Activist guilty of holding illegal public assembly

Jolovan Wham organised an event in 2016 entitled "Civil Disobedience and Social Movements", featuring speeches by freelance journalist Kirsten Han, activist Seelan Palay and Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong.
Jolovan Wham organised an event in 2016 entitled "Civil Disobedience and Social Movements", featuring speeches by freelance journalist Kirsten Han, activist Seelan Palay and Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong.

Jolovan Wham also found guilty on second charge of refusing to sign police statement after the 2016 event

Activist Jolovan Wham was found guilty yesterday of organising a public assembly without a permit and refusing to sign his statement at the police station after the event.

The verdict marked the conclusion of his trial, which began in October last year, after Wham contested the two charges laid against him in November 2017.

District Judge Kessler Soh found that the prosecution, led by Deputy Public Prosecutors Kumaresan Gohulabalan and Nicholas Wuan, had proven beyond reasonable doubt that Wham, a social worker, was guilty of the two offences committed in late 2016.

Court documents showed that Wham organised an event entitled "Civil Disobedience and Social Movements" at indoor event space The Agora in Sin Ming Lane 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 for the event, Wham did not do so. Investigations began after the event ended, and Wham recorded his statement at a police station on Dec 20.

After learning that he would not be given a copy, Wham refused to sign it, Deputy Superintendent of Police Lee Ting Wei told the court.

Defence counsels Eugene Thuraisingam and Suang Wijaya argued that the requirement for a permit breached Wham's constitutional right to freedom of assembly and speech, and that the event did not qualify as an assembly. The lawyers said it was a discussion of general academic interest and did not seek to publicise any specific cause.

 
 

They further argued that Wham was not legally compelled to sign the police statement as it was "self-incriminatory".

But the DPPs said there was no basis that requiring a permit would breach Wham's constitutional right. That argument is vague and misconceived, they added.

It was also clearly evident from his event's title that Wham had sought to publicise a cause, said the DPPs. The speakers at his event urged the public to consider the role of civil disobedience and democracy in building social movements for progress and change, the DPPs told the court.

The prosecution also argued that the investigating officer was legally competent to require Wham to sign the statement.

District Judge Soh agreed and said Wham's refusal to sign the statement was unjustified. He threw out the defence's other arguments. "I do not find the defence has raised any valid defence," said Judge Soh.

Wham faced four other similar charges and another count of vandalism, which have been stood down for now. He is out on bail and will be back in court later this month for his mitigation and sentencing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2019, with the headline 'Activist guilty of holding illegal public assembly'. Print Edition | Subscribe