Louis Ng public assembly investigation: Dos and don'ts under the Public Order Act

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng is being investigated for not applying for a permit before he visited hawkers with a placard.
Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng is being investigated for not applying for a permit before he visited hawkers with a placard.PHOTO: LOUIS NG/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The news that Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng is being investigated for holding a public assembly without a permit has raised the issue of what is allowed and what is not under the Public Order Act (POA).

In June last year, Mr Ng posted pictures of himself on his Facebook page next to hawkers with a piece of paper that read "Support Them" followed by a smiley face. He also encouraged others to support hawkers amid the Covid-19 pandemic in the post.

Laws under the POA regulate assemblies and processions in public spaces, in order to preserve public order and the safety of people at special events.

An assembly includes a gathering with the purpose of demonstrating support for, or opposing, the views or actions of any person, group or government.

It also applies to publicising a cause and commemorating any event, and includes a demonstration by a person alone.

A public assembly refers to an assembly in a public place where the public are invited, induced or permitted to attend.

Taking part in a public assembly without a police permit can be an offence.

A permit is not required, however, for most sporting events held in a stadium or public sports facilities, celebrations of certain festivals, charitable events and some election events. Indoor public assemblies organised by and involving only Singapore citizens are generally exempt from needing a permit too.

However, these assemblies cannot be related to any religious belief, any matter "which may cause enmity, hatred, ill will or hostility between different racial or religious groups in Singapore". An organiser must also be present at all times.

Previous convictions under the Act include civil rights activist Jolovan Wham who was fined $8,000 on Feb 15 after he pleaded guilty to charges over an illegal public assembly held on MRT trains in 2017.

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

The protesters put on blindfolds fashioned from trash bags and held up copies of a book about the operation. They did not have a permit to do so.

In November last year, Wham was charged with taking part in a public assembly without a permit in Toa Payoh. He allegedly held up a piece of cardboard with a smiley face drawn on it to demonstrate his support for the action of a climate change activist, who was purportedly captured in a similar snapshot at the same location last year.

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

In April last year, the police said they were investigating an 18-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man after they allegedly took part in a climate change-related public assembly without a permit.

In November 2019, a Hong Kong man was given a stern warning by the police and repatriated after he allegedly organised a gathering for people to air their views on the anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong.

The event was initially held at Kimoto Gastro Bar at The Sail @ Marina Bay, but then shifted to the public area near The Promontory at Marina Boulevard.