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Activist Jolovan Wham chooses 22 days’ jail over fine for holding illegal public assembly on MRT train

SINGAPORE — Civil rights activist Jolovan Wham was fined S$8,000 on Monday (Feb 15) for organising an illegal public assembly on an MRT train in 2017.

Activist Jolovan Wham chooses 22 days’ jail over fine for holding illegal public assembly on MRT train

Jolovan Wham arriving at the State Courts on Feb 15, 2021.

  • Jolovan Wham, 41, paid only S$2,500 out of his S$8,000 fine
  • He told reporters that he did so in order to “protest against a system which criminalises a non-violent, peaceful assembly”
  • He pleaded guilty to holding a public assembly without a permit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Operation Spectrum
  • He faces two other pending charges, also for allegedly holding illegal assemblies

 

SINGAPORE — Civil rights activist Jolovan Wham was fined S$8,000 on Monday (Feb 15) for organising an illegal public assembly on an MRT train in 2017.

However, the 41-year-old paid only S$2,500 for refusing to sign a police statement relating to the case. He opted to serve the default jail term of 22 days for his other offences, as he did for a previous similar conviction.

The former executive director of migrant worker group Home pleaded guilty to one charge each of vandalism, holding a public assembly without a permit under the Public Order Act, and refusing to sign a police statement.

The demonstration was meant to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Operation Spectrum, in which 22 people were arrested for allegedly plotting a Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the Government.

Wham and eight others, all Singaporeans, wore blindfolds on the North-South Line while holding up the book “1987: Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy 30 years on”. It had been released the previous month.

Wham shared photographs of the illegal protest on his Facebook page. Photo: Social media

Wham then shared photos of the group on his Facebook page, which circulated online.

On Monday, District Judge Marvin Bay considered two other charges, related to a separate illegal public assembly that Wham held outside Changi Prison Complex the following month, in sentencing Wham.

He had held a candlelight vigil for the execution of convicted drug trafficker Prabagaran Srivijayan.

WHAT HAPPENED

The court heard that Wham mooted the idea of the MRT train gathering on May 21 in 2017, during the launch event for the book on Operation Spectrum. Wham gave a speech there.

The book contains essays and content from 36 contributors, including some who were detained under the Internal Security Act in 1987.

Wham and the others who eventually participated gathered at the train platform of Marina South Pier MRT Station on June 3, 2017. They were all dressed in black.

Wham handed out copies of the book and distributed pieces of black trash bags to the others, demonstrating how to use the plastic strips to blindfold themselves.

They boarded a train, sat in a row and held up their books at face level. Wham and another man, Mr Sean Han, also placed an A4-sized sheet of paper on their laps.

Wham’s read: “JUSTICE FOR OPERATION SPECTRUM SURVIVORS #notodetentionwithouttrial” while Mr Han’s read: “MARXIST CONSPIRACY? #notodetentionwithouttrial”.

Later, they took a northbound train at Yio Chu Kang MRT Station and repeated their actions. One of them, Ms Kokila Annalamai, fielded questions from members of the public and distributed bookmarks, while another took photos of the assembly.

They soon took another train along the North-South Line that had only standing space. They stood in a row and held up copies of their book, with Wham affixing the two pieces of paper onto a panel in the train.

Wham posted photos of their demonstration on his Instagram and Facebook pages.

On June 9, 2017, the police asked for him to help with investigations. He went to the Police Cantonment Complex 10 days later and gave a statement, but refused to sign it when a police officer asked him to.

HAS PREVIOUS CONVICTIONS AND OTHER PENDING CHARGES

The prosecution asked for a S$9,500 fine, saying that his “recalcitrance and continued disobedience of the law” warranted a sufficiently deterrent sentence.

In January 2019, Wham was fined S$3,200 for organising an event, titled Civil Disobedience and Social Movements, which featured Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong making a speech. The High Court dismissed his appeal against the conviction late last year.

He chose to serve 10 days’ jail instead of paying S$2,000 for the illegal public assembly offence, but paid S$1,200 for refusing to sign a police statement.

In April 2019, he was fined S$5,000 for contempt of court after publishing a Facebook post alleging that Malaysia's judges were more independent than Singapore's in cases with political implications.

Last November, he was the subject of another two charges under the Public Order Act, including for taking part in a public assembly without a permit in Toa Payoh. He is said to have held up a piece of cardboard with a smiley face drawn on it.

On Monday, he turned up in court sporting a T-shirt with a similar smiley face.

He told the court in mitigation that he was “not ashamed” of what he did and did not intend to cause any public disturbance.

“My public assembly is just to raise awareness for important national issues… I plead guilty but I believe my conscience is still clear,” he added.

In a written statement to the media, he said that he would not pay the fines for the public assembly and vandalism in order to “protest against a system which criminalises a non-violent, peaceful assembly, and laws such as the Public Order Act and the Vandalism Act which make a mockery of our democracy”.

His lawyers, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam and Mr Johannes Hadi, had sought a lower fine of S$6,400, saying that the assembly was peaceful and Wham did not damage public property.

For his second conviction of holding an illegal public assembly, Wham could have been jailed for up to six months or fined up to S$10,000, or both.

For vandalism, he could have been jailed for up to three years or fined up to S$2,000. For refusing to sign a police statement, he could have been jailed for up to three months or fined up to S$2,500, or both.

Related topics

court crime Jolovan Wham illegal assembly

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