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Gilbert Goh held placard to raise concern over Covid-19 situation, not to promote a cause: Defence lawyer

SINGAPORE — Activist Gilbert Goh Keow Wah had photos of himself taken while holding a placard in front of a government building in May last year to express concern over the Covid-19 public health situation and not to publicise a cause, his lawyer argued in court on Monday (May 30).

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.

Singapore

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  • The trial of activist Gilbert Goh opened on May 30
  • Goh has pleaded not guilty to one charge each of taking part in a public assembly without a permit and refusing to sign a police statement
  • Defence counsel Lim Tean argued that his client held a placard outside a government building to express concern over the Covid-19 situation, not to publicise a cause
  • Mr Lim also said a charge against Goh was "defective" because it did not state the exact location of the alleged assembly

SINGAPORE — Activist Gilbert Goh Keow Wah had photos of himself taken while holding a placard in front of a government building in May last year to express concern over the Covid-19 public health situation and not to publicise a cause, his lawyer argued in court on Monday (May 30).

On the first day of Goh's criminal trial, defence counsel Lim Tean of Carson Law Chambers told District Judge Luke Tan that he would be advancing this argument in written submissions to be filed in court on Tuesday.

Mr Lim also put forward the argument as he was cross-examining a legal student who had filed a police report over the incident that gave rise to the charges.

Goh, 60, has pleaded not guilty to one charge each of taking part in a public assembly without a permit and refusing to sign a police statement.

Called by the prosecution to the stand on Monday as well were Mr Daryl Sim Pei Xuan, a public affairs consultant who took the photos for Goh, and the investigating officer in charge of the case.

WHAT HAPPENED

Goh is accused of staging a protest near the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) 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." He did so at three spots in the vicinity of the ICA building and later posted photos of this on his Facebook account.

His alleged protest happened soon after the Government barred some visitors from India from entering Singapore in response to a surge in Covid-19 cases there.

Court documents stated that he allegedly took part in a public assembly to publicise a cause to persuade the Government to ban all flights from India.

Organising or taking part in a public assembly requires a police permit in Singapore, but Goh did not have one.

After the authorities began investigating him, Goh was said to have refused to sign a police statement he made at the Bedok Police Division headquarters on May 11. This is the basis for the second charge that he is facing.

'CANNOT ANSWER FOR GILBERT GOH’S INTENTION'

Law student Lee Ryan from the Singapore Management University testified that he filed a police report after he came across Goh’s post on his Facebook feed on May 1.

During examination by Deputy Public Prosecutors (DPPs) Yohanes Ng and Andre Chong, Mr Lee told the court that he did so because he thought Goh’s act was “probably in contravention of the law”, referring to the Public Order Act. 

Referring to the wording on the placard, Mr Lim repeatedly asked Mr Lee whether or not he could see that Goh was expressing his concern over the Covid-19 public health situation, to which the witness said that he was in no position to answer.

Turning to a phrase Mr Lee had written in his police report — "protesting a particular cause" — Mr Lim asked him to identify the cause to which he was referring.

“The cause in concern is how Mr Goh propagated the need to ban all flights from India,” Mr Lee said.

Mr Lim countered: “I put it to you that it is not a cause. It is to make the public aware.”

PHOTOGRAPHER, POLICE INVESTIGATOR CROSS-EXAMINED

Earlier on Monday, Mr Sim, 31, was called as the prosecution’s first witness.

He told the court that he had known Goh for about five years, and they had met every now and then but stopped meeting each other after May 1 last year, when he helped Goh to take the photos at the latter’s request.

Asked by DPP Chong if Goh had told him before they met what the subject of the photographs was to be, why he had asked him for help or what he intended to do with the photos, Mr Sim replied thrice: “No, I don’t think so."

Mr Lim pressed Mr Sim repeatedly on whether he was the one who suggested to Goh to take the photos near the ICA building, to which Mr Sim said that he could not remember.

When Assistant Superintendent Soh Chee Keong, the investigation officer in charge of the case, took to the stand, Mr Lim questioned him on the way the charge sheet was written and how the statement-taking process was conducted.

Mr Lim described the charge sheet as “defective”, “bad” and “unfair to the accused” because it did not state the precise spot Goh had conducted an unlawful public “assembly”, noting that the charge did not use the plural form "assemblies". The officer disagreed.

Mr Lim questioned why it took an hour to type out the three-page statement, adding that “you must have had to ask many questions, right?”.

The police officer replied: “If Mr Goh gave his account and I found that I have no further questions, I wouldn’t have asked a lot of questions.”

Mr Lim then asked if the officer agreed that a layman would be concerned if they were asked to sign something in a police station without the presence of their lawyers.

“Yes I do agree. But... if a layman read through and understood, they would sign the statement,” he replied.

Asked by the judge on whether the defence will be making a submission, Mr Lim said that he would, based broadly on two issues: That Goh did not act to publicise a cause, and that the illegal public assembly charge was vague and fundamentally flawed.

District Judge Tan instructed both parties to submit their written submissions by noon on Tuesday and for the court to reconvene at 3pm that day.

Related topics

Gilbert Goh ICA Building protest illegal assembly lim tean crime court

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