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Jolovan Wham under investigation for holding a candlelight vigil

Status: 
Found guilty
About the situation

On 9 October 2018, Singapore’s High Court convicted human rights defender Jolovam Wham of “scandalising the Court” under the country’s new contempt of court laws. He is the first person to be found guilty since the enactment of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act in October 2017. This version of the Act significantly lowers the standard of proof for its application from “real risk” to “risk”, putting human rights defenders and the general public in danger of judicial harassment.

About Jolovan Wham

jolovan_wham.jpgJolovan Wham is a human rights defender who has also spoken out to defend LGBTI rights and has worked with other members of civil society to highlight issues related to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

11 October 2018
Jolovam Wham convicted of contempt of court

On 9 October 2018, Singapore’s High Court convicted human rights defender Jolovam Wham of “scandalising the Court” under the country’s new contempt of court laws. He is the first person to be found guilty since the enactment of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act in October 2017. This version of the Act significantly lowers the standard of proof for its application from “real risk” to “risk”, putting human rights defenders and the general public in danger of judicial harassment.

The High Court pronounced Jolovan Wham guilty when it found that a Facebook post that the human rights defender had made impugned the integrity and impartiality of the Singapore courts. It also found that from the view of an “average reasonable person”, the post made by Jolovan Wham poses a risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice.

On April 27, Jolovan Wham shared a link to a news story detailing a constitutional challenge against the Anti-Fake News Act in Malaysia, commenting that “Malaysian judges are more independent than Singapore’s in cases with political implications” and that it would be “interesting to see” how the case fared.

The sentencing in the case has been set for 7 November 2018. Jolovan Wham faces a fine of 100 000 Singaporean Dollars (USD 73 394) and/or a prison sentence of up to three years.

Front Line Defenders condemns the unjust conviction of Jolovan Wham as the organisation believes that the human rights defender has been found guilty solely as a result of his legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights. Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Singapore to quash the conviction handed down to Jolovan Wham and to suspend the pending sentencing.

17 July 2018
Court hears criminal contempt case against Jolovan Wham

On 17 July 2018, Singapore’s High Court heard the first proceedings against human rights defender Jolovan Wham over charges brought against him by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC). He is charged with scandalising the Court under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act.

Jolovan Wham is a human rights defender and advocate for migrant workers’ rights, campaigning against modern slavery in Singapore. He has also spoken out to defend LGBTI rights and has worked with other members of civil society to highlight issues related to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of assembly.

On April 27, Jolovan Wham shared a link to a news story detailing a constitutional challenge against the Anti-Fake News Act in Malaysia, commenting that “Malaysian judges are more independent than Singapore’s in cases with political implications” and that it would be “interesting to see” how the case fared. Soon after, the AGC initiated a contempt of court charge against him for violating Section 3(1)(a) of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act. The AGC argued that Jolovan Wham’s post “imputes improper motives to or impugns the integrity, the propriety of impartiality of any courts, and poses a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined”. Alarmingly, the AGC added that it is “not necessary to prove that Wham had an intention to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice”.

During the hearing, the AGC’s Senior State Counsel reiterated the accusation, arguing that Jolovan Wham had no “conceivable reason” to question the independence of Singapore’s Judiciary. If found guilty, he could face a fine of 100,000 Singaporean Dollar (USD 73,394) and/or a prison sentence of up to three years.

This is the first case to go to court since the enactment of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act in October 2017. This version of the Act significantly lowers the standard of proof for the engagement of the Act from “real risk” to “risk”, putting human rights defenders and the general public in danger of judicial harassment.

This is not the first time Jolovan Wham has been targeted by the AGC. On 29 November 2017, Jolovan Wham was charged with seven offences by the Attorney-General’s Chambers under the Public Order Act, for exercising his right to peaceful assembly by organising a candlelit vigil, a silent protest, and an indoor gathering to discuss civil disobedience and democracy movements.

Front Line Defenders condemns the repeated judicial harassment of human rights defender Jolovan Wham, which it believes is solely motivated by his human rights activities as well as the peaceful and legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Singapore to:

1. Immediately close the investigation and drop all charges against Jolovan Wham, as it is believed that this is solely motivated by his legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights and his criticism of the judicial system;

2. Review its existing legislation with a view to lifting undue restrictions on freedom of expression;

3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Singapore are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.

30 November 2017
Jolovan Wham charged on seven counts

On 29 November 2017, Jolovan Wham was charged with seven offences by the Attorney-General’s Chambers in Singapore in an open hearing. The charges include three counts of organising a public assembly without a police permit and one count of vandalism.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

On 28 November 2017, Jolovan Wham was summoned to the Central Police Station where he was detained by Singapore Police Force but later released on $8,000 bail. On the same day, the Singapore Police Force released a statement declaring their intention to charge the human rights defender on 29 November 2017 under the Public Order Act for organising public assemblies without a police permit, the Vandalism Act for one count of vandalism, and the Penal Code for refusing to sign his statements. The statement branded him as refractory and having a disregard for the law in organising or participating in illegal public gatherings. The pre-trial hearing for his case will begin on 13 December 2017.

On 13 July 2017, Jolovan Wham, along with a number of other human rights defenders, held a candlelit vigil outside Changi Prison Complex in solidarity with the family of Prabagaran Srivijayan, a Malaysian national who was sentenced to death and executed on 14 July 2017. On the eve of his execution, a group of activists protesting the use of the death penalty in Singapore, as well as friends and family of Prabagaran Srivijayan, gathered outside Changi prison. Fifteen minutes into the vigil, the police arrived and confiscated their candles as well as photographs of Prabagaran Srivijayan. The human rights defenders complied with police orders and were told that the vigil could continue as long as candles were not lit. Jolovan Wham is however being charged for organising the public gathering without a police permit. The investigation into the other human rights defenders involved is still ongoing.

