Singapore: Quash conviction and sentence of human rights defender Jolovan Wham

Responding to the conviction and sentence of human rights defender Jolovan Wham which will see him spend 22 days in jail, Rachel Chhoa-Howard,  Amnesty International’s Singapore Researcher said:

“This latest conviction and sentence of Jolovan Wham is both deeply disappointing and unsurprising.

“Over the years, Singapore authorities have repeatedly sought to make an example of his activism to deter Singaporeans who might dare criticize the government.

“Wham has been convicted solely for peacefully exercising his human rights and his efforts to highlight issues including detention without trial and the continued use of the death penalty. His conviction follows the recent arrest of three activists for a peaceful protest held on LGBTI rights, a further effort by the government to crush freedom of expression.

This latest conviction and sentence of Jolovan Wham is both deeply disappointing and unsurprising
Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International’s Singapore Researcher

“The fact that this is now Wham’s third conviction for the exercise of his right to freedom of expression and assembly is a travesty of justice and demonstrates how fearful the government is of any kind of peaceful dissent.

“Authorities must quash this conviction and sentence and Wham must be immediately and unconditionally released. The Singapore government must put a stop to its penalization, intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and activists in the country once and for all.”

Background

On 15 February 2021, the State Court sentenced Jolovan Wham to a fine of SGD $8000 (USD $6048). He paid a portion of his fine and will serve the remainder of his sentence as 22 days in jail by default. Ahead of his conviction, Wham said that although he admitted to the charges, he did not agree with the criminalisation of peaceful assembly and that he would therefore default on his fines under the Public Order Act and the Vandalism Act and serve a prison term in protest. 

His conviction relates to two public assemblies organised by Wham in 2017.

The first was to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of ‘Operation Spectrum’, an event remembering those who have been arrested and detained without charge or trial under Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA). Wham together with six others, held a silent protest in June 2017 on the Mass Rapid Transit (public train). He also faced charges of “vandalism” for  posting two papers carrying slogans on the window of the carriage and for failing to sign several statements as required by the Singapore authorities.

The other alleged offence that the court took into consideration was a vigil held for Prabagaran Srivijayan, a Malaysian national sentenced to death and executed on 14 July 2017. Wham was charged for organizing the assembly without a permit.

Wham is still facing two other charges of “illegal assembly” for protesting on his own outside the former national court and in front of a police station.

Under the Public Order Act, the offence of failing to obtain a permit carries a fine not exceeding SGD$5,000 ($3700 USD), while the failure to sign a statement is punishable by a maximum 3 months imprisonment and a fine which may extend to SGD$2,500 (USD$1800) or both. The offence of vandalism under the Singaporean Vandalism Act carries a maximum imprisonment term of 3 years and a fine not exceeding SGD$2,000 (USD $1487 USD).