Dr Chee's case: A Straits
Straits Times Feb 3, 1999
JOANNE LEE summarises the key arguments of Deputy Public Prosecutor Bala Reddy and defence counsel J. B. Jeyaretnam before District Judge See Kee Oon.
WAS it public entertainment?
SINGAPORE Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan's speech at Raffles Place on Dec 29 did not fall under the definition of "public entertainment" as spelled out in the Public Entertainments Act, argued Mr J. B. Jeyaretnam.
He said the popular meaning of "entertainment" was something which "tries to capture the happy mood of the audience and to put them in a light mood".
As Chee's speech was serious, it was not entertainment and as such, he had not committed an offence.
But deputy public prosecutor Bala Reddy countered that the definition in the Act had a much wider meaning and covered talks, lectures, addresses, debates and discussions.
Citing a 1990 decision of a case in which Mr Jeyaretnam was himself charged similarly, the DPP said that Chee's speech clearly fell within the meaning of the Act.
District Judge See Kee Oon agreed with the DPP in his decision.
Does a peaceful gathering require a permit?
REFERRING to the evidence of two police officers on Monday, Mr Jeyaretnam said the gathering had been peaceful and Chee did not require a licence for his talk because the constitution said so.
Mr Reddy, however, said the fact that the gathering was peaceful was irrelevant, a point the judge agreed with later.
A permit was still needed, he argued.
The DPP said: "The very purpose of the licensing scheme is to give the relevant authorities foreknowledge of such events so that they can take the appropriate measures to maintain public order."
Is the Public Entertainments Act constitutional?
MR JEYARETNAM argued that the Public Entertainments Act was inconsistent with Article 14 of the Singapore Constitution.
Article 14 ensures the rights of all Singapore citizens to the freedom of speech and expression, and to assemble peacefully.
He said that it was clear that every citizen had these rights and did not require permission to exercise them.
"It ceases to be a right if you have to apply for a licence. Then it becomes an exercise of grace by those in authority," he said.
But the DPP countered that the rights to free speech and expression were not absolute rights.
Article 14, he pointed out, empowered parliament to impose restrictions if the exercise of those rights threatened national security, friendly relations with other countries, public order, public morality and the privileges of parliament, or if it was in contempt of court, defamatory and incited offence.
The Act was imposed by parliament to safeguard public order, public morality and national security, he said, and was consistent with the constitution.
Citing the 1990 case in which Mr Jeyaretnam was convicted, the judge said that he saw no reason to depart from the ruling that the Act was not unconstitutional.
The DPP added later that any proposed changes to the law could only be made by Parliament, where elected MPs could speak on behalf of Singapore citizens.
Was the law applied unfairly against opposition parties?
MR JEYARETNAM said that the way the Act is applied discriminates against opposition parties.
He concluded this from the testimony of licensing officer Khor Chor Huat who said on Monday that he sought the views of the Home Affairs Ministry and the Police if he thought it was necessary to do so when approving licences for political parties.
"He doesn't do so in other cases. So the question is why? Are there political considerations that come into the granting of a licence to a political party? That is pure discrimination against opposition political parties," he said.
Mr Reddy, however, dismissed these charges as unsubstantiated.
He said that the Act allowed an applicant to ask why his request for a licence was refused, and also appeal to the minister on the matter.
The judge maintained that the allegations of discrimination were unfounded.
He also added that he had no jurisdiction to review administrative action.