On 3 June 2017, Jolovan Wham organised a silent protest to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Operation Spectrum – a security operation that resulted in the arrest of 22 activists in 1987. Nine people participated in the protest, which took place on board a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train, wherein each person stood blindfolded and silent holding up a copy of the book ”1987: Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On”, and then proceeded to sit and read the book together. Jolovan Wham is facing a charge for organising this event without a police permit and another charge under the Vandalism Act for pasting two A4-sheets on the MRT train.

On 26 November 2016, Jolovan Wham, along with human rights defenders Kirsten Han and Seelan Palay, orgainsed an indoor gathering to discuss civil disobedience and democracy movements. Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong was a remote speaker at the event. A police permit was required as Joshua Wong is not a Singaporean citizen. Due to this gathering, various equipment was confiscated from the organisers and an investigation was instigated. Jolovan Wham is facing another charge for organising this event without a police permit.

The right to assembly in Singapore is heavily limited and closely monitored. The 2009 Public Order Act regulates public talks, assemblies and protests, placing serious restrictions on civil society space. In April 2017, amendments to the Act granted police additional powers to limit or ban peaceful gatherings, increasing the risk of criminalisation for exercising the legitimate right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Front Line Defenders condemns the judicial harassment of human rights defender Jolovan Wham, which it believes is solely motivated by his human rights activities in Singapore as well as the peaceful and legitimate exercise of his freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Singapore to:

1. Immediately close the investigation and drop all charges against Jolovan Wham as it is believed that this is solely motivated by his legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights;

2. Review its existing legislation with a view to lifting undue restrictions on freedom of assembly;

3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Singapore are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.

14 September 2017
Jolovan Wham under investigation for holding a candlelight vigil

On 13 September 2017, Kirsten Han was interrogated by the Bedok police division in relation to the ongoing investigation into her and three fellow human rights defenders Terry Xu, Jolovan Wham and Jason Soo. All four human rights defenders were questioned over the past week. On 6 September 2017, Terry Xu was prevented from travelling by immigration officers at a checkpoint between Singapore and Malaysia and told that he would not be permitted to leave the country as he was under investigation. On 3 September 2017, the four human rights defenders, along with several members of civil society, were informed by the police that they were being investigated for violating the Public Order Act after they participated in an anti-death penalty vigil.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

Terry Xu is a human rights defender and the Chief Editor of The Online Citizen, an independent news website in Singapore. A staunch defender of freedom of expression and information, his writing advocates for transparency of the government and against corruption within Singaporean society. Kirsten Han is a human rights defender, a freelance journalist and a founding member of the anti-death penalty organisation We Believe in Second Chances. She has also written on labour rights, freedom of expression and transparency in national politics, among other issues. Jolovan Wham is a human rights defender who has also spoken out to defend LGBTI rights and has worked with other members of civil society to highlight issues related to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Jason Soo is a human rights defender and an independent filmmaker who also documents civil society events related to human rights. His most recent film 1987: Untracing the Conspiracy which is based on the interrogation and torture of 22 people accused of being Marxist conspirators by the Internal Security Department of Singapore, was awarded Best Southeast Asian Feature at Freedom Film Festival (2015).

On 13 September 2017, investigation officers from Bedok police division in Singapore questioned Kirsten Han on her involvement in a candlelight vigil in July 2017. Over the past week, Terry Xu, Jolovan Wham and Jason Soo also responded to a police summons, during which they were all  questioned about the organisers of the vigil and its purpose.  They were also informed that restrictions on their travel had been lifted.

On 3 September 2017, the Singapore Police Force notified human rights defenders Terry Xu, Kirsten Han, Jolovan Wham and Jason Soo that they were under investigation for ‘taking part in a public assembly without a permit’ and summoned them for questioning. Although the official letter made no mention of travel restrictions, Terry Xu was prevented from entering Malaysia upon his arrival at Woodlands Checkpoint on 6 September 2017.

The four defenders, along with several other activists, are being investigated under Section 16(2)(a) of the Public Order Act following a vigil held in solidarity with the family of Prabagaran Srivijayan, a Malaysian national who was sentenced to death penalty and executed on 14 July 2017. On the eve of his execution, a group of anti-death penalty activists as well as friends and family of Prabagaran gathered to participate in a candlelight vigil outside Changi prison. Fifteen minutes into the vigil, the police arrived and confiscated the candles as well as photographs of Prabagaran Srivijayan. The human rights defenders complied with police orders and were told that the vigil could continue as long as candles were not lit.

The right to assembly in Singapore is heavily limited and closely monitored. The Public Order Act,  promulgated in 2009, regulates public talks, assemblies and protests, placing serious restrictions on civil society space. In April 2017, amendments to the Act granted police additional powers to limit or ban peaceful gatherings, increasing the risk of criminalisation for exercising the legitimate right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Front Line Defenders condemns the judicial harassment of human rights defenders Terry Xu, Kirsten Han, Jolovan Wham and Jason Soo, which it believes is solely motivated by their human rights activities in Singapore as well as the peaceful and legitimate exercise of their freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Singapore to:

1. Immediately close the investigation against Terry Xu, Kirsten Han, Jolovan Wham and Jason Soo and refrain from further judicial harassment as it is believed that it is solely motivated by their legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights;

2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Singapore are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.