To read Article 14 of the Constitution of Singapore – Freedom of speech, assembly and association, you may click HERE (Singapore Statutes Online, 2019).
The Public Order Act (Chapter 257A) is an Act to regulate assemblies and processions in public places, to provide powers necessary for preserving public order and the safety of individuals at special event areas, to supplement other laws relating to the preservation and maintenance of public order in public places (Singapore Statutes Online, 2019).
A permit is required for any assembly or procession of 1 or more persons in any public place or to which members of the public in general are invited, induced or permitted to attend, intended: (a) to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person;
(b) to publicise a cause or campaign; or
(c) to mark or commemorate any event (Singapore Police Force, 2019).
24 allegedly illegal public assembly sagas in Singapore (2007 – 2019)
From foreigners importing their domestic politics or expressing work related grievances, to Singaporeans demonstrating support or unhappiness over socio-political matters in both the local and regional domains, individuals have been working around the system by seeking innovative means of dissent which may constitute as illegal public assemblies. To see how far one tries to push the boundaries of legal statutes, its indeed a risky gamble to take in Singapore where “protesting” is limited to a Speaker’s Corner at a Park called Hong Lim…
#1 Candle light vigil at Burmese embassy
Dates of candle light vigil: Somewhere between September – October 2007
Myanmar citizens in Singapore take part in a candlelight vigil against the military crackdown in Myanmar, in front of the embassy of Myanmar in Singapore.
#2 Protest of Singapore’s trade ties with Myanmar’s ruling junta
Dates of outdoor protest: October 2007 (Four-man protest and one-man protest respectively carried out on 2 different dates)
Singapore police mentioned a total of five SDP supporters had staged an unlawful demonstration in the park facing the main entrance of the Istana.
#3 Student protestors at the ASEAN Submit
Date of outdoor protest: 19 November 2007
Three students near the venue of the 13th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) wore red T-shirts and held candles, protesting against Asean’s lack of response against the Myanmar junta’s September crackdown on its largest anti-government demonstrations, which killed more than 100 people, according to the United Nations.
Another batch of students – Ms Muzaffar and two fellow students walked hand-in-hand down Singapore’s main shopping street Orchard Road, wearing red T-shirts saying ‘We pursue peace, justice and democracy for Burma,’ in red T-shirt.
#4 40 Myanmar citizens standing protest at Orchard Road
Date of outdoor protest: 20 November 2007
40 Myanmar citizens held a large banner reading: “Listen to Burma’s Desires, Don’t Follow Junta’s Order” as they gathered at Singapore’s main shopping area on the Orchard Road strip.
#5 Tak Boleh Tahan Protest
Dates of outdoor protest: 15 March 2008 and 9 August 2008
15 March 2008: A group of activists who protested outside the Parliament House had been charged with two offences: participating in an assembly as well as a procession without a permit in a public place. The 18 protesters were part of the Tak Boleh Tahan! campaign protesting against the crushing high cost of living in Singapore.
9 August 2008: The six members and supporters of SDP were convicted for being part of an illegal assembly. They had gathered in front of a block in Toa Payoh on National Day to campaign against high ministerial salaries, the goods and services tax and the cost of living in Singapore.
#6 Two-man Protest outside Ministry of Manpower (MOM)
Date of outdoor protest: 12 January 2009
2 individuals – Seelan Palay and Chong Kai Xiong had entered the premises of the MOM to stage a protest against the non-renewal of the work permits of some Myanmar nationals. They defied orders from MOM’s security personnel to leave the premises. The Police were then called in for assistance against their trespass. The Police arrested them and are investigating them for the offence of criminal trespass. The two have since been released on bail.
#7 Bangladeshi Migrant Workers assembly outside MOM
Dates of outdoor assembly: February 2009 (50 workers and 100 workers gathered respectively on 2 separate dates)
A group of around 50 Bangladeshi migrant workers gathered outside Singapore’s labour ministry on Friday, urging the government to give them work and retrieve overdue pay after they were laid off by shipping firms. Fifty workers also gathered at the ministry earlier in the same month.
