The headlines have loudly declared that activist Jolovan Wham refused to sign his police statement in the media reports of his court hearing. Wham faces two charges for allegedly organising an assembly without a permit under the Public Order Act on 26 Nov and refusing to sign the statement made to police.
While it is a fact that he refused to sign his police statement, my opinion is that the focus of our attention should not be on the fact that he refused to sign his statement but that the police refused to give him a copy of his own statement.
According to his defence, Wham did not refuse to sign his police statement as he was not given a copy of the statement taken by the police. That he refused to sign it for what is to my mind, a very legitimate reason. Why should he have to sign a document purporting to be what he has said if he cannot have a copy? Furthermore, Wham did sign copies of documents which he was given a copy, proving his stance on the matter.
Would you sign a contract if you are not given a copy? I would hope not!
The police have said that Wham cannot have a copy of his own statement due to reasons of confidentiality pending investigations. While I understand that police investigations have to be protected, it is by the same vein, equally important that a person be given a copy of what he or she has said.
This is especially the case if there is going to be a court case and what he or she may have allegedly said or not said might be used against him or her. Not to mention that in Singapore, one is not allowed to have a legal representative present during one's interview so any reflection on the interview will be based on one's recollection of the event.
Shouldn't Wham have the right to a copy of his own statement in the event that nuances of words are used against him in court? Bearing in mind that Wham has not asked for anyone else's statement. Just his own which surely is reasonable?
If the police are concerned with issues of confidentiality, wouldn't this concern be mitigated if they asked Wham to sign a confidentiality agreement undertaking that he will not divulge the contents of the statement to anyone other than his legal advisers? This would address the concerns of both parties. The police will be able to rest assured that its confidentiality is protected while Wham will have what he needs in order to mount a fair defense.
Why then has the police not done that?
By adamantly refusing to allow a man a copy of his own words, the police may fuel the flames of speculation - that there is some plan to take down "troublesome" citizens who ask inconvenient questions even if there is no such plan at all.
The best way to combat speculation or conspiracy theories is to be more open and accountable. Not letting a man have a copy of his own words is certainly not the most transparent way of doing things.