City Harvest trial

Supporters queue overnight

Around 70 people, a majority of them City Harvest Church members, were in the queue by 7.15am, when court passes were given out.
Around 70 people, a majority of them City Harvest Church members, were in the queue by 7.15am, when court passes were given out.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

They arrived as early as midnight to stand in line outside the State Courts for a courtroom seat and to show their support for the City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders.

Even after the six leaders were all sentenced to jail and the mood turned grim, CHC members stuck by them and insisted that even if what they did was wrong, they had good intentions.

"We are sad about the sentences. There was never any malicious intent," said a 39-year-old member who had been with the church for 11 years and wanted to be known only as Mr Tan. He had been in the queue since 3am. "The secular system might not really understand the spiritual reasons for the Crossover Project. Our objective was to reach more un-churched people."

Around 70 people, a majority of them CHC members, were in the queue by 7.15am, when court passes were given out.

Defence lawyers presented in court a letter signed by 173 executive members of the church, pleading that their leaders be spared jail, adding that they only overstepped "certain boundaries" in their zeal to attract more followers. It read: "We are the ones who have given through tithes, offerings and building funds. We are still here."

Just after 3pm, as Judge See Kee Oon meted out the jail sentences, the 30 or so supporters who could not get a seat and had to stand outside the courtroom were seen checking their smartphones for updates.

CHC member Michael Griffin, the CEO of a corporate training firm who had been in the queue since 5.30am, insisted that Kong was a "man of integrity" even though he may have made some mistakes.

"The church has done wondrous work in the community, here and overseas," said the 63-year-old.

On the church's Facebook page, its pastors, including Kong Hee's wife Ho Yeow Sun, urged members to "band together" and pray for the six found guilty.

Supporters put up messages asking the six to stay strong, but plenty of others praised the jail sentences with posts such as "serves them right" and questioned why church members were still behind those who had broken the law.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2015, with the headline 'Supporters queue overnight'. Print Edition | Subscribe