Local groups call for greater freedom of expression in light of mounting charges against activist Jolovan Wham

A group of Singapore organisations have come together in a letter calling for greater freedom of expression. ‘Deeply troubled by the mounting charges’ brought against social worker and human rights advocate Jolovan Wham, these local groups have issue a letter calling for existing laws to be reconsidered.

In 2017, Jolovan was charged for illegal assembly, vandalism and refusing to sign police statements for various offences including organising a candlelight vigil with 16 other persons outside the Changi Prison Complex, a silent protest on the MRT train, and organising an outdoor public assembly featuring a foreign speaker.

Following these charges, six local NGOs immediate issue statements in support of Jolovan. There was also a petition signed by 6,533 people who registered grave concerns over his prosecution called for freedom of expression to be protected in Singapore.

Many regional and international groups have also urged for the charges against Jolovan to be dropped including EU parliamentarians, fifty-two Malaysian civil society organisations, the Office of the United National High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, CIVICUS, International Commission of Jurists, ARTICLE 19, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and Forum Asia.

In their strongly worded letter, 25 local groups including Arts Engage, CARE, HOME, MARUAH, Pink Dot SG, Post-Museum, Singapore Unbound, TheatreWorks Singapore, Wake Up Singapore, and The Online Citizen said, “The strength and unity in these voices point to how profoundly the charges against Jolovan violate our shared aspirations for a society where we have the right to assemble, associate, protest peacefully, speak and write freely, and debate difficult issues openly, including with overseas allies or Singapore residents who may be non-citizens. If our expression is only free in Hong Lim Park, it is not free.”

They continued, “Regardless of the many calls to end legal sanctions against Jolovan, the charges against him have mounted, and he is currently being investigated once again by the police for taking a photo holding a piece of paper, alone, outside the State Courts, calling for charges of criminal defamation against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa to be dropped.”

The letter states that the charges against Jolovan concerns everyone who lives in Singapore. “With such severe restrictions on civil liberties, our ability to stand up to injustice and pursue the changes we seek is heavily compromised. We must have the freedom to speak our truths – however disagreeable or inconvenient to the state – and to engage fellow citizens in frank conversations and collective action around shared concerns.”

The letter notes that the prosecuting of Jolovan has grave implications for all Singaporeans and is “an affront to all our freedoms”. It continued, “…in standing up for him, we are standing up for all Singaporeans to live free of fear”.

The letter ends with a plea to the state to “seriously reconsider” the laws under which Jolovan is being prosecuted and to ensure every Singaporean is afforded the protection of their constitutional right to freedom of assembly, speech and association.

Read the full letter here:

Local groups call for greater freedom of expression in light of charges
against Jolovan Wham.

We are a group of citizens who are deeply troubled by the mounting charges that social worker and human rights advocate Jolovan Wham faces in Singapore courts. In 2017, six local NGOs issued statements immediately after charges of illegal assembly, vandalism and refusing to sign police statements were brought against Jolovan. These statements, along with a petition signed by 6, 533 people, registered grave concerns about his prosecution, and a call to protect our freedom of expression.

Since then, many regional and international groups have called for the charges against Jolovan to be dropped, condemning them as disproportionate and unjust. Notably, EU parliamentarians, fifty-two Malaysian civil society organisations, the Office of the United National High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, CIVICUS, International Commission of Jurists, ARTICLE 19, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and Forum Asia have all demanded that the government cease proceedings against Jolovan.

The strength and unity in these voices point to how profoundly the charges against Jolovan violate our shared aspirations for a society where we have the right to assemble, associate, protest peacefully, speak and write freely, and debate difficult issues openly, including with overseas allies or Singapore residents who may be non-citizens. If our expression is only free in Hong Lim Park, it is not free.

Regardless of the many calls to end legal sanctions against Jolovan, the charges against him have mounted, and he is currently being investigated once again by the police for taking a photo holding a piece of paper, alone, outside the State Courts, calling for charges of criminal defamation against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa to be dropped.

The charges against Jolovan concern all of us who live in Singapore. With such severe restrictions on civil liberties, our ability to stand up to injustice and pursue the changes we seek is heavily compromised. We must have the freedom to speak our truths – however disagreeable or inconvenient to the state – and to engage fellow citizens in frank conversations and collective action around shared concerns.

We need to allow for “honest disagreements”, which NMP Walter Theseira recently pointed out is crucial for the health of our society. Laws and regulations that heavily restrict our freedom of expression in the name of public order, foreign interference or contempt of court need to be rigorously reviewed.

The range of urgent human rights and social justice issues that Jolovan has lent his time, energy and voice to is an important demonstration of the ways in which all of our freedoms are connected. Prosecuting Jolovan has grave implications for all Singaporeans. It is an affront to all our freedoms, and in standing up for him, we are standing up for all Singaporeans to live free of fear.

We call upon the state to seriously reconsider the laws under which Jolovan is being prosecuted, and ensure that our constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, speech and association are accorded the protection they deserve.

Signatories:
1. Arts Engage
2. ArtsEquator
3. Beyond the Hijab
4. CARE: Centre for Culture-Centred Approach to Research and Evaluation (Singapore
chapter)
5. Community Action Network (CAN)
6. Dance Nucleus
7. Drama Box
8. Function 8
9. HOME (Humanitarian Organization For Migration Economics)
10. IndigNation
11. MARUAH
12. Penawar
13. Pink Dot SG
14. Post-Museum
15. Sayoni
16. Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign
17. Singapore Unbound
18. TheatreWorks Singapore
19. The Local Rebel
20. The Online Citizen
21. The Theatre Practice
22. Think Centre
23. soft/WALL/studs
24. Wake Up Singapore
25. We Believe in Second Chances