SINGAPORE: A 48-year-old man was fined S$1,000 on Thursday (Feb 4) for defacing a People's Action Party (PAP) poster during the elections last year, in the first prosecution of its kind.
In mitigation, Lim Song Huat said he had not specifically targeted the PAP poster, but could not reach the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) poster that was above it.
Lim blamed his actions on stress and his own "stupidity".
He pleaded guilty to one charge of defacing an election poster under the Parliamentary Elections (Election Advertising) Regulations. Another two similar charges were considered in sentencing.
The court heard that Lim, a part-time security guard, left his Woodlands home on the morning of Jul 3 last year to buy 4D tickets.
He was on his way home after this when he walked past the PAP posters displayed underneath posters for SDP. Each poster cost S$10, the prosecutor said.
At 9.53am, he picked up a stone from the road and tried using it to tear a poster bearing an image of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, but was unsuccessful.
He then used his hands to peel the poster from the backing, causing more than half of it to be removed and destroying the poster. He also used a black pen to draw a horizontal line across another poster and tore a third poster, in charges taken into consideration.
The next morning, a police report was filed saying that two posters were vandalised and another adjusted along the service road of Woodlands Street 13, behind Marsiling Secondary School.
Closed-circuit television cameras captured Lim carrying out the acts, and he was arrested.
DEFACING ELECTION POSTERS IS "UTTERLY UNACCEPTABLE": JUDGE
Deputy Public Prosecutor Selene Yap asked for the maximum fine of S$1,000, saying the offences were "incredibly hard to detect" as the posters were placed in public areas across Singapore.
"As your honour is well aware, election campaigns are highly regulated in Singapore," she said. "It takes place over a short period of time, and putting up of posters in public places is highly regulated. There is a limit to the amount of posters parties can put up, and the time they can put it up for."
She said this background was important as Lim's actions "deprive candidates of the ability to present themselves to the electorate".
Lim, who was unrepresented, asked for a lighter sentence, saying it was his first offence and citing his "stupidity" and "stress at work".
"Because of stupidity influence from my colleague, that's why I do this stupid thing," he said. "I also sent an email to the PAP side to do volunteer work as well."
Asked by the judge why he was stressed, Lim said: "Because I am pure Singapore citizen, I'm born in Singapore ... sometimes, whether it's elections or non-elections, sometimes the people's opinion is like - you vote PAP also same. It's like we don't have the talented people."
He acknowledged that the MPs in his area "have done a good job" and installed "a lot of facilities".
"You know whether it's PAP, SDP, Workers' Party, we don't have the talented people there," Lim said. "So sometimes as a member of public, we are worrying that maybe in two years' time, five years' time, what will happen to Singapore to progress. So sometimes out of frustration, you want to pour out the frustration, that's why."
He added that he did not only want to destroy the PAP poster.
"Actually that day we have (SDP) poster, but because (I) couldn't reach," he said. "I'm not only against PAP. It's because of frustration. The voice in my head - my colleague (said) - you want to vote PAP or SDP."
The judge said this was the first prosecution under the particular segment in the Parliamentary Elections Act, and the court must send a clear message that damaging, destroying or defacing election posters is "utterly unacceptable".
"While a person might hold strong political views, this should be expressed through their votes at the ballot box or by other legally sanctioned means," he said.
For defacing an election poster, he could have been jailed for up to a year, fined up to S$1,000, or both.