Emotional hearing for CHC members as they see ex-leaders in the dock

(From left) Tan Ye Peng, Sharon Tan, John Lam, Kong Hee, Serina Wee during the hearing on Aug 1, 2017. ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL
(From left) Tan Ye Peng, Sharon Tan, John Lam, Kong Hee, Serina Wee during the hearing on Aug 1, 2017. ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

SINGAPORE - Members of City Harvest Church (CHC), used to seeing glamorous church leaders who commanded reverence and respect, were confronted with a starkly different image in court on Tuesday (Aug 1).

The sight of their former leaders looking tired in the dock left many, who had turned up to court early in the morning, feeling emotional.

It was the first time in more than three months that church founder Kong Hee and four others - Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee, John Lam and Sharon Tan - were seen publicly after starting their jail terms on April 21.

All five were wearing purple prison jumpsuits. Kong was sporting a crew cut and white hair. Kong, 52, Lam, 49, and Serina Wee, 40, appeared to have lost weight.

The church members were among a queue of some 80 people that started at 2am for passes to enter the courtroom for a hearing involving the six convicted CHC church leaders.

The sixth is former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, who was allowed to suspend his sentence to apply for permission to file his own criminal reference, though his application was rejected by the court earlier this month.

The mood outside the courtroom was sombre, with supporters huddled in small groups speaking quietly to each other.

There were many wet eyes, especially after the church members entered the courtroom and had a look at their leaders.

 
 
 

One young female supporter, who declined to be identified, said: "Of course, it is emotional. We love them so much."

Another member, who has been with the church for 20 years and wanted to be known only as Ms Tan, said: "We can only pray and hope for the best... Seeing them in the dock is sad but we feel more for their families as it has been hard on them, especially those with children."

Even non-members were moved by the sight of the church leaders' decline. One attendee, identified only as Mrs Parkany, said: "As a Christian, I could not believe there were pastors like that, in their Armani suits and all, and I was very opposed to them. I came here today to make sure they got the highest possible punishment.

"But when I went inside and saw the pastor, I was crying. It's so scary - in the purple prison jumpsuit, he looks so old and tired now."

Despite the heavy mood in court, members remain optimistic about the church. Some said the morale in the church remains high and that their services are "even more glorious than ever".

They described a united front, with people still regularly attending services and "praying fervently" while "waiting for pastor to come back".