Five non-government organisations; Think Centre, Sayoni, Project X, Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign and Function 8 have come together to issue a joint statement to express their collective grave concerns on this International Human Rights Day, regarding the prosecution of human rights defender, Jolovan Wham.
Wham faces three charges of illegal assembly relating to the following peaceful events:
1. An indoor forum on activism and democracy, during which Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong skyped in to speak.
2. A silent protest on an MRT train where a small group of Singaporeans blindfolded themselves while holding up copies of the book “1987: Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On”.
3. A vigil outside Changi Prison for a death row inmate who was hanged on the morning of 14 July 2017.
Wham faces three other charges for his refusal to sign 3 statements for each of the above case he made. Jolovan is also being charged with one count of vandalism for temporarily pasting two pieces of paper on a MRT carriage during the silent protest.
The NGOs state that Wham is an active and valued member of Singapore's civil society, "He has laboured for years in service of improving the conditions of migrant workers in Singapore and has also fought for the rights of Singaporeans by working on issues such as free speech, freedom of assembly, detention without trial, opposition to the death penalty and other civil liberties. Peaceful assemblies and protests should never be a crime." wrote the joint statement.
The Singapore Government in its response to the recommendations made during the second UPR cycle said “Our laws allow our citizens to enjoy the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly while protecting the larger public interests of preserving public order and security” (A/HRC/32/17/Add.1, Para. 49)".
The statement states, "The prosecution of Jolovan Wham clearly indicates the gap between official rhetoric and the present ground reality."
The NGOs further notes, "This case raises important questions about whether the laws and regulations on the peaceful assembly in Singapore are overly restrictive and interfering with our constitutional rights to freedom of association, assembly, and speech. Peaceful assemblies and protests are legitimate ways and part of the reality of a functioning democracy through which citizens should be able to engage the State on issues of national importance." and point out that it is a grave mistake for the State to continue denying space and to actively shut down diverse voices that would contribute to the development of the Singapore society.
The NGOs call on the Singapore Government to respect the natural rights of its citizens to liberty, freedom of assembly and free speech. Referring to the recommendation number 21 in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report made by the Alliance of Like-Minded Civil Society Organisations in Singapore (ALMOS), the government is encouraged to conduct a holistic review of all the laws that can potentially restrict freedom of expression, with the intention of protecting the right for free expression by media and citizens. Noting that the Singapore government should also immediately engage civil society in a serious discussion on how Singapore can move toward ratifying the International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
A change.org petition calling for charges against Wham to be dropped has reached over 3800 signatures.
A pre-trial conference for Wham's case is scheduled to take place this coming Wednesday.