it is right to shun someone and to deny anyone of their rights to a proper defence just because of the fact that I might face repercussions due to my actions. I do not think it is proper and becoming of a law student to inculcate such an attitude towards issues of such nature.
To cower in fear and stand idly for self-preservation is a trait that is not ideal and should not be possessed by any individual and or group, especially from anyone with a legal background or aspiring to be in the legal profession.
My mentor, Mr Ravi once said, ‘Love and compassion must deploy every tool to fight against inhumanity.’ This couldn’t be truer.
I truly hope that my values and principles will not waver in time, under pressure and fear, in particular and no one should. One of my friends asked me whether I think Roy and others were right in their actions and whether they deserve to be prosecuted or punished.
Well, to put it simply, it is not for me to decide whether they are right or wrong. Neither am I in the capacity to determine or judge whether they deserve to be prosecuted or not. It is the duty of the Judge to find that out.
My role is to assist in their defence and I will continue to render assistance unreservedly without prejudice and most importantly, without the element of fear.
The above incident relates to Dylan’s experience with Mr Ravi who was in charge of the said case in 2014.