#8 Outdoor protest tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi
Date of outdoor protest tribute: 18 March 2009
Three local activists went to the Myanmar embassy and unfurled a banner saying “Long Live Aung San Suu Kyi” before leaving eight orchids dedicated to her. This was to denounce the Singapore’s government then decision to honour visiting Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein by naming a new orchid strain after him.
#9 US animal-rights activist one-man protest in a chicken suit at KFC outlet
Date of intended protest: 11 June 2010
Edward Basse, a Manila-based campaigner for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said he was whisked away in a police car after he arrived by taxi outside the restaurant. Jason Baker, PETA’s regional director based in Hong Kong, said Basse was a vegetarian outraged by KFC’s allegedly cruel practices against chickens. “He made a decision that a voice needs to be given to the animals that KFC abuses,” said Baker.
#10 Crawford Bridge poster-waving lady
Date of protest: 23 March 2012
Carrying a poster, a woman climbed to the top of an arch on Crawford Bridge near the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore (ICA) Building at Lavender. The 59-year-old Chinese female was seen wearing a cape-like attire – which looked like a Hong Kong flag – and seen waving a poster from time to time.
The handmade poster she carried had Chinese characters written on it complaining of authoritarianism. According to ST, she also claimed to be royalty and said that she had been mistreated.
#11 Merlion Park public assembly against the Malaysian election results
Dates of public assembly: 8 May 2013 and 11 May 2013
The police have taken action against 55 people involved in the illegal protest at Merlion Park on 8 May 2013 following the Malaysian general election earlier that month. The Ministry of Home Affairs said that 49 were administered conditional warnings to stay crime-free and six issued with verbal advisories.
On 11 May 2013, a group of 21 Malaysians staged an outdoor protest at the Merlion Park. This was despite earlier Police advisories that such gatherings are against Singapore’s laws. They were subsequently placed under arrest in relation to the incident.
#12 2 man protesting outside Istana regarding free speech
Date of outdoor protest: 4 April 2015
Police have arrested two men for holding up placards outside the Istana, allegedly for organising a public assembly without a permit. They were protesting the Government’s supposed repression of free speech.
#13 100 over SMRT China bus drivers refusal to show up for work
Date drivers stayed at quarters instead of showing up for work: 26 November 2012
The 100 over drivers had refused to show up for work as they had work related grievances e.g. salary, work, living conditions. The protest began before dawn, when workers at the company’s rented dormitory in Woodlands Sector 1 refused to start their morning shift. More workers travelled from another dormitory near Serangoon Garden to join the sit-in by mid-morning. Later, some who were on the afternoon shift also joined in.
Gao Yue Qiang, 32, Liu Xiangying, 33, and Wang Xianjie, 39, served six-week sentences for instigating an “illegal strike”, while 32-year-old He Jun Ling, who faced two charges, was jailed for seven weeks.
#14 2 Chinese Crane Protestors due to owed outstanding salaries
Date of protest: 6 December 2012
Two migrant Chinese Crane Protesters were sentenced to 4 weeks imprisonment for ‘criminal trespass. The protest were carried out as they had claimed that outstanding salaries were owed to them.
#15 Double-event allocation – “CPF protest” sharing of space with “YMCA charity carnival” which led to unwarranted clash
Date of protest: 27 September 2014
Six people, including activist Han Hui Hui and blogger Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, who took part in a Hong Lim Park protest which allegedly disrupted a charity carnival held in an adjacent lawn – were charged for public nuisance. Han and Ngerng were additionally charged with allegedly organising a demonstration without approval.
#16 2 individuals kneeling down at Bendemeer Road
Date of kneel down assembly: 24 August 2015
The couple had gone to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Services Centre at Bendemeer Road at around 9am that day. They wanted to enquire if Yang could get a $6,000 refund which she had paid an agent in China before coming here to work.
When a customer service officer informed them that the ministry could not help her to get the refund, the couple proceeded to the foyer and knelt. They held a piece of paper written in Chinese stating that Yang had been cheated by her agent in China and requested help from the relevant departments of MOM to help get a refund of the fees.
