IN MARCH AN activist named Jolovan Wham stood exterior a police station, held up a bit of cardboard with a smiley face drawn on it and received any person to take an image. Passers-by, in the event that they seen in any respect, might need questioned what he was doing. None reported Mr Wham and his badly drawn emoji to the police—though on reflection they need to have. Certainly, the police themselves remained within the station, apparently oblivious to the harmful occasions unfolding exterior. However this week the authorities corrected their oversight, charging Mr Wham with holding an unlawful public protest.
In Singapore, smiley faces usually are not as harmless as they appear—at the least not within the arms of a hardened legal like Mr Wham, who has steadily 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. Mr 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 have been shuttered owing to covid-19.)
Mr Wham says the smiley-face stunt was in help of two younger activists who have been questioned by police in March for posting on-line an image much more subversive than Mr Wham’s. They have been depicted holding placards which urged the city-state to do extra to fight local weather change. Mr 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. Mr 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.
Mr Wham has steadily fallen foul of Singapore’s legal guidelines in his effort to spotlight how “ridiculous and overbearing” they’re, as he informed the New York Occasions. He has spent two brief stints in jail this yr, for “scandalising” the judiciary by alleging that Malaysia’s courts are extra unbiased 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 authorized hassle in Hong Kong.
Final yr police in Kazakhstan arrested a protester for the equally alarming act of holding up a clean piece of paper. However the Kazakh authorities would not 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 simple time of it. Mr Wham’s images have been shot in public locations and have been meant “to attract consideration to a specific trigger”, he notes. “These actions get caught underneath the public-order legislation.” Alas, the authorities are clearly not cracking down arduous sufficient. A whole lot of Mr Wham’s supporters have posted selfies with smiley faces on social media. Name it against the law wave. ■
This text appeared within the Asia part of the print version underneath the headline “A metropolis reels”