On 10th January, a member of the European Parliament Jude Kirton-Darling wrote to Singapore’s Ambassador to the European Union, HE Jaya Ratnam requesting a “signal of goodwill from the Singaporean authorities in relation to Mr [Jolovan] Wham’s case”.
In her letter, Ms Kirton-Darling said the case of Mr Wham who has been found guilty of organising an illegal assembly in 2016 involving activist Joshua Wong who participated via Skype is a “matter of great concern” to her and that it “demonstrates serious limitations to freedom of assembly in Singapore”.
The letter specified the upcoming ratification of a free trade agreement, investment agreement, and political cooperation agreement between the EU and Singapore. MEP Kirton-Darling noted that freedom of assembly is a fundamental right which underpins the actions of the EU and as such, the European Parliament will consider this very closely in terms of the upcoming agreements.
In reply, the HE Jaya Ratnam noted that Mr Wham’s case is still pending before Singapore Court and the sentencing had been rescheduled to a later date. He said that he is “not in a position to comment on the specifics of the case while it remains before the Court”.
He also reiterated the independence of the Singapore judiciary which “cannot, and should not be influenced by government authorities” and that it has nothing to do with the upcoming agreements between the EU and Singapore.
On the subject of freedom of assembly, Mr Jaya Ratnam says Singapore is “committed to respecting the fundamental human rights” as outlined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He stresses that Singapore’s firmly applies the rule of law to protect human rights and the freedoms of Singaporeans as enshrined in the constitution as long as it is exercised according to the nation’s laws.
He called Singapore’s approach to human rights “pragmatic” and notes that it has “yielded positive outcomes” for Singaporeans which has placed the country high on international rankings such as 9th on the UN’s Human Development Index in 2018 and 13th on the 2017-2018 Rule of Law Index by the World Justice Report.
In essence, Mr Jaya Ratnam is saying that the Singapore government will not take any action with regards to the progress of Mr Wham’s case as the judiciary is independent and the Republic hopes that the European Parliament will not let that affect their consideration of upcoming agreements between the EU and Singapore.
On the one hand, Singapore's response makes sense. The independence of the judiciary is vital in any country. However, the claim of Singapore's "pragmatic" approach to human rights resulting in the country being ranked highly in international indexes is slightly misleading. As some pointed out, Singapore is ranked 151st in the World Press Freedom Index.