Local groups call for greater freedom of expression in light of charges against Jolovan Wham

We are a group of citizens who are deeply troubled by the mounting charges that social worker and human rights advocate Jolovan Wham faces in Singapore courts.

In 2017, six local NGOs issued statements immediately after charges of illegal assembly, vandalism and refusing to sign police statements were brought against Jolovan. These statements, along with a petition signed by 6, 533 people, registered grave concerns about his prosecution, and a call to protect our freedom of expression.

Since then, many regional and international groups have called for the charges against Jolovan to be dropped, condemning them as disproportionate and unjust. Notably, EU parliamentarians,

fifty-two Malaysian civil society organisations, the Office of the United National High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, CIVICUS, International Commission of Jurists, ARTICLE 19, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and Forum Asia have all demanded that the government cease proceedings against Jolovan.

The strength and unity in these voices point to how profoundly the charges against Jolovan violate our shared aspirations for a society where we have the right to assemble, associate, protest peacefully, speak and write freely, and debate difficult issues openly, including with overseas allies or Singapore residents who may be non-citizens. If our expression is only free in Hong Lim Park, it is not free.

Regardless of the many calls to end legal sanctions against Jolovan, the charges against him have mounted, and he is currently being investigated once again by the police for taking a photo holding a piece of paper, alone, outside the State Courts, calling for charges of criminal defamation against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa to be dropped.

The charges against Jolovan concern all of us who live in Singapore. With such severe restrictions on civil liberties, our ability to stand up to injustice and pursue the changes we seek is heavily compromised. We must have the freedom to speak our truths – however disagreeable or inconvenient to the state – and to engage fellow citizens in frank conversations and collective action around shared concerns.

We need to allow for “honest disagreements”, which NMP Walter Theseira recently pointed out is crucial for the health of our society. Laws and regulations that heavily restrict our freedom of expression in the name of public order, foreign interference or contempt of court need to be rigorously reviewed.

The range of urgent human rights and social justice issues that Jolovan has lent his time, energy and voice to is an important demonstration of the ways in which all of our freedoms are connected. Prosecuting Jolovan has grave implications for all Singaporeans. It is an affront to all our freedoms, and in standing up for him, we are standing up for all Singaporeans to live free of fear.

We call upon the state to seriously reconsider the laws under which Jolovan is being prosecuted, and ensure that our constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, speech and association are accorded the protection they deserve.


  1. Arts Engage
  2. ArtsEquator
  3. Beyond the Hijab
  4. CARE: Centre for Culture-Centred Approach to Research and Evaluation (Singapore chapter)
  5. Community Action Network (CAN)
  6. Dance Nucleus
  7. Drama Box
  8. Function 8
  9. HOME (Humanitarian Organization For Migration Economics)
  10. IndigNation
  11. MARUAH
  12. Penawar
  13. Pink Dot SG
  14. Post-Museum
  15. Sayoni
  16. Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign
  17. Singapore Unbound
  18. TheatreWorks Singapore
  19. The Local Rebel
  20. The Online Citizen
  21. The Theatre Practice
  22. Think Centre
  23. soft/WALL/studs
  24. Wake Up Singapore
  25. We Believe in Second Chances