Activist Jolovan Wham convicted over unlawful assembly outside former State Courts building

Jolovan Wham arriving at the State Courts in February last year. He has been found guilty of an offence under the Public Order Act. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Activist Jolovan Wham has been convicted over an unlawful assembly at the steps to the main entrance of the former State Courts building in Havelock Square around 9am on Dec 13, 2018.

On Friday (Jan 7), District Judge Eugene Teo found the 42-year-old Singaporean guilty of an offence under the Public Order Act after a trial.

The judge said: “I found that it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Wham’s actions that morning did constitute an assembly, and there was more than enough evidence to conclude that he ought reasonably to have known that the assembly at that area was prohibited.”

The State Courts is gazetted as a prohibited area under the Act, with stricter security protocols in place.

In 2018, Wham was there to attend a court hearing for a criminal defamation case involving The Online Citizen (TOC) editor Xu Yuanchen, better known as Terry Xu, and TOC contributor Daniel De Costa Augustin.

Before entering the building, Wham stood on the steps holding a piece of paper with the sentence "Drop the charges against Terry Xu and Daniel De Costa" printed on it.

Closed-circuit television camera footage screened in court during an earlier proceeding showed that Wham held up the sign for about 15 seconds while a woman photographed him.

Two passers-by were shown walking past Wham while he held up the sign, but they did not stop to look at him.

Wham then put the sign in his bag and entered the building. Shortly afterwards, he posted the photo on his public social media accounts.

The photo was reposted on the HardwareZone forum later by a netizen, and a member of the public then lodged a police report anonymously, citing the forum post.

During the trial last year, deputy public prosecutors Jane Lim, Niranjan Ranjakunalan and Nikhil Coomaraswamy called seven witnesses to the stand, including three police officers who had served as investigating officers on Wham's case at different times since 2018.

The officers testified that Wham had previously applied for a police permit to stage a one-man assembly outside the State Courts building at 9pm on Dec 9, 2018, but was turned down.

Wham did not apply for a permit to hold a public assembly on Dec 13.

During the trial, his defence team said that he was simply posing for a photo and was not staging a protest or a public assembly outside the former State Courts building that day.

One of his lawyers, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, said: "It does not constitute an offence under the (Public Order Act) because it's not an assembly. It's a photo-taking session, to put things simply."

During the lawyer's cross-examination, the police officers testified that Wham's actions on Dec 13, 2018, did not pose a threat to public order and that he did not disturb anyone or do anything to call attention to himself.

The witnesses also agreed that having a photo taken outside the court building is not, in itself, an offence.

However, Wham's holding of the sign would still constitute an offence even if no photo had been taken, said Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Pek Shun Fu, who was the second investigating officer on the case.

The officer said: "While he did not specifically draw anyone's attention, I still note that there were passers-by walking around, and there is a possibility that they could have seen what happened. I could not rule out that possibility."

In convicting Wham on Friday, Judge Teo said: “Any claim that he was being prosecuted for merely taking a photo would be intentionally misleading – rather, this case was for his demonstrating his opposition to the actions of the Attorney-General’s Chambers in prosecuting Mr Terry Xu and Mr Daniel De Costa by publicly holding up that sign in that area which he knew was prohibited.”

Wham is expected to be sentenced in February.

In unrelated cases, Xu, 39 and De Costa, 38, have since been convicted of the charges against them.

In November last year, they were each convicted of one count of defaming Cabinet members.

District Judge Ng Peng Hong also found De Costa guilty of an offence under the Computer Misuse Act.

De Costa had penned a letter that defamed Cabinet members and sent it from an e-mail account of his friend, Mr Sim Wee Lee.

The letter was titled PAP MP Apologises To SDP. It was sent to TOC from Mr Sim's Yahoo account in September 2018.

The court heard that the letter stated, among other things, that there was "corruption at the highest echelons" of the People's Action Party leadership.

The sociopolitical website then published the letter with the title, The Take Away From Seah Kian Ping's (sic) Facebook Post, and attributed it to Willy Sum, a name sometimes used by Mr Sim.

The cases involving Xu and De Costa have been adjourned for a pre-trial conference on Jan 17.

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