State insists on last word in name
of public order
South China Morning Post Feb 3, 1999
ANALYSIS by BARRY PORTER in Singapore
WHEN it comes to free speech, Singaporeans have no overriding guaranteed rights.
This has been established in the past two days during the showdown trial brought on by the defiant actions of Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party.
The right to free speech "is not an unqualified right", deputy public prosecutor Bala Reddy successfully argued before Chee's conviction yesterday for giving the first of two illegal street talks without a police permit.
At dispute is Singapore's Public Entertainments Act of 1959. Under this law, police licensing officers insist anyone holding a wide variety of public events for more than five people must apply for a permit.
Chee and his lawyer, Joshua Jeyaretnam, tried to argue that not only did the law conflict with Singapore's constitution, but serious political talks could not be construed as entertainment and the licensing system was being administered with political bias.
The police's chief licensing officer admitted during cross examination that he would normally refer applications for public talks by opposition politicians to the Home Ministry and police headquarters.
But Subordinate Court District Judge See Kee Oon concluded that since Chee had not applied for a permit he could not have been discriminated against.
On the issue of whether political talks were covered by the Public Entertainments Act, he said there was a precedent from a trial of Mr Jeyaretnam in 1991 with which he had to abide.
The defence argued that the act itself, and hence Chee's prosecution, was void on the grounds that it broke rights enshrined in the 1963 constitution ensuring freedom of speech, association and assembly.
But this was shot down by a sub-clause entitling the government to initiate overriding laws that could curtail free speech and association on grounds of national security.
Mr Reddy defended the act, saying it had been imposed in the interests of "public order, public morality and security of state". The blanket permit system enabled police to gauge when there might be a breach of the peace, he said.
Published in the South China Morning Post. Feb 3, 1999