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SPF “deliberately mischaracterised” photo taken outside State Courts, mainstream media reports convey erroneous information regarding investigation: Jolovan Wham

Following the reports of mainstream news outlets regarding the Singapore Police Force (SPF)’s recent investigation into a photograph of civil rights activist Jolovan Wham taken outside the State Courts last Dec, Mr Wham himself suggested that the reports have conveyed allegedly erroneous and “misleading” information regarding the purpose and nature of the investigation.

The photograph in question, dated 13 Dec, depicts Mr Wham standing outside the State Courts while holding a piece of A4 sized paper, with the words “Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa” printed across the paper, referring to the criminal defamation charges pressed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers on the same day against Mr Xu, TOC’s editor-in-chief, and Mr De Costa, the author of the allegedly defamatory article published by Mr Xu on TOC.

Referring to the articles published on Channel NewsAsia (CNA) and The Straits Times (ST), Mr Wham wrote in a Facebook post on Sun (3 Mar) that contrary to SPF’s statement, which indicated that Mr Wham had reportedly applied for a permit to stage a protest outside the State Courts last Nov, the application – which was rejected by SPF – was made for a separate and unrelated Human Rights Day event on 10 Dec.

CNA and ST reported SPF as saying: “He was well aware that a police permit was required for such an event. Still, he went ahead to protest outside the State Courts on Dec 13, 2018”.

However, in response, Mr Wham wrote: “The current investigation is for a photo I had taken on December 13 and has nothing to do with the Human Rights Day event I tried to obtain a permit for.

“For the police to mention my application of this event together with the photo I took on December 13 is misleading,” he said.

Mr Wham further alleged that SPF did not indicate the State Courts’ status as a prohibited area for such events as the reason for rejecting his permit application for the Human Rights Day event in SPF’s email on 5 Dec.

CNA and ST reported SPF as saying that “the State Courts is gazetted as a Prohibited Area under the Public Order Act, with stricter security protocols”.

He also emphasised that contrary to what has been indicated in the CNA and ST reports, “the ‘event’ on December 13 was not a protest”.

“My intention was to take a picture to post on social media to show my solidarity with the two men. If it was meant to be an outdoor protest, I would not have left immediately after the photo of me was taken,” said Mr Wham.

“It is mind boggling that investigations for this were initiated”, noted Mr Wham, adding that his “personal mobile phone was confiscated for an action which did not cause any harm”.

“Singapore cannot call itself a developed nation and a democracy if it continues to criminalise peaceful acts where even a photo-op is criminalised”, argued Mr Wham, adding that “as the photograph clearly shows, I was the only person holding up the sign”.

“To characterise my act as an assembly is to defile the English language for political ends,” he said, given that “the Oxford dictionary defines an assembly as a ‘group of people gathered together for a common purpose'”.

Jolovan Wham was neither “approached” nor “arrested” for his act outside the State Courts, implying that the act was “too insignificant” or brief “to be noticed by the guards”: Terry Xu

Mr Xu opined in a Facebook post on Sun (3 Mar) that it would have been possible for the CNA and ST journalists who had produced the reports to know that Mr Wham “had applied for a permit to protest for the International Human Rights Day, which falls on the 10 Dec” had they been more thorough with their queries with the SPF, and had they approached Mr Wham himself for comments.

He has also expressed shock over SPF’s act of providing “information to the media to create an impression that Wham had wilfully committed an offence on 13 Dec despite being warned”, and doing so “even before any charge is being made against Wham” and having concretely “established that a protest was being held in front of the state court”.

Mr Xu argued that SPF, “as civil servants”, have a duty “to act in a fair manner to citizens whom it serves and protects”, adding that “it is alarming that the professionalism of the Police has degraded to this extent that it is actively seeking to mislead the Public on the alleged offence of an individual”.

Mr Xu suggested that while “many people” remain sceptical as to whether SPF would abuse the amendments made to the Public Order Act – including brandishing the use of lethal force on protestors, as well as the power to arrest anyone in the vicinity and to ban live coverage of police actions – the “change of tactics” demonstrated by SPF in Mr Wham’s most recent case has indicated that the “SPF will lie to the public about atrocities it commits when it has to” and simply “because it can” do so.

“What is factually established is that Wham took a photo in front of the State Courts with a piece of paper that had some wordings.

“He was neither being approached by any officers nor arrested for his act, which would imply it was either too insignificant or too short of a time period to be noticed by the guards,” Mr Xu observed. 

Mr Xu added that “the act of taking a photo should not be considered an offence, as photographers from the media take photos of suspects on a regular basis”.

“Unless there is a blatant double standard by the Police,” he suggested.

SPF “a purveyor of #fakenews” in an “authoritarian regime”, charges Jolovan Wham

Just five hours after issuing his clarification, Mr Wham issued another statement, branding SPF as “a purveyor of #fakenews“, assisted by the mainstream media, which had “just parroted their press release without checking in” with him.

“What is common in my years of working with the mainstream media here is that the editors will find it difficult to publish a story if the government’s perspective is not included.

“But in a story like this, they are happy to proceed with the government’s view without clarifying with me. Because in an authoritarian regime, the government is always right,” lamented Mr Wham.

TOC understands that Mr Wham has issued a press statement in response to SPF’s comments to the mainstream media on Sun (3 Mar). However, the mainstream media have yet to publish anything regarding the press statement.