The charges against the three stemmed from their participation in a peaceful demonstration organized by Ms. Han at Hong Lim Park’s Speakers’ Corner on 27 September 2014. The demonstration called for transparency in the Singaporean government’s management of its Central Provident Fund (CPF).
During Wednesday’s proceedings, Ms Han, Mr Koh, and Ms Low represented themselves in court as they were not provided with any form of legal representation or legal aid prior to the hearing.
On 27 June 2016, a Singapore court fined Ms. Han SGD3,100 for organizing an ‘illegal demonstration’ and causing a public nuisance. The court also fined Mr. Koh and Ms. Low SGD450 each for causing a public nuisance. According to Article 45(1)(e) of Singapore’s constitution, any individual subject to a fine in excess of SGD2,000 is barred from standing for election for five years. Three other participants involved in the demonstration pleaded guilty or had their charges dropped after making a public apology.
FIDH notes that Ms Han has been repeatedly denied permission by Singapore’s National Parks Board (NParks) to hold events at Hong Lim Park’s Speakers’ Corner. It further noted that in the latest denial of her right to peaceful assembly and her right to freedom of opinion and expression, on 16 November 2016, NParks rejected an application made by Ms Han to organize and speak at an event for Human Rights Day on 10 December.
“The determination displayed by the authorities in prosecuting and punishing the three protestors demonstrates that there is zero tolerance for the expression of peaceful dissent in Singapore. It’s time for the Singaporean government to initiate a serious and thorough reform of the country’s laws related to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly to bring them in compliance with international standards.” said Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President.
During Singapore’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR), held in Geneva, Switzerland, on 27 January 2016, Singapore received six recommendations that urged the government to ensure the realization of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The government delegation responded by justifying the severe restrictions on the exercise of this right to ensure “society’s need for order and stability.” These criteria fall short of internationally accepted standards, which require that any restrictions to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly be necessary and proportionate. International standards also stress the principle that a peaceful assembly should be presumed lawful and not constituting a threat to public order.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is a non-governmental federation for human rights organizations. Founded in 1922, FIDH is the second oldest international human rights organisation worldwide after Anti-Slavery International and brings together 184 member organisations in over 100 countries, as at 2016.