Jolovan Wham fails in appeal over unlawful assembly outside court, chooses to go to jail again
SINGAPORE: Activist Jolovan Wham will be going to jail instead of paying a fine for the third time, after losing his appeals against his sentence and conviction over an illegal assembly outside the State Courts in 2018.
Wham, 42, took to the High Court on Friday (Sep 9) to appeal against his conviction of one charge of taking part in an assembly in a prohibited area under the Public Order Act.
He also appealed against his sentence, which was a S$3,000 fine meted out in February. The jail term in default if he does not pay the fine is 15 days.
Wham's charge was for holding up a sign that read "Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa" outside the State Courts on the morning of Dec 13, 2018.
Terry Xu Yuanchen, chief editor of The Online Citizen, and Daniel De Costa Augustin were charged that day in the State Courts with criminal defamation over an article written for the now-defunct website.
On Friday, Wham turned up in a shirt with a smiley face on it, along with a group of supporters. He had previously been given a discharge amounting to acquittal for holding up a piece of cardboard with a smiley face in Toa Payoh in another demonstration in March 2020.
His lawyer Johannes Hadi posed a question to the court: "Does a person need a permit to take a photo outside the State Courts?"
He argued that when there is "no risk to public order", such an act does not fall within the definition of an assembly under the Public Order Act.
If the appeal against conviction was dismissed, he asked for a lower fine of S$1,500 or five days' imprisonment in default instead.
Deputy Attorney-General Tai Wei Shyong said it was not for Wham to determine whether his activity poses a threat to public order.
He pointed out that Wham's argument that an activity must pose real or potential disruptions to public order before it can be considered an assembly is "fundamentally inconsistent" with Wham's prior permit application.
Before the incident outside the State Courts on Dec 13, 2018, Wham had filed at least eight applications under the Public Order Act for permits to hold assemblies and or processions between 2010 and 2018.
In particular, Wham applied for a permit on Nov 9, 2018, to hold an assembly for Human Rights Day at the Padang on Dec 10, 2018. He later wrote to the police on Nov 21, 2018, saying: "I would like to change the location to 15 metres outside the main entrance of the State Courts on 9 December 2018 at 2100 hrs. Is this ok?"
His permit application was rejected on Dec 5, 2018, with the police telling Wham that he may wish to hold his event at Speakers' Corner.
The fact that Wham applied for a permit means he regarded what he wanted to do as falling within the permit regime, said Mr Tai.
Wham had taken another similar case all the way to the Court of Appeal, essentially challenging the permit regime, said Mr Tai.
"The whole purpose of this is to put the demonstration on social media," he said. "This is the modus operandi that was used in this case and in my view can be used in the future."
He added that "this is essentially what the activists are doing", saying that the reach on social media is relevant when it comes to sentencing.
Justice Vincent Hoong said he was of the view that the appeal should be dismissed, adding that he would provide his reasons at a later date.
Wham confirmed that he has not paid his fine and will instead serve the default 15 days' jail from Friday.
This is the third time Wham is choosing to go to jail instead of paying a fine. The first occasion was in January 2019, when he was fined S$2,000 for organising a public assembly without a permit, in an event titled Civil Disobedience and Social Movements.
The second occasion was in February last year, when he was fined S$4,500 for organising a public assembly without a permit on board an MRT train to commemorate Operation Spectrum.