Jolovan Wham appeals conviction, sentence over event featuring speech by Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong

Jolovan Wham appeals conviction, sentence over event featuring speech by Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong

Jolovan Wham and Joshua Wong composite photo
Jolovan Wham (left) is on trial for allegedly organising a public assembly without a police permit, where Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong spoke. (Photos: AFP)

SINGAPORE: Social worker and activist Jolovan Wham took to the High Court on Friday (Oct 4) to appeal his conviction and sentence over a public assembly he organised three years ago.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Justice Chua Lee Ming reserved judgment.

Wham, 39, had been fined S$3,200 for organising the event, which featured a live speech via Skype by Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, and for refusing to sign a police statement.

Wham said at the time that he intended not to pay the fine and would instead serve 16 days' jail in default.

On Friday, defence lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam urged the court to acquit Wham or lower his fines.

He argued that the public event, titled Civil Disobedience and Social Movements, was not a public assembly as defined in the Public Order Act and instead was merely a discussion.

He also said the trial judge was wrong to find that the relevant section in the Criminal Procedure Code made a police officer legally competent to require a person to sign an incriminatory statement, and that refusing to sign it is a crime.

"It can only be an assembly if the discussion was to publicise the cause," said the lawyer.

EVENT FEATURED SPEECHES ON CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

Wham had gone ahead with the event at the Agora in Sin Ming Lane on Nov 26, 2016, despite the police telling him that he needed a permit for it as Mr Wong is a foreigner.

The event featured speeches by activists Kirsten Han and Seelan Palay, as well as a speech via Skype by Mr Wong, and was to discuss issues "relating to civil disobedience and democracy in social change".

READ: Jolovan Wham found guilty of organising public assembly without permit, refusing to sign police statement

READ: Jolovan Wham fined for organising public assembly without permit, chooses to go to jail instead

They shared personal accounts of their experiences as activists, a broad overview of political culture in Singapore and Hong Kong's future in China, followed by a question-and-answer session, said Mr Thuraisingam.

He reiterated that Wham had refused to sign his statement to the police as he was told he would not get a copy of this, and was practising what he preached as he advocated for migrant workers to sign only what they can get copies of.

Mr Thuraisingam argued that the event was merely a discussion and was not publicising a cause.

Justice Chua grilled both sides on their submissions, repeatedly asking Mr Thuraisingam why he said there was no cause involved in the event and questioning Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan about the definition of "social change", a term in the charge.

Turning to Mr Thuraisingam, he said: "So when someone says, here's one theory on how things may be done and let me elaborate on how it can be used in Singapore, why are you saying this person is not advocating the use of that theory?"

"I would say she's just discussing the possibility of how that theory may be used, and it's an academic discussion," answered the lawyer. "She's not saying we should all go and try out this theory on Saturday. I think there's a difference."

Speaking about Hong Kong activist Wong's speech, in which he described his experience in Hong Kong, Mr Thuraisingam said he did not see how it necessarily promoted any cause.

"He didn't say - I think Singaporeans should do the same. He never said that," he added.

JUDGE QUESTIONS LAWYER ABOUT WHAT WHAM SAID

The judge then questioned him about words that Wham used during the event.

Wham had referred to the Pink Dot event held annually at Hong Lim Park and said that there was a certain way "we do our activism" in Singapore.

"We don't seem to like confrontational civil disobedient types", Wham had said, asking "how do we get there?". 

"Why would anybody ask how do we get there unless he's asking how should we get there?" asked the judge.

The lawyer replied it could be that Wham wanted to "get there", but that he was merely throwing up his view for discussion and not advocating or pushing for a particular cause.

After hearing the defence's arguments on why Wham did not sign the police statement, Justice Chua said that if everyone refuses to sign their statements, the police cannot use them.

"How are the police going to do any investigations?" he said.    

The prosecution said the form of the assembly was not relevant. It could take the form of a discussion, but what was important was whether underlying it was publicity of a cause or campaign, he added. 

When the judge asked what exactly the cause was, the prosecutor said it was "to promote the role of civil disobedience and democracy in social change".

Justice Chua then asked him to define social change. The prosecutor said it could mean a number of things and was not possible for the prosecution to define in this context. 

"How can you bring a charge and tell me you don't know what it means?" asked the judge.

After a hearing that spanned two-and-a-half hours, Justice Chua reserved judgment. 

The judgment will be released at a later date.

Source: CNA/ll(hs)

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