Seven of the prosecution’s witnesses took the stand during the hearing for a charge of illegal public assembly against Singaporean civil right activist and social worker, Jolovan Wham on Monday (23 Aug).
Mr Wham is accused of holding a public assembly without a police permit on 23 Nov last year.
He is represented by Mr Eugene Thuraisingam and Mr Johannes Hadi of Eugene Thuraisingam LLP.
The team of prosecutors in this case comprises Ms Jane Lim, Mr Niranjan Ranjakunalan, and Mr Nikhil Coomaraswamy.
According to the statement of agreed facts, the police received an anonymous report on its I-witness platform about a post made on the online forum Hardware Zone.
The post featured Wham’s Facebook post on 13 Dec 2018, which contained photo of himself in front of the State Courts.
In the photo, Wham was seen holding up a piece of paper with words which read, “Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa”.
The charges referred to on the paper pertained to the alleged criminal defamation TOC editor-in-chief Terry Xu and contributor Daniel De Costa were being accused of.
Mr Wham was present at the State Courts that morning to attend a court mention for the case.
The activist held up the piece of paper with his back facing the court entrance. He then made a request to an unknown woman to snap a photograph of him doing so using his mobile phone.
The photo was captured in less than a minute. Mr Wham entered the State Courts at 9.09 am. His actions were captured by a CCTV camera.
Prosecutors highlighted that the spot that Mr Wham stood on was a prohibited area.
They also pointed out that Mr Wham had previously applied for a permit for assembly for a location 15 metres from where he had been standing on 13 Dec.
His permit for the aforementioned event was rejected. Two appeals dated 6 Dec and 9 Dec were then rejected by Ministry of Home Affairs.
The first investigation officer, Inspector Jeremy Fan took the witness stand, testifying that he was the one who had received the First Information Report (FIR) on 13 Dec and directed CCTV footage to be obtained from the State Courts.
Insp Fan was grilled by Mr Thuraisingam over his knowledge on areas classified as prohibited by law, at which he listed the “State Courts, Parliament and High Court”.
He agreed during cross-examination that taking a photograph at a prohibited area is not an offence and that there had been no complaints from the public at the time the photograph was taken.
Footage of the event on 13 Dec was shown in court to Insp Fan and the other witnesses during the cross-examination.
According to the video’s time code, it was shown that:
- 9:08:05 am Wham appears in CCTV footage, walking near the road
- 9:08:44 am Wham walks to the spot where the photo was to be taken
- 9:09:08 am Wham takes a piece of paper out from his bag
- 9:09:10 am Wham poses for a photo
- 9:09:28 am Photograph taken; Wham stores paper into bag
- 9:09:40 am Wham leaves the location
- 9:09:52 am Wham enters the State Courts
While Insp Fan testified that two people passing by might have seen the sign that Wham was holding, he was unable to point out at what point the two individuals could have seen the sign based on the video shown in court when asked by Mr Thuraisingam.
At a point, the prosecution stood up to object to Mr Thuraisingam’s repeated questions on whether Insp Fan had evidence to back his testimony that the two passerbys had seen the sign.
However, the judge allowed the line of questioning, as he felt that the questions were fair and that the witness had not answered the questions directly.
After a lengthy exchange over whether anyone saw what was written on Wham’s sign, Mr Thuraisingam put it to Insp Fan that he was being dishonest, as he gave sworn testimony that the two passerbys saw the sign despite him not having evidence to state that as a fact. Insp Fan disagreed.
During re-examination, Insp Fan reiterated his view that the State Courts is a prohibited area, as there ought to be signs around the area to state that.
Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Pek Shun Fu, who took over the case from Insp Fan and the officer who took Mr Wham’s statement, agreed with Mr Thuraisingam that it is reasonable for people not to be able to answer everything when Insp Fan’s failure to list Istana as one of the prohibited areas under the Public Order Act during cross-examination was raised to him.
When asked if the act of taking a photograph outside of the State Courts is an offence, ASP Pek said that there are many factors that must be considered in the process of determining whether an offence has been committed.
Giving an example where there are no other findings other than the fact that a photo was taken outside of the State Courts, Mr Thuraisingam asked ASP Pek: “As an IO–after all investigations have been completed, nothing else–is that an offence?”
“Just a yes or no to the question. I assure you it is not a trick question,” the lawyer added.
ASP Pek struggled with the answer. “There will be no offence,” he said.
When asked if anyone had looked at the sign, ASP Pek answered that it does not appear that anyone was looking at the sign based on the video footage.
In his re-examination, ASP Pek stressed that it will still be an offence even if Mr Wham was not taking a photo.
ASP Vincent Ang from the Compliance Division testified that Mr Wham did not apply for a permit for his action on 13 Dec, adding that his previous permit had been rejected.
During cross-examination, the officer agreed that it was not communicated to Mr Wham in the email exchanges that the location outside of State Courts is a prohibited area.
Insp Fan, ASP Pek, and the Ops Command Centre Officer who received the FIR, testified that there had been no complaints filed against Mr Wham’s action other than the complaint filed regarding the Hardware Zone forum post.
The security officer who assisted the police in retrieving the CCTV footage also testified that while photo taking is not allowed at the area outside of the State Courts, he is unaware of the specific law that prohibits photo-taking.
He said during his re-examination that it is his responsibility is to prevent anyone from taking photos in the prohibited area.
All prosecution witnesses who were questioned by Mr Thuraisingam about what transpired in the video of 13 Dec morning, testified that Mr Wham was only taking a photo and had not drawn anyone’s attention to his sign based on the video footage.
Mr Wham choose not to take the stand, noting that his lawyers have covered the case well enough.
Mr Thuraisingam noted that the Defence will submit three points, one of which is that Mr Wham’s action does not constitute an offence under the Public Order Act because it was not an assembly and was merely a photo-taking session.
The Defence will also raise a constitutional issue under Article 14 on the freedom of expression and whether the prosecution was brought in good or bad faith.
Parties will be making written submissions to the court on 11 Oct. Replies will be made on 25 Oct. Judgement will be deliver on 22 Nov at 9am at Court 24D.
A person found guilty of partaking in a public assembly without a permit may face a fine of up to S$5,000.
Mr Wham also faces another charge of illegal public assembly for holding up a placard depicting a smiley face at Toa Payoh Central, 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.