Hong Lim Park protest: First of six people charged pleads guilty in court

SINGAPORE - The first of six protesters facing a public nuisance charge for their roles in a Hong Lim Park protest rally on Sept 27 last year pleaded guilty on Monday.

Chua Siew Leng, 43, who does not hold a regular job, was fined $300 by District Judge John Ng, on account of her "very early" guilty plea, her minor role in the protest, and that she has no prior criminal record.

She could have been fined up to $1,000.

The cases against the other five - including bloggers Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, 33, and Han Hui Hui, 23, who co-organised the rally - have been set for a joint trial on June 4 and June 5.

In a mitigation plea, Chua's lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam said that she "has distanced herself from attending such events in the future".

She was one of six people accused of disrupting the YMCA Proms @ The Park charity event for special needs children, which was held in Hong Lim Park at the same time as the Return Our CPF rally.

Deputy Public Prosecutor John Lu told the court that the group "became more emotive" when Mr Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, arrived at Hong Lim Park as guest-of-honour for the YMCA event at about 4.50pm.

Eventually, they marched three times around the general vicinity of the YMCA event, while shouting loudly, chanting slogans, waving flags, holding placards, blowing whistles loudly and beating drums.

"These acts, which lasted until 5pm, disrupted the YMCA event and caused annoyance to members of the public who were attending the YMCA event," DPP Lu said in court.

A complainant - a 20-year-old full-time National Serviceman - called the police at 4.51 pm that day, saying that protesters were "going around the place shouting".

The Attorney-General's Chambers last month rejected an application to withdraw the public nuisance charge against Chua, as well as Janet Low Wai Choo, 55; Goh Aik Huat, 42; and Ivan Koh Yew Beng, 59; in lieu of a stern warning.

The six who were charged were first represented by lawyer M. Ravi. But he has since been suspended from practice following concerns about his mental health.

The cases were then taken up by lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam. But as of Monday, he was only handling Chua's case.

The cases against Han, Low, Goh and Koh have been taken up by Ms Violet Netto, while Ngerng is now represented by Mr George Hwang.

In court on Monday, Mr Thuraisingam said in mitigation that a fine of $300 was appropriate, given Chua's financial circumstances and her minor role in the event.

DPP Lu said the quantum of $300 "would be fair to serve the ends of justice", given the nature of the disturbance and its short duration.

In addition to the public nuisance charge, Ngerng and Han also each face one charge of organising a demonstration without approval, which carries a maximum fine of $5,000.

Their demonstration at the charity event allegedly flouted the law, which states that anyone who wants to organise a demonstration is required to get approval from the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation.

Speaking to reporters after the sentencing, a teary-eyed Chua said that she took a different decision from the other five co-accused because of personal circumstances, and adding that she had told them of her decision.

waltsim@sph.com.sg