Following two raids at Platinium Dogs Club at 7 Galistan Avenue at the end of last month over alleged animal abuse, Minister of Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam assured Singaporeans that "there will be thorough investigations and there will be due process" carried out by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and Singapore Police Force (SPF).
He added on Friday (4 Jan) that the Police "have raided the Club as part of the investigations".
Mr Shanmugam added: Anyone who has engaged in illegal acts will face the consequences."
Subsequently, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling confirmed on Monday (Dec 7) that the owner of Platinium Dogs Club has been arrested and is currently assisting AVA and the Police with investigations regarding the allegations.
Currently, AVA has temporary custody of 18 dogs and a rabbit found on the premises of the club.
Vice-president of human rights NGO Maruah Singapore Ngiam Shih Tung highlighted what appears to be Mr Shanmugam's neutral stance regarding a protest outside the semi-detached house over the alleged maltreatment of the dogs that were sent to the club, particularly when couched within the context of the government's general view on "illegal assemblies" in the Republic.
"If these people were protesting the treatment of foreign workers rather than dogs, they would already have been arrested for illegal assembly," wrote Mr Ngiam in a Facebook post on Sunday (6 Jan).
The Public Order Act stipulates that any individual or group wishing to organise an assembly or procession for the purpose of supporting or opposing the views and/or actions of any entities must obtain a Police Permit beforehand.
Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Minister of Home Affairs, stressed in his Second Reading of the Public Order (Amendment) Bill in Apr 2017 that the government will decide on the question of whether a particular assembly is lawful.
"If we are wrong, we will take it on the chin, and our people will know whether the decision is being exercised properly or improperly. And if we keep making decisions improperly, any government will face the consequences," he added.
Responding to Nominated Member of Parliament Kok Heng Leun's questions regarding how the Commissioner would decide to refuse the application of a particular public assembly, and whether granting the Commissioner such powers would cause the public to doubt the impartiality of the Singapore Police Force, Mr Shanmugam said: "Your speech was about Singaporeans and Singaporean civil society ... [that] we should not have top-down, we should have bottom-up, [that] we should encourage Singaporeans, we should make sure that our people participate ... and I said that I agree entirely with you."
"But that has nothing to do with Clause 4," Mr Shanmugam insisted, as the clause is "targeted at foreign participation".
Under Clause 4, the Commissioner has the authority to "refuse a permit for public assembly or public procession, if he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that the activity may be directed towards a political end and be organised by, or involve the participation of, any of the following persons: an entity that is not a Singapore entity; and an individual who is not a citizen of Singapore".
Mr Shanmugam also maintained that the clause "seeks to ensure that Singapore will not be used as a platform by foreigners to further political causes, especially those that are controversial or divisive".
The minister was also instrumental in changing the legislation when the Public Order Act defined one person as an assembly. He said back in 2009,
"the number of persons, which is five in the Miscellaneous Offences Act, has been used as a proxy for a possible disruptive effect of the activity. But it is more logical to simply focus on the activity rather than choosing an arbitrary number, for example, a group of four intend in causing disruption could pose a far greater threat than a group of 20 who wish to promote a peaceful cause. Thus, we have decided to focus on the activities and their effects, rather than the number."
Artist Seelan Palay's arrest over a solo performance art piece allegedly outside the stipulated bounds of assembly grounds and civil rights activist Jolovan Wham's guilty verdict over having allegedly organised a public assembly without a police permit, however, appear to challenge Mr Shanmugam's statement about encouraging active engagement within Singapore's civil society.
Mr Palay piece called "32 Years: The Interrogation of a Mirror" at Hong Lim Park in Oct 2017 was deemed as a means to commemorate Chia Thye Poh's detention without trial under the Internal Security Act in 1966 - an assumption that was challenged by Mr Palay during his trial, while Mr Wham's gathering featured Hong Kong civil rights activist Joshua Wong via video conferencing on Skype in 2016.
Assistant Superintendent Lionel Lee testified during Mr Palay's trial last September that while Mr Palay's performance did not serve as a threat to national security, he had placed the artist under arrest "for taking part in a public assembly in a restricted area under the Public Order Act," as "his actions reflects him opposing the action of the government and what he feels is the wrongful detainment of Dr Chia Thye Poh".
Separately, Mr Wham and Mr Wong, alongside Mr Palay and journalist Kirsten Han, held a discussion on civil disobedience and democracy, purportedly even after SPF had urged the organisers to obtain a police permit for the indoor assembly. Several equipments were seized from the organisers following police investigations on the gathering.
Mr Palay was sentenced to a S$2500 fine in early Oct last year after being found guilty of conducting a procession without a permit under the Public Order Act (POA). He was then sentenced to serve 2 weeks of imprisonment yesterday (3 Oct) after he refused to pay the imposed fine.
Mr Wham's sentencing is scheduled to take place later this month.
Persons found guilty of organising a public assembly without a police permit under Section 16(1)(a) of the Public Order Act, Chapter 257A, may face a fine of up to $5.000, while repeat offenders may face a fine of up to $10,000 or be imprisoned for up to 6 months or both.