Court dismisses application for Healing the Divide’s Iris Koh to celebrate Chinese New Year with family
SINGAPORE: The High Court has denied a request for Iris Koh, the founder of Healing the Divide group that has a known stance against COVID-19 vaccination, to spend Chinese New Year with her family.
On Monday (Jan 31), the court dismissed an application from her lawyer, Mr Clarence Lun of Fervent Chambers, to reverse Koh’s no-bail condition set by the State Courts last Friday. The application also sought to grant the 46-year-old “temporary release” from remand.
It is Koh’s husband’s “sincere hope” to be able to spend Chinese New Year with her, Mr Lun told CNA.
In his judgment, High Court judge Justice Vincent Hoong said there was “no legal basis” to grant a temporary release from remand. Moreover, the High Court’s revisionary powers to set aside the district judge’s orders for no bail should be “sparingly exercised”.
Koh is currently warded at Singapore General Hospital, and will be remanded again once she is discharged.
FAMILY TIME FOR ‘EMOTIONAL STRENGTH’
Mr Lun argued that given his client’s health condition, Koh should be allowed to spend time with her loved ones to “gain emotional strength”.
“Against the fact that we’re approaching Chinese New Year and where any accused who is in remand will probably require some family support, and what (better time) other than during this festive season to spend time with family to gain that emotional strength and then to carry on with the investigations?”
Having previously been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, Koh “probably requires some rest and family support to better recover and further assist police in their investigations”, said Mr Lun.
“We’re not saying that my client is not suitable for investigations. But what are the conditions that are best imposed and that best fit (her) interest and public interest? … For someone who has been suffering (from) suspected psychosis and hypothyroidism, what is the mental and emotional state for them to assist the police?”
Mr Lun added that evidence is “unlikely to be obtained” during the Chinese New Year period, and said the prosecution had not “set out to explain how evidence is likely to be obtained during this period of remand, taking into account (Koh’s) health conditions”.
He also said the prosecution hasn’t explained why and how Koh’s release would affect public interest, as there is “no evidence that my client will tamper with evidence if she’s released on bail”.
The lawyer then proposed to the court that Koh could report to the police from Friday (Feb 4) onwards during the working hours of 9am to 6pm, excluding weekends.
He suggested that as a further condition, the court could impose non-communication between Koh and the relevant parties who have been identified in investigations to allay any doubts on tampering of evidence.
Mr Lun also said that Koh’s passport had been impounded, so she isn’t a flight risk.
'PATTERN' OF UNCOOPERATIVE BEHAVIOUR
In response, the prosecution argued there is “no merit” for the two assertions by the defence: First, that Koh was medically unfit to cooperate with investigations, and second, that she would cooperate with investigations.
“Thus far, she has not been cooperative with investigations and contributed to the delay,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor Jiang Ke-Yue.
Mr Jiang highlighted that Koh had been assessed by several doctors to be medically and “mentally” fit for investigations. He added that the latest email updates from the investigating officer to Koh’s husband stated that while Koh requires a medical procedure for her hypothyroidism, this would be done in two to three weeks' time when her thyroid hormone level has stabilised.
Details of Koh’s “pattern of behaviour that shows her determination not to cooperate” from the day of her arrest were also presented in court by Mr Jiang.
For instance, she complained of anxiety and panic attacks when she was arrested on Jan 21, but refused to be referred to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). Yet she was able to understand the statement read out to her and sign the document with “no issue”.
When the charge for her remand was made on Jan 23, Koh requested to be referred to IMH for anxiety.
The following day, she requested to lodge a police report against the investigating officer. The request was acceded to by the police, and the reporting process took two hours because “she had a lot of things to say”, said Mr Jiang.
The day after that, despite complaining of discomfort and being assessed by a doctor who recommended that she be referred to IMH again, she refused. After dinner that day, the investigating officer printed out her written statement for her to read and sign as she did previously — but this time, she tore up the statement.
Koh, who was first charged with one count of conspiring with doctor Jipson Quah to cheat the Ministry of Health (MOH) into believing that people were vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine, received a more serious charge of criminal conspiracy to give a false representation to MOH on Friday.
She is now accused of being party to a criminal conspiracy with Quah between July 2021 and January 2022. This new charge is punishable by up to 20 years' jail, a fine, or both.
When Koh’s amended charge was handed to her in hospital on Friday in the presence of “an appropriate adult”, she “scolded vulgarities”, the court heard from Mr Jiang.
The accompanying person was “so afraid” by Koh’s outburst that they didn’t sign the memo either, said Mr Jiang.
Mr Jiang also told the court that the police have been “accommodating, providing medical attention where necessary”.
He added that it is “speculative” on the defence lawyer's part that no headway will be made on investigations during the Chinese New Year period.
“If Ms Koh cooperates over the next few days, we should be able to make some headway … We should be on track for her release on Feb 4.”
Mr Jiang added that the other two co-accused, doctor Jipson Quah and his assistant Thomas Chua, have been cooperating with investigations and arrangements have been made for their release.
As Mr Jiang was reading out his submissions, Koh could be seen over Zoom raising her hand, shaking her head, and mouthing the word "no", but the judge ignored her.
'APPALLING ACCOUNT OF BELLIGERENCE'
In his judgment, Justice Hoong said he held the view that there was "no error made" by the district judge who ordered Koh's remand.
"Based on the prosecution’s submissions concerning the complexity, necessity and urgency of the application, the district judge was wholly entitled to exercise her discretion to grant the said order for remand. I am also of the view that no grave and serious injustice has been occasioned to the applicant by the judge's order," he said.
He also agreed with the prosecution that it was precisely Koh’s efforts to “frustrate and impede the investigations” that contributed to the need for this further period of remand.
These efforts were captured by the investigating officer’s “appalling account” of Koh’s “belligerence, obstructive behaviour and lack of cooperation" since her remand began on Jan 23.
He further agreed with the prosecution that Koh’s promise to cooperate with investigations “rings hollow”, considering her “consistent attempts to impede investigations”.
“(She) has also displayed a blatant disrespect for the investigative and court processes by tearing up her charge and statement and disrupting court proceedings. The consequent delays to investigations are no doubt caused by her active and deliberate attempts to frustrate those very investigations,” said Justice Hoong.
“I accordingly place no weight on her bare promise of cooperation.”
Justice Hoong also said that even though the situation remains “fluid”, Koh had been assessed to be fit for discharge on Monday. She was also assessed to be “medically fit to be interviewed and thus fit for investigations”.
He acknowledged that she was, however, scheduled for a biopsy in two to three weeks' time.
In response, the defence said Koh’s husband requested to visit her in the hospital during her period of remand, but the prosecution replied that “there is no basis for such visitation rights”.
The judge agreed with the prosecution, and denied Koh these visitation rights.