Subsequently, three MOM staff ushered them to an interview room. As a settlement could not be reached, the couple then proceeded to the pavement near the bus stop outside the MOM Services Centre and knelt again with the same piece of paper. They were seen to be crying.
Security staff persuaded them to return to the interview room again. There, another round of discussion was held, including talking to Yang’s local agent, who was asked to go the MOM centre. When the couple heard that only half the amount of fees could be refunded, Bao told his wife not to waste their time but to “carry out Plan B”. They left and knelt down on Bendemeer Road in the midst of oncoming traffic.
As they were posing great risks to themselves and motorists, MOM security officers tried to persuade them to move away from the road but they refused to budge. Security officers had to divert traffic. Subsequently, the couple were pulled off the road and taken back to the MOM Services Centre. The duo from China were each sentenced to five weeks’ jail from criminal trespass at MOM building.
#17 “Civil Disobedience and Social Movements” Indoor Event
Date of indoor public assembly: 26 November 2016
Civil rights activist Jolovan Wham had organised an event called “Civil Disobedience and Social Movements” without a permit (was advised by the police beforehand to do) at an indoor venue. It featured local and foreign speakers like, freelance journalist Kirsten Han, activist Seelan Palay, and Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who spoke via a video call.
Later during police investigations – when an investigating officer took his statement, Wham confirmed it to be true and correct but refused to sign it, unless given a copy. He was also informed that his refusal to sign it would be an offence. The officer then recorded two cautioned statements from Wham, who signed them after being told he would receive copies.
He would serve the default sentence of 16 days’ jail instead of paying the $3200 fine – for organising a public assembly without a permit, and for refusing to sign a statement he gave to the police on the case.
#18 MRT public assembly – 1987 Marxist Conspiracy
Date of MRT public assembly: 3 June 2017
Police are looking into an alleged protest on board an MRT train after a police report was lodged about the event. The event was staged to protest against detentions under the Internal Security Act which took place in 1987.
Twenty-two people were arrested during Operation Spectrum that year for allegedly plotting a Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the Government. The blindfolded activists held up a book titled 1987: Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On, which was launched in May 2017 by those detained under Operation Spectrum.
#19 Peaceful vigil outside Changi Prison Complex
Date of outdoor vigil: 13 July 2017
The group had held a vigil outside the prison for 29-year-old Malaysian Prabagaran Srivijayan, who was convicted of importing 22.24g of heroin into Singapore and hung at dawn on 14 July 2017. The police are investigating 17 people, including civil society activists, over whether they committed the offence of participating in an illegal assembly.
#20 32 Years: The Interrogation of A Mirror Public Performance Art Piece
Date of outdoor performance art piece: 1 October 2017
Artist and activist Seelan Palay had obtained a National Parks Board permit for his performance, which restricted the event to Speakers’ Corner in the park. However, he ventured out from Hong Lim Park to the National Gallery and then to Parliament House as part of the performance art piece. Police arrested him mid-way as he was carrying out his performance.
He was jailed for two weeks after refusing to pay a $2500 fine imposed for being part of a public procession without a permit.
Seelan declared in his testimony in court that he “did not address anyone, nor instruct anyone to follow” him to the places outside the park and that his performance art piece was “peaceful at all times” and “a work of art that is open to interpretation”.
#21 5 South Korean women protestors at St Regis
Date of protest: 11 June 2018
During the day, the women were spotted near Capella Hotel on Sentosa – the venue of the US-North Korea summit – where they unfurled banners to promote their cause, police said. They were later seen near Shangri-La Hotel with protest placards and were warned to leave the area. They were eventually arrested along Tanglin Road at about 9.10pm.
“During the engagement, they refused to cooperate with the police, became rowdy and started to shout. Despite police’s repeated warnings, the group continued shouting and were subsequently arrested,” police said. The women also “struggled” and were “uncooperative” during the arrest, police added.
“The police, in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, have administered a stern warning to the five South Korean women who were arrested under the Public Order Act on 11 June 2018,” police said.” Their visit passes were cancelled, and they have been repatriated to the Republic of Korea,” they added.
