Parliament Sidelights: 'When is it fine to get signatures in public for petition?' Amrin Amin asked

The issue surrounding the signing of petitions stemmed from an incident where police told sociopolitical website The Online Citizen they could not have public signings without a permit, but did not step in over a separate public petition. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - When is it all right to gather signatures in public for a petition and when does it cross the line?

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC)'s attempts to get answers on this issue on Monday (Feb 5) were sidestepped by Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin in Parliament, who asked him to file a separate Parliamentary question to get a comprehensive response.

Mr Singh noted that the police did not intervene when signatures for a petition for an alternative location for the historic Sungei Road flea market were gathered in public without a permit at the market last year. But other instances of such public petition signings drew a different response.

Mr Singh's question comes after sociopolitical website The Online Citizen (TOC) cancelled a move to gather signatures in public at various MRT stations last month, for a petition seeking the live telecast and full screening of Parliament sittings.

The cancellation came after the police informed the website that having the signings at MRT stations without a permit would violate the Public Order Act.

In an earlier Parliamentary question, Mr Singh asked if the police would favourably consider an application to collect signatures for the purposes of a parliamentary petition on any given matter in a public place. He also asked how, and at which public venues other than Speakers' Corner, could citizens legally make arrangements to sign a parliamentary petition.

In response, Mr Amrin said that those who wish to hold such events outside the Speakers' Corner will have to apply for a police permit, and that a police permit is not required for public assemblies at the Speakers' Corner which meet the conditions set out in the Public Order (Unrestricted Area) Order 2016. Such conditions include not involving foreigners or discussing race and religion.

Mr Singh then further probed Mr Amrin on whether he can share details about how the police exercises its discretion on how the Public Order Act is applied when it comes to the issue of how signatures for petitions are collected in public, making reference to signings for the Sungei Road petition.

Mr Amrin said that instances on when a permit is required and when a permit is not required is clearly set out in the provisions under the Public Order Act. "The police will generally act on information received and conduct investigations before deciding on what action to take," he added.

- Parliament Sidelights is an occasional blog on what goes on in the House.

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