Activist Jolovan Wham fined $3k over unlawful assembly; charge linked to 'smiley face' picture withdrawn

Jolovan Wham was fined over an unlawful assembly at the steps to the main entrance of the former State Courts building in 2018. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Activist Jolovan Wham was fined $3,000 on Friday (Feb 25) over an unlawful assembly at the steps to the main entrance of the former State Courts building in Havelock Square at around 9am on Dec 13, 2018.

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

After a trial, District Judge Eugene Teo had earlier found the 42-year-old Singaporean guilty of the offence under the Act.

Wham's one pending charge under the same Act, linked to a picture of a smiley face, was withdrawn on Friday.

He had been accused of taking part in a public assembly without a permit in Toa Payoh at around 1pm on March 28, 2020, by holding up a piece of cardboard with the picture drawn on it and having a photograph taken of himself.

He had purportedly done so to demonstrate his support for one Nguyen Nhat Minh, who was said to have a snapshot captured at the same location on March 22 that year.

In the photo, Minh allegedly held up a piece of cardboard with the words "SG is better than oil@Fridays4futuresg". Court documents did not disclose the outcome of Minh's case or what was meant by the statement.

On Friday, Judge Teo gave Wham a discharge amounting to an acquittal for this final charge. This means, he cannot be charged again with the same offence.

As for the offence for which he was fined, Wham went to the State Courts in 2018 to attend a hearing over 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.

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 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 served as investigating officers on Wham's case at different times since 2018.

The officers testified that Wham 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 that year.

During the trial, his defence team said he was simply posing for a photo and not staging a protest or a public assembly.

One of his lawyers, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, had earlier 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."

The court heard on Friday that Wham intends to appeal against his conviction and sentence.

In unrelated cases, Xu, 39, and De Costa, 38, have 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 to March 16.

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