"Solidarity" event for Malaysia draws a crowd at Hong Lim Park

SCORES of people gathered at Hong Lim Park on Sunday evening for a locally-organised event billed as an expression of "solidarity" for Malaysians calling for clean elections.

Speaking to the crowd, event organiser Jolovan Wham said both foreigners and Singaporeans should have the right to freedom of expression, referring to the arrest of 21 Malaysians on Saturday for illegally gathering at Merlion Park. Mr Wham, a social activist, then read out a statement by 200 Malaysian social workers and counsellors working here who called for free and fair elections and a strengthened social welfare system.

The other speaker was poet Alfian Sa'at who apologised on behalf of the Singapore government for "very repressive laws" on freedom of assembly, in reference to Saturday's arrests. Nine other Malaysians had also been warned days earlier for participating in a protest last Wednesday. He then read out a monologue from his play "Parah", which is about race relations.

Most in the crowd wore black and were issued yellow candles for a vigil. A significant number appeared to be Malaysians who came to observe the event. Several signs expressing support for Malaysia were laid on the ground in one corner of the park. Said businessman Mr Chong Chin Chun, 43, who is a permanent resident from Malaysia: "Our neighbours are here to speak out for us, I will feel very shameful if I don't turn up to support."

Mr Wham, who had invited Malaysians to join the event as observers, was earlier reminded by the police that he would need a police permit if foreigners were to participate.

The event ended just before 8pm with the crowd singing "We Shall Overcome," a song associated with the US civil rights movements in the 1960s, followed by both the Singapore and Malaysian national anthems.

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