Petition on live Parliament telecast: Signings called off

A general view of the Parliament House in Singapore.
A general view of the Parliament House in Singapore.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Public petition signings that were due to take place at various MRT stations on five days have been called off, after police informed the organisers that holding them would violate the Public Order Act.

The public petition, led by sociopolitical website The Online Citizen (TOC), calls for the live telecast and full screening of Parliament sittings. It has gathered about 200 signatures since last month.

TOC had been expecting between 200 and 300 more people to show up at 13 signing sessions - lasting two to three hours each - from Friday (Jan 19) until next Tuesday at MRT stations across the island, including Bishan, Jurong, Boon Lay and Raffles Place.

Mr Terry Xu, 35, TOC's chief editor, said that they cancelled the sessions after the police contacted him on Thursday night and said that it would be illegal to hold such sessions without a permit.

"We were not intending to solicit signatures (from the public), and were just going to collect signatures from those who knew about the petition beforehand and wanted to sign it."

The signing times and locations had been earlier advertised on Facebook.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the police said "such events which publicise a cause or campaign are public assemblies which require a police permit under the Public Order Act".

The police added that they had contacted Mr Xu as they did not receive any permit application for the signings.

Mr Xu said that he intends to apply for a public assembly permit to hold the signings next month.

TOC had intended to contact an MP to submit the petition on its behalf at next month's parliamentary sitting, but that will likely be delayed until the following session.

An online petition on Change.org by a member of the public, which calls for the live streaming of Parliament sessions on YouTube, has also garnered more than 4,500 signatures since last November.

There were instances in the past where signatures for a petition were gathered in public by organisers with no permit, without the police intervening. This includes a petition for an alternative location for the Sungei Road flea market, for which signatures were collected in Sungei Road in February last year.

Lawyer Raphael Louis said that the Public Order Act can be "widely interpreted".

"The police have discretion (over how it is read and applied), and this discretion is something that can be used as and when they deem fit," he said.

The police said Singaporeans who wish to organise similar events may wish to consider using the Speakers' Corner, where a police permit is not required for public assemblies if they meet the conditions set out in the Public Order (Unrestricted Area) Order 2016. These include not involving foreigners or discussing race and religion.