by Teo Soh Lung
Jolovan Wham pleaded guilty to three charges today:
- Illegal assembly for participating in a peaceful protest in trains using the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy book published by Function 8;
- Vandalism for scotch taping two A4 size paper on the glass pane; and
- Refusing to sign a statement recorded in the course of police investigation.
In mitigation, Jolovan told the court that he felt strongly about the injustices done to survivors of the alleged Marxist conspiracy who were arrested and detained without trial in 1987. Till today, they have not received justice. He said he is not ashamed of what he has done.
Jolovan said that his intention for doing what he did was to raise awareness to injustices. It was never his intention to create public disorder. For that reason, he told those who were merely observers to alert them to disperse as soon as there was any sign of possible disturbance. There was none. All was peaceful.
On the vandalism charge, Jolovan said that the two A4 size paper with the words “MARXIST CONSPIRACY?” and “JUSTICE FOR OPERATION SPECTRUM SURVIVORS”, which were scotch-taped to a glass pane, were removed as soon as they left the train. No damage was caused.
The prosecution was vehement in wanting to extract the maximum punishment, and make an example of Jolovan so as to deter others from following his footsteps. They gave wild scenarios of chaos and disorder that may arise, something which we often hear from government officials.
They demanded the global penalty of $9,500 for the three charges, which in my view is manifestly excessive for three minor offences that caused no harm to anyone or damage to the trains.
The judge imposed a fine of $4500 or 18 days jail for the illegal assembly charge. For the vandalism charge, Jolovan was fined $1000 or 4 days jail, and for refusing to sign the statement, he was fined $2500 or 10 days jail.
Jolovan paid the fine for refusing to sign the statement. He is now serving his prison sentence of 22 days for unlawful assembly and vandalism. He said he would go to jail because he believes that people should have the right to protest peacefully.
Jolovan’s concern for a just society and his willingness to sacrifice his freedom for such a cause is to be admired. He has had two stints of imprisonment before today. He is not afraid of going to jail again.
There is nothing wrong with people like Jolovan but there is everything wrong with a government which sees people who dare to highlight injustices as threats to society rather than threats to its own survival. The Government deceives itself by claiming that it is for the good of the people that peaceful protests are forbidden by laws.
Court 32A was packed with young supporters of Jolovan today. They have witnessed how the judicial system works. They have seen the meanness of the prosecutors. The harshness and irrationality of the law and its administration is not lost on them. They said goodbye to him, and sent him off to jail. No one cried.
But will they lose their respect for a system that sends good people who care for their country to jail? I don’t know.
Mahatma Gandhi, who spent many years in jail, once said:
“I care so deeply about this matter that I’m willing to take on the legal penalties, to sit in this prison cell, to sacrifice my freedom, in order to show you how deeply I care.
“Because when you see the depth of my concern, and how civil I am in going about this, you’re bound to change your mind about me, to abandon your rigid, unjust position, and to let me help you see the truth of my cause.”
Jolovan has shown us what civil disobedience is all about. Will the Government change or will it take many more Jolovans to go to jail before things can change for the better?
This was first published on Function 8’s Facebook page, and reproduced with permission.