The State Courts on Monday (15 Feb) sentenced civil rights activist Jolovan Wham to a fine of S$8,000 or 32 days of imprisonment in default of the fine after he pleaded guilty to three proceeding charges under the Public Order Act (POA), the Vandalism Act and the Penal Code respectively.
The three charges against Wham, 41, concerned the following:
- Section 16(1)(a) of Public Order Act (POA) for organising a public assembly to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Operation Spectrum without a permit, which took place on 3 June 2017 from about 5 pm to 7 pm on a train along the North-South Line;
- Section 3 of the Vandalism Act for affixing two A4-sized sheets of paper on a panel in a train, with the sheets containing the messages ‘MARXIST CONSPIRACY? #notodetentionwithouttrial’ and ‘JUSTICE FOR OPERATION SPECTRUM SURVIVORS #notodetentionwithouttrial’. This occurred on 3 June 2017 from about 5 pm to 7 pm; and
- Section 180 of the Penal Code for refusing to sign the statement made by him to the Police in regards to the incident on 3 June 2017. This happened on 19 June 2017.
Two other charges were taken into consideration in the court’s sentencing, namely:
- Section 16(1)(a) of the POA, for organising without a permit a public assembly to commemorate the impending judicial execution of Prabagaran a/l Srivijayan on 13 July 2017; and
- Section 180 of the Penal Code for refusing to sign his own statement on 13 September 2017.
At the end of the hearing, District Judge Marvin Bay sentenced Wham to a fine of S$4500 or 18 days of imprisonment in lieu of the fine for the first charge.
For the second and third charges respectively, Wham was sentenced to a fine of S$1000 or four days of imprisonment in default of the fine and a fine of S$2500 or 10 days of imprisonment in default of the fine.
Judge Bay held that the protest Wham organised could have caused confusion and possibly a degree of anxiety among other passengers, particularly with the blindfolds and the act of holding books and mounting placards.
The judge, however, noted that the signs were removed and did not cause damage to public property other than their transient presence.
He also highlighted that Wham had pleaded guilty to the charges without proceeding with a full trial as he did in the previous offence.
Wham, who is represented by lawyers from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, chose to serve jail for the first two charges and opted to pay the fine of S$2500 for the third charge.
The prosecutors, in submitting their case to the court, said that Wham is a repeat offender and sought heavy penalties in fines for his role in planning the event in June 2017 — an event that could have caused massive disruption to the public transport system — to deter him from committing further offences.
Defence lawyer, Johannes Hadi stood to present mitigating factors to Wham’s sentencing, as he had pleaded guilty to the charges in good time.
He added that Wham has been cooperative and courteous throughout the whole proceedings, noting that the event he was charged for had been a peaceful incident with no disruption to public order and no damage to public property.
Seeking a mitigated sentence, Wham said that the participants took great care to ensure that those who were participating in the assembly would alert organisers to any disorder that would happen and disperse. There was also no intention to cause any disruption via the protest.
“Though I am pleading guilty to these offences, I am not ashamed of what I have done,” said Wham.
Pointing to some former Internal Security Act detainees nabbed during Operation Spectrum in 1987 who were present in court on Monday, Wham said that these survivors had been arrested and tortured while held in custody without trial.
“Till this day, they haven’t seen any justice,” the civil rights activist said.
Addressing the event he organised for Prabagaran, a Malaysian man who was handed down the death penalty for drug trafficking, Wham regrets that the Singapore government continues to conduct judicial executions on socio-economically disadvantaged individuals who are only seeking to earn more money for a better life.
“There is a lot of injustice in this country,” said Wham, while stressing that his public assemblies merely aim to raise awareness of issues of such importance without any intention to cause public disruption.
Wham later challenged the prosecutors’ argument that the event on board the MRT train could have been escalated by commuters even if protestors had taken actual care, branding the argument weak.
Using an example of events organised by businesses, such as Hello Kitty sales held by McDonald’s, where actual fights did happen, he pointed out that despite such outcomes, no one would say that McDonald’s has committed an offence for organising an illegal public assembly.
Wham emphasised that the participants have ensured that they would disperse if non-participants observed any signs of disorder, which would have meant that there was no way that the worst-case scenario painted by the prosecution would have happened.
In a written statement to the media, Wham. said that he refuses to pay the fines for the public assembly and vandalism to “protest against a system which criminalises a non-violent, peaceful assembly, and laws such as the Public Order Act and the Vandalism Act which make a mockery of our democracy”.
This is the third offence for which Wham has been prosecuted and found guilty.
In January 2019, Wham was fined S$3,200 for organising an event titled ‘Civil Disobedience and Social Movements’ featuring Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong without a permit.
Wham chose to serve 10 days’ jail instead of paying S$2,000 for the illegal public assembly offence.
However, he paid S$1,200 for refusing to sign a police statement.
In April 2019, he was fined S$5,000 for contempt of court after publishing a Facebook post alleging that Malaysia’s judges were more independent than Singapore’s in cases with political implications.
There are two other charges under POA that Wham is currently facing, which will be stood down as Wham is contesting the charges.
The aforementioned two charges are for taking part in a public assembly without a permit in front of the Toa Payoh Police Station where he held a placard with a smiley face and the other being holding a sign in front of the State Courts that read “Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa”.
Previously, Wham has stated that he was only momentarily present at the two locations to take photographs with the respective signs.