The govt should not have the right to pick and choose who it chooses to prosecute for same offences

The recent allegations of negligence and cruelty to animals involving Platinum Dogs Club has angered many Singaporeans who have taken to the Internet to denounce the company and its owners.

If there is any truth to the allegations, all the anger is justified and I fully agree that more laws need to be enacted to ensure that those who purport to look after our pets are not able to cause harm without censure or accountability.

That said, there are always dangers to vigilantism and Singaporeans should refrain from taking the law into their own hands. This is indeed the advice of Minister for Law, K Shanmugam (Shan) as he requests for calm, giving his assurances that the matter will be thoroughly investigated and if the alleged perpetrators are guilty, that they will be punished.

While I am heartened that Shan has taken a personal interest in this matter, I cannot help but notice the difference in treatment between the activists here and Seelan Palay (Palay).

Pillay was hauled to court for his performance art piece, entitled 32 Years: The Interrogation of A Mirror, which was meant as a tribute to the 32 years that Dr Chia Type Poh had spent living in detention and under restriction.

While the state had argued that Palay had violated the terms of his permit by leaving Speaker’s Corner and walking to Parliament House, I note that Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Lionel Lee had admitted under cross examination that Palay’s actions had not caused any threats to national security.

Furthermore, Shan, who was instrumental in changing the legislation when the Public Order Act defined one person as an assembly, had 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.”

Arguably, it can be said that there is no difference between the actions of Palay and those of the Platinum Dogs Club activists, given that both were meant for promotion of a certain cause.

The only distinction is that Palay’s actions could be construed as a direct criticism against the government. Yet, Palay has been charged in court. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting that the protesters from Platinum Dogs Club saga be prosecuted. Not at all. People have a right to express their feelings and thoughts in a peaceful manner without threat of prosecution. All I am saying is that Palay should not have been charged.

The law should be applied evenly and everyone should be treated fairly. The government should not have the right to pick and choose who it chooses to prosecute for the same offences. If laws are not applied equally, or cannot be applied equally, then it should be changed. My view is that peaceful protests against any matter should be permitted.

As an aside, it is my hope that if the owners of Platinum Dogs Club have indeed been errant, that they be punished to the full extent of the law and if the laws are too lax, that they be reformed.