Jolovan Wham chooses 22-day jail term instead of S$8,000 fine for 2017 MRT protest

He will serve 22 days in jail.

Jane Zhang | February 17, 2021, 03:42 PM

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On Monday (Feb. 15), Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham was convicted of organising a public assembly without a permit, an offence under the Public Order Act.

He was also convicted of one offence of vandalism and one offence of refusing to sign his statement to the police, and another two offences were taken into consideration.

Fined S$8,000, opts for jail time instead

According to the Singapore Police Force (SPF), Wham was sentenced to a global fine of S$8,000, or 32 days' imprisonment in default.

In a statement shared on social media on Monday afternoon, Wham stated that he would be pleading guilty to the charges.

Singaporean activist and journalist Kirsten Han said in a tweet that Wham paid the fine for refusing the sign the police statement.

He will serve 22 days' imprisonment — 18 for organising a public assembly without a permit and four for the charge of vandalism — in lieu of paying the rest of the fine.

Silent MRT protest demanding answers about Operation Spectrum

The three charges of organising a public assembly without a permit, vandalism, and refusing to sign a police statement were all in relation to the silent protest onboard an MRT train that Wham organised in 2017, said the SPF.

The demonstration was held in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Operation Spectrum, when in 1987, 22 people accused by the government of plotting a Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the state were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act.

Several commuters — including Wham — were shown in photos holding the book 1987: Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On.

Pieces of printed paper with the words, "Marxist conspiracy?" and "Justice For Operation Spectrum Survivors" accompanied them.

Police investigation

According to the police news release, police had begun investigations after a report was made on Jun. 3, 2017 — the day after the MRT train protest — in relation to Facebook posts by Wham about the protest.

Investigations revealed that Wham had handed out 1987: Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On and blindfolds to at least five other people.

Six of them joined Wham in the protest on the MRT train, where they were photographed reading the books.

Two other people took photographs and fielded questions from members of the public, stated the police.

In a social media post by Wham, he stated that the group had gathered to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Operation Spectrum.

Charged with organising public assembly without permit and vandalism

According to the SPF, Wham was charged with organising a public assembly without a permit because under Section 2 of the Public Order Act, a gathering or meeting of people for the purpose of commemorating an event is defined as an assembly.

No permit had been granted to Wham to organise the assembly, the police noted.

In addition to organising a public assembly without a permit, Wham was also charged with vandalism.

The vandalism in question was the two sheets of paper that he had affixed to the side of the MRT train, which read "MARXIST CONSPIRACY? #notodetentionwithouttrial" and "JUSTICE FOR OPERATION SPECTRUM SURVIVORS #notodetentionwithouttrial".

The two other offences taken into consideration for Wham's sentencing were for organising a vigil outside of Changi Prison Complex on Jul. 13, 2017, the night before the scheduled execution of convicted drug trafficker Prabagaran Srivijayan, and for refusing to sign his statement to the police.

Repeated "blatant disregard" and "disdain for the law"

According to the police statement, Wham has "repeatedly shown blatant disregard and disdain for the law", and said that he "could have exercised his right to political expression legally" by holding his protest at the Hong Lim Park Speakers' Corner or by publishing his views online.

"The Speakers' Corner is the proper avenue for Singaporeans to express their views and conduct public assemblies without the need for a permit, subject to certain conditions being met.

Given how densely populated Singapore is, the approach to allow public protests at Speakers’ Corner, or elsewhere with a permit, allows the authorities to assess and manage public-order risks."

According to CNA, District Judge Marvin Bay said that there was a "degree of escalation from the previous offence", as it took placed over the "prolonged" time of around two hours, and there was a "degree of planning and preparation".

Bay noted that the protestors largely did not demonstrate "belligerence or overt antagonism", and that they appeared to avoid crowded trains.

He also said that he was "mindful" that the protestors removed their signs and "did not cause damage to property and left no mark other than their transient presence" on the train.

However, according to the CNA article, he said that the protestors' actions would have caused confusion and "possibly a degree of anxiety" among commuters.

SPF stated:

"The Government takes a zero-tolerance approach to illegal demonstrations and protests as these may lead to public order incidents.

The regulation of public protests allows the Government to uphold public order to ensure a peaceful and stable society."

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Top photo via Facebook / Jolovan Wham.