The prosecution of artist Seelan Palay is yet another case whereby public monies may not have been best spent. Palay is accused of having committed an offence when he staged an alleged “public procession” from Hong Lim Park to the National Gallery and Parliament House to commemorate the detention of long-time political detainee Chia Thye Poh on the basis that the permit he had, which was approved by The National Parks Board (NParks), was restricted to the Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park only.
Technically, it is probably true that an offence has been committed. However, was any harm done? When asked if there had been any threat to national security, Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Lionel Lee, who was part of the team that arrested Palay, testified that although there was no threat to national security, Palay’s procession caused disturbance to the staff at the Parliament House. What constitutes “disturbance”? Is it a mere irritation? Is it a threat of physical harm to staff at Parliament House? Is it abusive language?
From the sounds of it, Palay’s alleged protest was not unruly but quiet. It would appear therefore that the worst harm he could have caused was irritation to the staff of Parliament House. It also did not seem like he created loud noises or used any abusive language. All he did was silently stand in front of Parliament House with a mirror in front of him. Does irritation merit a drawn out prosecution and court case involving both state man hours and public monies?
To be honest, Palay’s alleged protest would not have garnered much attention if not for the court case which has now drawn public attention. If it is the government’s intention to silence the protest, it would have been better for them to ignore it. By prosecuting it and attracting press coverage, they are giving publicity to the cause.
Separate from the above, though, is the issue of how public money is spent to curb alleged protests. Is a one man show really tantamount to a protest that is worth the time and effort of a full blown court case? Should a peaceful protest even be punishable?
It doesn’t seem to add up that an incident with no harm to the public merits a full criminal court case while in incidents where people have died (such as the numerous national service incidents that were reported this year), no one has been brought to justice in open court? In the wake of the review of the Penal Code, it would be noteworthy to consider what we as a society should consider a crime.
One has to also note that Palay’s action is only considered as an offence because of the passing of the Public Order Act in 2009, supported by Minister of Law K Shanmugam, which deemed a single person equivalent to an unlawful assembly or procession.