Public order in Singapore has been shaken by a hand-drawn smiley face

28-Nov-2020 Intellasia | Economist | 6:02 AM Print This Post

IN MARCH AN activist named Jolovan Wham stood outdoors a police station, held up a chunk of cardboard with a smiley face drawn on it and obtained someone to take an image. Passers-by, in the event that they seen in any respect, may need questioned what he was doing. None reported Wham and his badly drawn emoji to the policethough on reflection they need to have. Certainly, the police themselves remained within the station, apparently oblivious to the harmful occasions unfolding outdoors. However this week the authorities corrected their oversight, charging Wham with holding an unlawful public protest.

In Singapore, smiley faces should not as harmless as they appeara minimum of not within the palms of a hardened legal like Wham, who has regularly violated the city-state’s legal guidelines. Take freedom of meeting. Would-be protesters, even when they quantity no a couple of, should first safe permission from the police. Wham didn’t. (The one spot the place it’s potential to assemble with out approval from the authorities, Audio system’ Nook, has been closed since March, when many public locations had been shuttered owing to covid-19.)

Wham says the smiley-face stunt was in assist of two younger activists who had been questioned by police in March for posting on-line an image much more subversive than Wham’s. They had been depicted holding placards which urged the city-state to do extra to fight local weather change. Wham stands accused of breaching the Public Order Act for the smiley-face incident and one other in 2018 through which he held up a sheet of paper calling for defamation prices to be dropped towards two journalists who accused authorities officers of corruption. Wham says he won’t plead responsible. If convicted, he could also be fined as much as S$5,000 ($3,725) for every offence.

Wham has regularly fallen foul of Singapore’s legal guidelines in his effort to spotlight how “ridiculous and overbearing” they’re, as he advised the New York Occasions. He has spent two brief stints in jail this 12 months, for “scandalising” the judiciary by alleging that Malaysia’s courts are extra impartial than Singapore’s, and for internet hosting a web based occasion which the authorities deemed a public meeting. The webinar featured Joshua Wong, a democracy activist who’s in authorised bother in Hong Kong.

Final 12 months police in Kazakhstan arrested a protester for the equally alarming act of holding up a clean piece of paper. However the Kazakh authorities shouldn’t have the spine of their Singaporean counterparts: they quickly launched the person in query with out cost. Eugene Tan, a legislation professor at Singapore Administration College, thinks native prosecutors can have a straightforward time of it. Wham’s images had been shot in public locations and had been supposed “to attract consideration to a selected trigger”, he notes. “These actions get caught beneath the public-order legislation.” Alas, the authorities are clearly not cracking down onerous sufficient. Lots of of Wham’s supporters have posted selfies with smiley faces on social media. Name it a criminal offense wave.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “A city reels”


Category: Singapore

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