Activist Jolovan Wham fined $3,200 for organising illegal assembly and refusing to sign police statement

Civil rights activist Jolovan Wham was found guilty of the two offences last month after contesting them in a trial that began in October last year.
Civil rights activist Jolovan Wham was found guilty of the two offences last month after contesting them in a trial that began in October last year.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - Civil rights activist Jolovan Wham was fined $3,200 on Thursday (Feb 21) for organising a public assembly without permit in 2016 and for refusing to sign a statement he gave to the police on the case.

Wham's lawyer told the court that the social worker, 39, will serve the default sentence of 16 days' jail instead of paying the fine.

He also indicated that Wham would be appealing against the judge's decisions. Wham is now out on $8,000 bail.

The prosecution had asked for a fine of not less than $2,000 for organising the assembly without a permit, and another fine of not less than $1,200 for refusing the sign the police statement.

In their submissions, deputy public prosecutors Kumaresan Gohulabalan and Nicholas Wuan said there was an "absolute dearth of valid mitigating factors" in Wham's case.

"The accused has portrayed an entire lack of remorse, and had claimed trial to the two charges despite the clear evidence against him. It must be emphasised that the accused's refusal to comply with the police's directions constitutes a wilful disregard for the law," they added.

Wham was the former executive director of  Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, a migrant worker advocacy group. He was found guilty of the two offences last month after a trial that began in October last year.

He was found guilty of organising an event called "Civil Disobedience and Social Movements" without a permit at the Agora, an indoor event venue, on Nov 26, 2016.

The event featured speeches by freelance journalist Kirsten Han, activist Seelan Palay and Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who spoke via a video call.

Despite being advised by a police officer to apply for a permit before the event, Wham did not do so. The police started investigations after the event, and Wham recorded his statement at a police station about a month later.

 
 
 

When an investigating officer took his statement, Wham confirmed it to be true and correct but refused to sign it, saying he would do so only if he was given a copy.

Despite being told that refusing to sign the statement was an offence, Wham persisted and said it was his "personal practice" to sign a statement only if he would get a copy.

The officer then recorded two cautioned statements from Wham, who signed them after being told he would receive copies.

According to the Criminal Procedure Code, the accused must be given copies of the cautioned statements, but there is no rule requiring them to be given copies of witness statements.

In Wham's mitigation on Thursday, his lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam asked the court to consider the legislative intention behind the Public Order Act, which the first charge came under. He said the particular law was to address the threat of violence and anti-social behaviour in society.

Mr Thuraisingam said the event did not cause any disturbance or danger to public order or safety of individuals, and that it was held in an indoor space that was more or less insulated from the public.

He said: "No member of the public who was not already a willing and consenting participant of the event was even aware that the event was taking place; let alone inconvenienced, disturbed or put in any form or physical danger."

He added that Wham was a first-time offender, and was cooperative during the course of the investigations and at trial.

Additionally, Wham faces two other sets of charges for organising other public assemblies without permits and refusing to sign police statements, along with one count of vandalism. The charges are still pending.

The other public assemblies that Wham allegedly organised include a vigil outside Changi Prison Complex in July 2017, ahead of the execution of a drug offender, and a silent protest on MRT trains on the North-South Line in June the same year.

In October last year, Wham was found guilty of contempt of court over a Facebook post he put up alleging that Singapore's courts are not as independent as Malaysia's on cases with political implications. The case has been adjourned for sentencing.