Activist Jolovan Wham advised to get police permit for indoor event involving foreign speaker, court told

Jolovan Wham is said to have organised the event to publicise the cause of "civil disobedience and democracy in social change". PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Civil rights activist Jolovan Wham, 38, was advised by the police to get a permit for an indoor public assembly featuring a foreign speaker - who spoke via video call - three days before the event, but did not do so.

These details emerged on Monday (Oct 1), the first day of Wham's trial where he is contesting charges against him for allegedly organising the public assembly on Nov 26, 2016, without permit and for refusing to sign a statement he had made at a police station.

The indoor event was open to the public and saw freelance journalist Kirsten Han and activist Seelan Palay delivering speeches, as did Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-Fung, who gave a speech remotely via a video call that lasted 119 minutes.

Taking the stand, deputy superintendent (DSP) Lee Ting Wei, who had taken Wham's statement on Dec 20, 2016, said the event's Facebook page had shown there were 7,600 people invited and 366 had indicated interest to attend.

Wham, the former executive director of migrant worker advocacy group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, was charged in court last November for a total of seven counts. He is currently a social worker with the Community Action Network.

In addition to the contested charges, Wham faces two sets of charges for organising other public assemblies without permits and refusing to sign police statements, along with one count of vandalism. However, they will be stood down for the time being.

The other public assemblies 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 along the North-South Line in June 2017.

Court papers said on Nov 23, 2016, then-assistant superintendent (ASP) of police Gideon Manaseh contacted Wham to advise him to apply for a permit under the Public Order Act for the November 2016 event, which was publicised on Facebook.

But Wham did not apply for a permit and knew that no such permit was granted for the event at The Agora on the third storey of Midview City in Sin Ming Lane.

Two days after, a police report was lodged by then-senior station inspector (SSI) Eddie Thia of the police's Compliance Management Unit, and investigations were commenced by DSP Lee, who was then an ASP.

DSP Lee told the court that on Dec 20, 2016, Wham had affirmed his recorded statement taken on the same day to be true and correct, but refused to sign it after finding out he would not get a copy of it.

Wham had said it was his "personal practice" to only sign a statement he would get a copy of, said DSP Lee, who added that he advised Wham that refusal might constitute an additional charge.

Section 180 of the Penal Code states that any person who refuses to sign a statement he makes, when required to sign it by a public servant, can be jailed for up to three months, fined up to $2,500, or both.

During cross-examination, Wham's lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam had charged that DSP Lee threatened Wham by telling Wham he would be charged if he did not sign it.
But DSP Lee said he had "merely informed" Wham that he might be charged and maintained that he did not threaten Wham.

The second prosecution witness DSP Manaseh, who was then an ASP, said he contacted Wham three days before the event to ask if he had applied for a permit.

Based on public and police information, DSP Manaseh said he knew a foreign speaker was slated to speak during the event.

Upon inquiring, Wham said he had not applied for a permit and DSP Manaseh advised him to do so, adding that it could be done online.

According to DSP Manaseh, Wham had said he would speak to his co-organiser, identified as Zeng Ruiqing in court papers, and get back with an answer.

DSP Manaseh told Wham he would call back in an hour, but no one picked up the three calls the officer made after.

In his line of questioning to all three witnesses who took the stand - including then-SSI Thia - Wham's lawyer Mr Thuraisingam asked if they knew of any disturbance to public order or had concerns for the safety of individuals in relation to the event.

All three said they had no knowledge of such a disturbance or safety concerns.

The trial is expected to resume on Tuesday and end on Wednesday.

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