#22 Serial protestor Yan Jun
Dates of protest: 8 convictions within a period 2 years between 2016 – 2018
Yan has staged multiple protests against what he has alleged is a “corrupt” judiciary, as well as accused Mr Lee and retired High Court Judge Chao Hick Tin of being involved in a purported conspiracy involving Singapore Armed Forces Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles seized by Hong Kong in 2016.
In 2016, Yan staged protests outside the Istana and near the Supreme Court. In 2017, he protested outside the US embassy and the British High Commission, as well as at Raffles Place, the heart of the CBD, at lunch hour. He did not obtain a permit for the protests.
#23 Published photograph by Reuters journalists – #FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo
Date of photograph taken : 3 September 2018
A group of about 30 Reuters journalists were photographed holding placards outside their headquarters at 18 Science Park Drive. The picture was tweeted on by Reuters Asia‘s social media editor Aurindom Mukherjee. The tweet said the Reuters Asia Pacific Headquarters in Singapore “stand with them and call for their immediate release”.
About nine of them were holding papers with the words #FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo. It was to show solidarity with the two journalists convicted of breaching the Official Secrets Act in Myanmar.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who have been in prison since December 2017, were arrested for reporting on the alleged killing of 10 Rohingya people by soldiers and Buddhist villagers in Rakhine state. Both of them were sentenced to seven years’ jail.
The police in Singapore has said that it is aware of the photo, according to The New Paper. A police spokeswoman said the police would engage Reuters over the picture.
Reference: Protest by Reuters journalists in S’pore attracts police’s attention (Mothership.sg, 7 September 2018)
#24 Jolovan Wham’s photograph – “Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa.”
Date of photograph taken: 13 December 2018
Wham took a picture holding a piece of paper titled ‘Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa’ outside the state court. He posted it on his social media page on the same day.
According to the police:
“The State Courts is gazetted as a Prohibited Area under the Public Order Act, with stricter security protocols.” “He was well aware that a police permit was required for such an event. Still, he went ahead to protest outside the State Courts on Dec. 13, 2018.” Police also cited Wham’s prior public order related offences, and said it reflected “a pattern of Wham’s wilful disregard for Singapore’s laws”.
..The current investigation is for a photo I had taken on December 13 and has nothing to do with the human rights day event I tried to obtain a permit for. For the police to mention my application of this event together with the photo I took on December 13 is misleading.
..My intention was to take a picture to post on social media to show my solidarity with the two men. If it was meant to be an outdoor protest, I would not have left immediately after the photo of me was taken.
The police also told the media that I have a ‘wilful disregard of Singapore’s laws’. What is more accurate is that the government shows a blatant disregard for the rights of citizens to assemble peacefully as guaranteed under our constitution.
Moreover, as the photograph clearly shows, I was the only person holding up the sign. To characterise my act as an assembly is to defile the English language for political ends. The Oxford dictionary defines an assembly as a ‘group of people gathered together for a common purpose’
Singapore cannot call itself a developed nation and a democracy if it continues to crack down on peaceful acts where even a photo op is criminalised. The Public Order Act was enacted in 2009 for the purpose of preserving public order and the safety of individuals. It is mind boggling that investigations for this were initiated and my personal mobile phone was confiscated for an action which did not cause any harm.
..The police is a purveyor of #fakenews and the mainstream media just parroted their press release without checking in with me. What is common in my years of working with the mainstream media here is that the editors will find it difficult to publish a story if the government’s perspective is not included. But in a story like this, they are happy to proceed with the government’s view without clarifying with me. Because in an authoritarian regime, the government is always right.
And there you have it! The collated list of 24 allegedly illegal public assembly sagas in Singapore for the past 12 years which I could find from the online media.
With our ever-evolving technological, artistic, and socio-political landscape, how will the dynamics of both illegal and legal public demonstrations e.g. nature of public expression towards political dissent on companies, political figures, and institutions – evolve over the next 12 years in our little red dot? And what impact may this have on the authorities, legislation, and citizens in regards to the act of public assembling?
Featured image: Yahoo News