Bangkok, Thailand – The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) today urged the Government of Singapore to end the harassment of human rights defender Jolovan Wham and to amend laws used to restrict the work of Jolovan Wham and other human rights defenders.
Jolovan Wham is scheduled to appear today at a pre-trial conference on seven criminal charges. Jolovan Wham is a well-known human rights defender in Singapore who previously worked for a group that advocates for the rights of migrant workers and plays a leading role against the death penalty and promotion of freedom of expression scheduled.
“These charges are not only an impermissible attack on Jolovan Wham individually, but human rights work more generally in Singapore,” said Sam Zarifi, Secretary General of ICJ. “It is an unmistakable message to other human rights defenders that they may face the same harassment and intimidation if they continue their work.”
Jolovan Wham was charged in connection with facilitating a Skype conference with Hong Kong human rights defender, Joshua Wong Chi-Fung, on “civil disobedience and democracy in social change”. Other charges relate to his organizing peaceful public assemblies, allegedly without permits, to protest the death penalty and to commemorate the day when 16 individuals were arrested by Singapore authorities in 1987 and detained without trial under the country’s Internal Security Act (ISA). He was also charged for refusing to sign statements prepared by police authorities when he was taken in for investigation on 28 November 2017.
Most of the charges against Jolovan Wham were for alleged violations of Section 7 of the Public Order Act, which makes an offence the holding of a public assembly or public procession without a permit. The ICJ considers that aspects of Section 7, particularly as applied to the charges against Jolvan Wham, may serve to impermissibly restrict the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Singapore, which is protected under international standards.
“Singapore should immediately act to amend the Public Order Act with a view to ensuring that it is consistent with international human rights law and standards, particularly as they relate to the exercise freedoms of expression and assembly,” Zarifi said.
Under international law and standards, prior authorization of assemblies is generally inconsistent with the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, with narrow exceptions. The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, in a 2012 report, clarified that prior authorization should generally not be necessary. At most, it should require notification that is not unduly burdensome, so as allow the authorities to facilitate the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly and to take measures to protect public safety and public order and the rights and freedoms of others.
The Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human Rights Defenders), emphasizes the right of human rights defenders. “to meet or assemble peacefully” and “to study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and through these and other appropriate means, to draft public attention to those matters.”