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Activist Jolovan Wham fined S$3,000 over illegal assembly for holding sign outside court building

SINGAPORE — Civil rights activist Jolovan Wham was fined S$3,000 on Friday (Feb 25), after he was convicted last month of taking part in an unlawful assembly by holding a sign outside the former State Courts building in 2018.

Jolovan Wham arrives at the State Courts on Feb 25, 2022.
Jolovan Wham arrives at the State Courts on Feb 25, 2022.
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  • Activist Jolovan Wham was found guilty last month, after claiming trial, of holding an unlawful assembly
  • Wham stood outside the former State Courts with a placard that read: "Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa"
  • His lawyers argued that this did not amount to holding an unlawful assembly but the judge disagreed
  • He will be appealing against the conviction and penalty

SINGAPORE — Civil rights activist Jolovan Wham was fined S$3,000 on Friday (Feb 25), after he was convicted last month of taking part in an unlawful assembly by holding a sign outside the former State Courts building in 2018.

Wham’s lawyers, led by Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, told the court that he will be appealing against the conviction and sentence in the High Court. If he ultimately chooses not to pay the fine, he has to serve 15 days' jail.

The former executive director of migrant worker group Home, now aged 42, had stood on the steps of the building’s entrance and held up a piece of paper that read: “Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa”.

He then arranged for a photo to be taken of himself holding up the sign and uploaded it on Facebook with the hashtag #insolidarity.

Xu, the former chief editor of the defunct sociopolitical website The Online Citizen, and De Costa were about to face criminal defamation charges that day for publishing an article alleging corruption within the highest ranks of the Government.

Wham was found guilty after claiming trial to a single charge of assembling in a prohibited area, that is, outside the State Courts. District Judge Eugene Teo ruled that the prosecution had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that his actions that morning constituted an illegal assembly.

His lawyers argued that the act of holding a sign for a few seconds for a quick photoshoot did not cross the threshold required to constitute an assembly. 

The judge disagreed. Wham’s actions “clearly demonstrated his support for the views and actions of Mr Terry Xu and Mr Daniel De Costa, and his opposition to the state in prosecuting them for their actions”, he said.

On Friday, the prosecution asked for the maximum fine of S$5,000 for Wham while his lawyers sought a fine of S$1,500. The offence does not carry an imprisonment term.

Prosecutors said that the photo of the public assembly and Wham's subsequent publicity bore testament to his "blatant disregard and disrespect of the laws of Singapore".

They argued that the maximum fine was necessary to deter him from re-offending and "send the message that his repeated trangressions cannot be condoned".

Wham's defence counsel objected to the prosecution’s reliance on a 2016 case involving a serial protestor, Yan Jun, who was fined S$3,000 for protesting opposite the main gate of Istana Park that year. He had informed the media, Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Supreme Court about this.

Among their arguments, Mr Thuraisingam, Mr Johannes Hadi and Mr Suang Wijaya said that Wham’s act lasted no more than 10 seconds while Yan Jun’s protest lasted a few minutes despite repeated warnings from the authorities.

The defence told the court that the prosecution had failed to show how Wham’s offending was more egregious, and that Wham should not be given a higher fine.

After Wham was sentenced, District Judge Teo granted the prosecution’s application to withdraw his last outstanding charge — taking part in a public assembly without a permit by holding up a cardboard sign with a smiley face drawn on it near the Toa Payoh Neighbourhood Police Centre. He had posted a photo of it online.

Wham turned up in court on Wednesday wearing a face mask with a smiley face printed on it.

In February last year, he was fined S$8,000 for organising an illegal public assembly on an MRT train in 2017.

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.

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 in late 2020.

Xu and De Costa were convicted of criminal defamation in November last year and have yet to be sentenced.

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court Jolovan Wham unlawful assembly

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