Acts of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience are among some of the most necessary “tools” for opening up what civil rights activist and social worker Jolovan Wham branded as Singapore’s “already shrinking civil and political space”.
Such acts, said Mr Wham in a Facebook post on Tue (31 Mar), “often starts with one person, or a small group of people”.
The activist said that a society that has endured “[d]ecades of oppression and persecution” is bound to become acclimatised to “injustice, especially political injustice and threats to our civil rights”.
“We have shrugged it off so much that over time, we’ve become numb to it, instead of feeling outraged,” Mr Wham added.
Said apathy, he said, is a result of the “normalisation of fear”.
“If we can’t speak up, assemble freely, and campaign without looking over our shoulders, the reforms we want can only be done on the terms of those in power. We will have to wait for when they are ready,” said Mr Wham, adding that the only issues that might have a chance at being addressed without such freedoms are possibly those that are “low-hanging fruit”.
“All the levers of change are controlled and those who don’t follow the script are persecuted. We are so muted, we can only plead, but never make our demands as equals,” he added.
Thus, said Mr Wham, the people “need to speak our truths, and to do so, we should refuse to fear”.
“I refuse to be complicit in the diminishment of my spirit: resistance is no longer a choice in a system determined to de-humanise you,” he said.
Mr Wham, however, acknowledged that not everyone may have the privilege to “not only negotiate the boundaries but transgress them”.
“Not everyone can take this position and I understand those who can’t, because the costs may be high; my privilege, on the other hand, allows me to take greater risks, and for that I am grateful,” he said.
“Those of us who can risk it, should. Those who can’t, should show their support, because solidarity is the first step to change,” Mr Wham urged.
Explaining his reasons for choosing to serve a one-week jail term — starting today — instead of paying a S$5,000 fine after being found guilty of contempt of court, Mr Wham said that he has chosen the former because he does not “recognise the legitimacy of the judgment and the law, both of which are unjust”.
“It should never be an offence to speak your truth,” he said.
The Court of Appeal on 16 Mar dismissed the appeals of Mr Wham and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) politician John Tan against their convictions and sentences for contempt of court.
This means that Mr Tan — who was re-elected into the Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) Central Executive Committee in Oct last year — will not be allowed to stand in the next General Election as a candidate.
Singapore’s Constitution stipulates that any person who is fined at least S$2,000, or jailed a year or more for an offence would be disqualified from running in the GE as a Member of Parliament for five years.
The contempt of court charge, brought against the two men by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) two years ago, was based on a Facebook post written by Mr Wham in Apr that year, in which he said that Malaysia’s judges “are more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications”.
Mr Tan was similarly charged for publishing a post stating that “by charging Jolovan for scandalising the judiciary, the AGC only confirms what he said was true”.