Pro-democracy and human rights groups have criticised Singapore’s decision to charge activist Jolovan Wham for holding protests.

Hong Kong pro-democracy party Demosisto said in a statement on Wednesday that it “regrets and is deeply saddened” by Wham’s charges after he held several public assemblies. One of the “assemblies” involved convenor Joshua Wong speaking at a conference on civil disobedience via Skype video call last November.

Joshua Wong. File photo: In-Media.

According to the charges, Wham “organised an indoor public assembly featuring a foreign speaker, which required a Police permit.” Under Singaporean law, public assemblies without a police permit may only be held at Speakers’ Corner – a designated section of Hong Lim Park.

Wong, in expressing solidarity and commending Wham for his bravery, said he “maintains that exchanges between civil societies regarding social movement are of utmost importance, especially within East Asia.”

Demosisto also said that the charge of “multiple offences of organising a public assembly without a police permit” bore similarities with Hong Kong’s unlawful assembly offence, which Wong and Nathan Law faced this year.

‘Complete intolerance’

Wham has also been charged over his involvement in a vigil outside Changi prison and a silent protest on a train, which was held in support of Malaysian national S. Prabagaran – who was executed for drug trafficking. It also commemorated the arrest and detention of 22 social activists and volunteers under the Internal Security Act in 1987 respectively.

Jolovan Wham’s protest on a Singapore train. File photo: Jolovan Wham, via Facebook.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said that the incident “demonstrates the absurdity of Singapore’s laws on public assemblies and the government’s willingness to penalize those who speak out.”

“The Singapore government should start listening to criticism, stop treating peaceful assemblies as crimes, and cease prosecuting their organizers.”

Robertson added that the charges indicate the Singapore government’s “complete intolerance for even the mildest forms of public dissent,” urging the case against Wham be dropped and the Public Order Act be amended to respect the right to peaceful assembly.

“Restricting protests to a venue far from the target of the protests cannot be justified as a reasonable restriction on freedom of assembly, and the creation of Speakers’ Corner in no way justifies or balances the excessive restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly in the rest of the city-state,” the NGO said.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.