Activist Jolovan Wham fined $8,000 over protest on MRT trains three years ago

This is Jolovan Wham's second conviction for organising a public assembly without a permit and for refusing to sign his police statement.
This is Jolovan Wham's second conviction for organising a public assembly without a permit and for refusing to sign his police statement.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Civil rights activist Jolovan Wham was fined a total of $8,000 on Monday (Feb 15) after he pleaded guilty to three charges over an illegal public assembly held on MRT trains more than three years ago.

The gathering of nine people was held to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Operation Spectrum - an internal security operation in 1987 that ended with the detention of 22 activists in what the Government called a Marxist conspiracy.

During their rides on northbound and southbound trains, which went on for about two hours on June 3, 2017, the protesters put on blindfolds fashioned from trash bags and held up copies of a book about the operation.

Wham and another protester also placed sheets of paper, printed with messages protesting the detentions, on their laps.

He later uploaded photographs of the gathering in social media posts.

Wham, 41, was fined $4,500 for organising the assembly without a permit, $1,000 for vandalising a train by pasting two sheets of paper with printed messages onto a panel, and $2,500 for refusing to sign a statement he gave to the police on the case.

He told the court through his lawyers from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP that he intends to pay the $2,500 fine but will go to jail in lieu of paying the fines for the illegal assembly and vandalism charges.

He started serving the default term, totalling 22 days, immediately. Stern warnings were issued to the other protesters.

This is Wham's second conviction for organising a public assembly without a permit and for refusing to sign his police statement.

In 2019, he was fined a total of $3,200 over an indoor event he organised in 2016 that featured Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong delivering a speech via a video call.

On Monday, district judge Marvin Bay noted in his sentencing remarks that there was a degree of escalation from Wham's previous offence.

"The escalation is pronounced in the prolonged nature of his offending of some two hours, which involved the described activities on a number of MRT trains on different lines," said the judge.

Judge Bay said while there was largely no "demonstration of belligerence or overt antagonism" on the part of the protesters, their actions would have caused "confusion, consternation and possibly a degree of anxiety among MRT commuters".

However, the judge added: "I am mindful that the protesters did remove their signs, did not cause damage to property and left no mark other than their transient presence (on the train)."

Prosecutors had sought a total fine of at least $9,500, arguing that Wham's "recalcitrance and continued disobedience of the law must be met with a sufficiently deterrent sentence".

In written submissions, deputy public prosecutors Ng Yiwen and Dillon Kok said the use of MRT trains could have caused public order issues. "Such public facilities are not meant to cater to the accused's mode of civil disobedience and social media publicity stunts," they said.