Social worker Jolovan Wham charged under Public Order Act for ‘one-person assembly’ including for holding up smiley placard, starts #smileinsolidarity campaign

Social worker Jolovan Wham has been charged under the Public Order Act for participating in a one-person assembly on Thursday (19 November).

One of the charges pertains to his act of holding up a placard depicting a smiley face at Toa Payoh Central in April, in support of two youth climate activists investigated by the police.

One of the youth activists was seen, in a photograph on the @fridays4futuresg Instagram page, wearing a face mask and holding up a cardboard placard that read “SG IS BETTER THAN OIL @fridays4futuresg” in front of Toa Payoh Central Community Club and Toa Payoh Neighbourhood Police Centre.

The 20-year-old man, said the police, “did not apply for the necessary police permit” before carrying out such an activity.

The other activist–an 18-year-old woman–in a separate event the same day, had reportedly held placards with the words “PLANET OVER PROFIT”, “SCHOOL STRIKE 4 CLIMATE” and “ExxonMobil KILLS KITTENS&PUPPIES” against the Harbourfront Tower One building signage.

The other was based on a separate, unrelated instance of holding a sign outside the State Courts which urged the Government to drop the criminal defamation charges against TOC chief editor Terry Xu and TOC contributor Daniel De Costa.

Mr Wham said in a Facebook post yesterday that he was at both venues respectively “solely to take photos for the purpose of uploading them on social media”.

“I barely stayed in the area for more than several seconds. Yet, what I did has been deemed as a public protest by the State,” he added.

Mr Wham said that he will be answering the charges at the State Courts next week on Monday morning (23 November).

The civil rights activist also said that he has initiated “a small #smileinsolidarity campaign” following the investigations against him for holding the smiley sign.

“If you’d like to send a photo of yourself with a smiley to add to my collection of photos, do PM me! I have received over 200 photos since the campaign started,” said Mr Wham.

Persistent “nonviolent resistance and disobedience” among most crucial “tools” for opening up S’pore’s “already shrinking civil and political space”

In a Facebook post on 31 March — the date his jail sentence for contempt of court commenced — Mr Wham said that acts of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience are among some of the most necessary “tools” for opening up Singapore’s “already shrinking civil and political space”.

The contempt of court charge, brought against Mr Wham and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) politician John Tan 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”.

Acts of civil disobedience, said Mr Wham in March this year, “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.

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