Court told that activist's permit for performance was restricted to Speakers' Corner

Artist Seelan Palay entering the State Courts on Sept 26, 2018. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - The National Parks Board (NParks) had approved a permit application by artist and activist Seelan Palay for a performance art piece last October, and the permit was restricted to the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park, a district court heard on Wednesday (Sept 26).

Seelan is said to have committed an offence when he staged an alleged "public procession" from the park to the National Gallery and Parliament House to commemorate the detention of long-time political detainee Chia Thye Poh.

Seelan's performance art piece, titled 32 Years: The Interrogation of A Mirror, was meant as a tribute to the 32 years that Dr Chia had spent living in detention and under restriction.

On the first day of the trial, the court heard that Seelan, 33, was accused of taking part in the alleged procession without a permit between 2.23pm and 3.15pm on Oct 1 last year.

According to court documents, the alleged procession had aimed to "demonstrate opposition" in two areas: The actions of the Government in relation to Dr Chia's detention as well as its requirement of a licence for public entertainment in the form of performances outside the Speakers' Corner.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Dwayne Lum said in his opening statement: "The reference to '32 years' was ostensibly a reference to it being 32 years since Dr Chia Thye Poh was arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act in October 1966. The event of Oct 1, 2017 was intended to commemorate that event."

He told District Judge Salina Ishak that Seelan arrived at the Speakers' Corner at around 2pm that day to begin the event attended by about 30 people.

The court heard that Seelan later walked out of Hong Lim Park and made his way to the National Gallery where he used a marker to draw on a mirror that he had been holding.

He then walked to the Parliament House and stood in the middle of an entrance to a driveway, with the mirror in front of him.

DPP Lum said: "The accused was engaged by auxiliary police officers who were on duty at the Parliament House. The accused did not leave the location despite being told to do so and police assistance was called."

Police officers arrested Seelan at 3.15pm.

Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Lionel Lee, who was part of the team that arrested Seelan, testified in court on Wednesday. He said that according to an auxiliary police officer, there was a crowd which had followed Seelan from Hong Lim Park and stood behind him at the Parliament House.

Seelan, who was not represented by a lawyer, cross-examined ASP Lee and asked if his performance was a threat to national security.

The officer replied that it was not but added: "At the very least, it caused disturbance to the staff at the Parliament House, which was why police were called in."

ASP Lee also said that the Parliament House is a restricted area and no permit will be issued for any assemblies or processions at restricted places.

Seelan is expected to give his testimony on Thursday.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.