AWARE: Timely to reconsider how restrictive regulation of public assembly should be

Local non-government organisation, AWARE has expressed its concern via its Facebook page in regards to the charges filed against Jolovan Wham, a well-known labour and human rights activist in Singapore by the authorities.

Just this morning, Wham was charged with seven charges by the Attorney-General’s Chambers which include three counts of organizing a public assembly without a police permit and one count of vandalism for sticking two A-4 paper on a MRT train.

In its post, AWARE refers Wham as a social worker and civil society activist with a long track record of good work for marginalised people, especially women migrant domestic workers and states that Wham’s case raises important questions about whether the laws and regulations on assembly in Singapore are too restrictive.

“Our own experience of organising events at Hong Lim and elsewhere is that seeking a permit can be cumbersome and uncertain. Sometimes we have not been informed of the outcome of the application until the day just before, which makes publicity and logistics – especially for foreign speakers – difficult.” wrote AWARE.

It added that it is important to make space for diverse voices in Singapore society and noted when the conditions for speaking up about social and political issues are restrictive and carry potential criminal liability, it can have an intimidating effect on the public and discourage people from expressing their views.

“Some regulation of public assembly may be necessary to safeguard the public interest in safety and prevent disruption. Yet it may be timely to reconsider how restrictive these regulations should be. Events that do not threaten the safety and well-being of any person, damage any property or cause disruption to ordinary affairs should not be made difficult to organise, and it is doubtful whether society’s interests are best served by making them liable to criminal prosecution.” wrote AWARE.

Under Singapore law, all public assemblies must be applied for and be given a police permit before the event is carried out. However, it is very rare for the Police to approve applications for public assembly unless the event is organised by the ruling party.

Legal protest approved by the police in 2007, headed by PAP MPs for World Consumer Rights Day