Activist and founder of Transitioning.org (a support site for the unemployed) Gilbert Goh was called in for questioning by the police earlier today (6 Dec) for alleged breach of the Public Order Act transpired during a rally that he organised recently which saw the attendance and participation of a foreigner.
On 3 November, Mr Goh organised a gathering at Hong Lim Park as a platform for Singaporeans to pen their thoughts on issues regarding Singapore’s Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) and 6.9 million population plan, in light of the Ramesh Erramalli incident which took the spotlight back then – a foreign talent employee at J.P. Morgan who was caught on video berating security officers.
At the end of the rally, Mr Goh conducted a Q&A session with a panel of speakers to address any burning issues from the floor. Interestingly, the first question came from an Israeli man visiting Singapore as a tourist.
Noting that he is “very interested in politics”, he asked: “What is your first value as a nation, as a society? What is your motivation?”
Only citizens of Singapore or permanent residents of Singapore can participate in any assembly or procession
Now, if you’re wondering how did a harmless query from a curious Israeli man lead to Mr Goh being investigated by the police, here’s why.
Recent amendments to the Public Order Act (POA) back in 2017 essentially prohibits any foreigner from taking part or observing any gathering of sort in Singapore.
More precisely, the new rule of the POA states that “[organisers] must ensure that only citizens of Singapore or permanent residents of Singapore participate in the assembly or procession”.
The punishment for violating this rule can extend to a fine of up to S$10,000.
According to the Ministry of Law, the POA was amended in 2017 to “prevent foreigners from advancing political causes in Singapore”. The Commissioner of Police can refuse to grant a permit for public assembly organised by or involving non-Singaporean citizens.
The changes led to the radical shift of how the annual Pink Dot at Hong Lim Park was conducted, where non-Singaporeans are not allowed to be in the Hong Lim green during the Pink Dot event, limiting the number of attendees due to the available space and the need to spend up to five-figures in terms of security deployment and checks upon the participants.
Speaking in Parliament when the bill was passed, Minister K Shamugam said: “It has been the Government’s long-standing position that foreigners and foreign entities should not import foreign politics into Singapore; nor should they interfere in our domestic issues, especially those of a political or controversial nature.”
“This ensures that Singapore is not used as a platform by foreigners to further political causes, especially those that are controversial or divisive,” he added.
Gilbert Goh refuses to sign police statement after the questioning, stands firm to continue advocating for a better Singapore
Following the police questioning which lasted for about an hour, Mr Goh shared with TOC that he did not sign the police statement at the end of the questioning.
“I didn’t sign in protest at the lack of legal rights,” he said.
He noted that he was uncomfortable without access to a legal representative and have his rights explained to him before being questioned by the police.
What’s more, in a Facebook post right before the police interview, Mr Goh fervently defended his stance as an activist and cemented his love for Singapore, proclaiming that he will continue to speak up for his country and people despite any attempt to “silence” or “destroy” his voice.
“You can silence me, you can destroy my voice but not my heart which will always be speaking up for my country, my people!” he asserted.
“This is the price we will pay as a[n] activist advocating for a better Singapore but we all willingly do it even though we may go to jail for doing so.”