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Activist Gilbert Goh gets 3 days' jail after declining to pay fine for refusing to sign police statement

SINGAPORE — Activist Gilbert Goh Keow Wah was fined a total of S$3,200 by a district court judge on Friday (Aug 19) for taking part in a public assembly without a permit and refusing to sign a police statement.

Gilbert Goh Keow Wah arriving at the State Courts on May 30, 2022.

Gilbert Goh Keow Wah arriving at the State Courts on May 30, 2022.

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  • Activist Gilbert Goh was given a S$3,200 fine for taking part in a public assembly without a permit and refusing to sign a police statement
  • Goh told the court he would pay only the S$2,000 fine for his public assembly charge
  • He did not give a reason for not wanting to pay the fine for refusing to sign a police statement
  • He will serve out the default jail term of three days instead

SINGAPORE — Activist Gilbert Goh Keow Wah was fined a total of S$3,200 by a district court judge on Friday (Aug 19) for taking part in a public assembly without a permit and refusing to sign a police statement.

However, the 60-year-old will be paying only S$2,000 — the penalty for his public assembly charge.

He opted to serve the default jail term of three days for his other offence.

He did not give a reason for not wanting to pay the remaining fine. The default jail term for the S$2,000 fine was seven days so he would have faced 10 days' jail had he declined to pay both of them.

It was not immediately clear if Goh started serving his jail term on Friday.

Goh pleaded not guilty to the two offences, went on trial on May 30 and was convicted by District Judge Luke Tan on July 26.

The offences were related to a protest Goh had staged near the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority building next to Lavender MRT Station on the morning of May 1 last year.

The court heard that Goh held up a placard that read in capital letters: “Please ban all flights from India we are not racist! Just being cautious." His action came amid rapidly rising cases of Covid-19 around the world, including in India.

After the authorities began investigating him, Goh refused to sign a police statement he made at the Bedok Police Division headquarters on May 11.

‘THREAT TO SINGAPORE’S SOCIAL FABRIC’

In delivering his submissions for Goh’s sentence on Friday, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Andre Chong said the man had admitted during his trial that one of the main reasons for his holding up of the placard, and later posting on social media about it, was to stir up resentment towards foreigners.

The prosecutor, who sought a fine of between S$3,700 and S$4,200, described this as an attempt to drive a wedge between Singaporeans and those of foreign origin.

Offences involving such threats must be firmly and resolutely dealt with since Singapore’s social fabric and community relations are the bedrock upon which peace and progress in Singapore are founded.
DPP Andre Chong
“Offences involving such threats must be firmly and resolutely dealt with since Singapore’s social fabric and community relations are the bedrock upon which peace and progress in Singapore are founded,” said DPP Chong.

Moreover, DPP Chong said Goh had also admitted during the trial that he knew that a police permit was required to conduct his protest, but he “did not bother applying for one”.

“He knew that his actions contravened the law. Despite this, he belligerently reiterated that he did not regret his actions and that he would rather go to jail,” said the prosecutor.

DPP Chong said Goh had also plainly intended to spread his divisive message as widely as possible by posting photos of his act on Facebook, an act the prosecutor said “heightens” Goh’s culpability.

The prosecutor said Goh’s Facebook posts gained substantial traction, resulting in a combined total of 8,569 likes, 3,573 shares and 1,473 comments.

As for the offence of refusing to sign a police statement, DPP Chong said Goh claimed that the investigating officer “lacked competency” and threatened to charge him, even though the former was never put to the officer during cross-examination and the latter was revealed to be Goh’s “own interpretation” of events.

UNFAIR CHARACTERISATION

In pleading for a lighter sentence for his client, Mr Lim Tean of Carson Law Chambers said the prosecution had “quite unfairly” tried to paint Goh as someone out to perpetuate divisiveness and stir up resentment against foreigners.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Mr Lim, who sought a fine of not more than S$1,500.

The lawyer also cited the charitable work Goh has done, such as founding the non-governmental organisation Transitioning, to help both the unemployed and the under-employed.

“He has been the main advocate of bringing relief to the homeless in Singapore… and on weekends, he delivers food to elderly and those living in subsidised housing in Chinatown,” said Mr Lim.

“This is not a person who is out to foment trouble or to create divisiveness. His whole life, his whole work, is about inclusiveness.”

On Goh’s decision to hold the protest, Mr Lim said his client was concerned that flights from India were still being allowed to land in Singapore “at a period when… that part of the world was experiencing an explosion of Covid cases”.

Said Mr Lim: “Can we say that these fears were not prophetic? What later happened with the explosion of Covid cases in Singapore proved that his fears were genuine.

“He was trying to raise awareness. He was trying to advise the Government not to allow the flights to continue coming into Singapore.”

In sentencing, District Judge Tan said even if Goh had genuine concerns about matters of public health, how he chose to express them “should not be ignored”.

Any action that may create tension and resentment between different groups in society…must be frowned upon and discouraged,
District Judge Luke Tan

“Any action that may create tension and resentment between different groups in society… must be frowned upon and discouraged,” he said.

GOH DENIES HE IS ANTI-FOREIGNER

Goh was then given permission by the judge to address the court after Mr Lim indicated he would serve the three-day jail term for one of the fines.

Highlighting the supporters who showed up, including blogger Leong Sze Hian, Goh said they included people of different nationalities including two Japanese nationals and a Hong Kong citizen.

Goh had earlier raised his arm in salute to his supporters as he walked into the dock at the start of his hearing.

“Your Honour, I just want to reiterate that I don't take lightly to being branded as anti-foreigner,” he said, adding that he has done work in the Philippines, Indonesia and the Middle East.

“Why would I help them if I’m anti-foreigner, or racist?”

He then went on to repeat several arguments that Mr Lim had already raised before he was cut off by the judge.

Addressing his supporters in an Instagram post earlier on Friday, Goh said there was “nothing much to say now except to seek for your prayer support” once he is in prison.

“As a Christian, I read that even Jesus was jailed before so it's a solace to know that,” he wrote.

“People always associate prison with bad negative stuff but sometimes it's not true for everyone. It can be a place of new discovery, enlightenment and renewal.”

Goh's decision to opt for a jail term rather than pay a fine mirrors a move by fellow activist Jolovan Wham, who last year chose to spend 22 days in jail rather than pay a fine for holding an illegal public assembly on an MRT train.

For taking part in a public assembly without a permit under the Public Order Act, Goh could have been fined up to S$3,000.

As for refusing to sign a police statement, he could have received a jail term of up to three months or a fine of up to S$2,500, or both.

Related topics

courts crime Gilbert Goh unlawful assembly ICA Covid-19

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