Singapore’s High Court has overturned a ruling that acquitted pro-democracy activists charged with participating in an illegal march in 2007. The original ruling was a rare legal victory for the city state’s democrats.
The High Court today ordered the district court which made the acquittal to sentence the five activists, who include members of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).
The “evidence on record shows that the respondents had a political purpose for what they called a ‘walk’”, said the High Court judge.
The district judge had ruled that as the five had walked ‘casually’, often singly, on pedestrian sidewalks, and stopped for toilet breaks and to distribute pamphlets, the walk did not constitute a ‘procession’, nor did it “cause inconvenience to the public, affect traffic flow or make noise which disturbed the public peace”.
Chee Siok Chin, one of the five activists involved and an SDP member, told AFP she was surprised by the judgment.
“I think the impact, frankly speaking, is not on us. It’s on the judiciary,” she said. As AFP notes:
Last year’s acquittal had been a rare legal victory for Singapore’s small group of pro-democracy activists who had in the past been jailed or fined for flouting the city-state’s strict laws on public assembly.
The five defendants had been charged for walking together wearing T-shirts with the words “Democracy Now” and “Freedom Now” in order to circumvent a law that barred public assemblies of more than four people without a police permit.
The city state’s democrats are regularly harassed and prosecuted, often for misdemeanours. But they are also notoriously fractious and some activists this week registered a new political party – the United Singapore Democrats (USD). At least four of its leaders were formerly associated with the Singapore Democratic Party. The development has dismayed some observers:
Unless the opposition unite, pool their limited resources together and come under a common umbrella like the Singapore Democratic Alliance to contest the next election, it will be impossible for it to challenge the PAP juggernaut with its well-oiled grassroots machinery.