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Event 'inspired' by cancelled Yale-NUS College dissent module switched to new venue over licence demand

SINGAPORE — An event “inspired” by the cancellation of a Yale-NUS College module on dissent had to be switched to a different venue after The Substation declined to hold it without a licence — even though the organiser believes the event qualifies for an exemption under the police’s rules.

The organiser of "Protest 101 - Singapore's Style - an indoor forum" originally planned to hold the event at The Substation (pictured) in Armenian Street, but switched venues when The Substation insisted he get a licence that he does not believe is required.

The organiser of "Protest 101 - Singapore's Style - an indoor forum" originally planned to hold the event at The Substation (pictured) in Armenian Street, but switched venues when The Substation insisted he get a licence that he does not believe is required.

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SINGAPORE — An event “inspired” by the cancellation of a Yale-NUS College module on dissent had to be switched to a different venue after The Substation declined to hold it without a licence — even though the organiser believes the event qualifies for an exemption under the police’s rules.

The event, called “Protest 101 - Singapore’s Style - an indoor forum”, was slated to take place on Saturday (Oct 5) at The Substation, an arts venue in Armenian Street, covering topics relating to the challenges involved in organising protests in Singapore.

But The Substation’s management pulled the plug on organiser Mr Gilbert Goh’s proposed booking on Thursday, after repeatedly asking him to obtain a licence.

In the email correspondence between Mr Goh and The Substation seen by TODAY, the arts centre first informed Mr Goh on Sept 25 that he would require “relevant licences” from the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

On Tuesday, The Substation brought up the issue again, this time saying they “would be happy to rent the space” to Mr Goh, 58, a long-time activist, if he was able to acquire a licence — urging him to get started on the process.

The Substation had also objected to Mr Goh advertising the event on Facebook, saying that he should not have done so given that it was a closed-door event which was invitation only.

According to the IMDA website, unless exempted, an Arts Entertainment Licence is required for all indoor or outdoor arts entertainment events, such as plays, music and dance performances, conducted at a place accessible to the public. Mr Goh said his event did not involve any performing arts.

In response to a query from TODAY on whether Mr Goh’s event required a permit, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) said that under the Public Order Act, a permit is not required if it is an indoor public assembly, and where the speakers and organisers are Singaporeans and the topics do not touch on religion or “cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility” between different racial or religious groups here.

An SPF spokesperson added that it had not received any permit application for the event, and that the event would not require one if it met the exemption conditions for the Act.

Mr Goh told TODAY that the event met those exemption conditions, and therefore did not require an SPF licence.

Besides Mr Goh, four other speakers are scheduled to speak at the event. They are: Mr Alvin Tan, the artistic director of theatre company The Necessary Stage, Mr Kumaran Pillai, the owner of alternative news site The Independent Singapore, Mr Terence Tan, an artist, and Mr Benjamin Xue, co-founder of LGBTQ youth support group Young Out Here.

Mr Goh said that all the speakers were Singaporeans and that none of the issues to be discussed involved race or religion.

Mr Pillai, for instance, said that he would be speaking about how laws here could limit media reporting in Singapore while Mr Xue said that he would speak about how his support group engages the community at the annual Pink Dot rally at Hong Lim Park.

INSPIRED BY YALE-NUS MODULE ON DISSENT

Mr Goh was a Reform Party candidate in the Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency in the last elections. He told TODAY that he was “inspired” to organise the event after the cancellation of the Yale-NUS College programme on dissent last month.

The out-of-classroom programme, titled “Dialogue and Dissent in Singapore (formerly titled Dissent and Resistance in Singapore)”, was to be led by playwright Alfian Sa’at.

Shortly before it was due to run on Sept 29, the university cancelled it, saying the proposed itinerary did not align with the learning objectives approved by the curriculum committee.

Yale-NUS College president Tan Tai Yong had told the media that the activities in the programme would infringe on the college’s commitment to not advance partisan political interests on campus and had elements that may subject students to the risk of breaking the law.

Mr Goh said he has held events at The Substation before, such as talks on his humanitarian trips to the Middle East, and was not required to obtain permits or licences.

“So far, we don’t know of any licensing requirements by any authorities and have proceeded with indoor events without any issue from them,” said Mr Goh. “We are afraid this is (The Substation’s) way of sidelining us when a sensitive event is involved.”

Mr Goh said he was also unhappy that The Substation was acting as “a gatekeeper” by asking him to apply for a licence, even though the authorities themselves had not requested him to do so.

“It’s like they are acting on behalf of the authorities. We did a few events at The Substation without any licences before. There is usually no need to apply for any licensing for indoor events unless the authorities intervene,” he said.

SUBSTATION BOOKING ‘NOT CONFIRMED’

In response to TODAY’s queries, The Substation’s general manager Ms Samantha Segar said that while the arts centre had been communicating with Mr Goh about the possibility of holding the event at their space, neither the booking nor the invoice had been confirmed as of Wednesday.

“We are sorry to hear that Mr Goh erroneously informed his guests that this event had been confirmed to take place in The Substation on Oct 5,” she said.

The event, which is free, will now be held at The Agora in Sin Ming Lane, which bills itself as a gathering space for individuals who want “a more open and inclusive Singapore”.

When asked why The Substation had requested Mr Goh provide licences for his event, Ms Segar said: “It is our understanding that Mr Goh has found a venue for his programme on Saturday. We wish him a successful event.”

 

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