Singapore: Man Arrested for Holding Smiley Face Sign Outside Police Station

Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham (L) leaves the High Court in Singapore on April 29, 2019 after his sentencing for scandalising the judiciary. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images

A man in Singapore was arrested and charged by authorities on Monday after standing outside a police station holding a sign with a smiley face on it, in violation of the city-state’s notoriously strict laws concerning public protest.

Jolovan Wham, a committed environmental activist, was arrested for violating the city-state’s laws that require a permit for any form of demonstration, even if it is as small as one person.

According to Wham, who describes himself as a “social worker, migrant, and human rights activist,” his protest was a show of solidarity with another unidentified climate activist questioned by police after taking a picture in the same spot with the words: “SG is better than oil.” To prove the absurdity of arresting someone for a one-man protest, Wham opted for holding a sign with a smiley face on it rather than any political message.

“On Thursday, a climate justice activist was taken into police custody for questioning and had his phone and laptop seized in the process,” Wham wrote on Twitter. “He wore a facemask and held up a cardboard placard. This is me showing my support.”

In remarks reported by the New York Times, Wham argued that his arrest proved the way the law could be imposed in “ridiculous and overbearing” ways.

“The Public Order Act was purportedly enacted to preserve public order and the safety of individuals, both of which were not compromised when I took the photos and uploaded them on social media,” he said. “The charges demonstrate that our laws have the potential to be applied in ridiculous and overbearing ways.”

The police released a statement last week stating that Singapore’s Speakers’ Corner is the only place people should be expressing their political opinions. Speakers’ Corner is an area in Hong Lim Park in the city-state that the government has designated for free speech, banning it outside of its perimeter.

“The Speakers’ Corner is the proper avenue for Singaporeans to express their views on issues that concern them, and to allow Singaporeans to conduct assemblies without the need for a permit, subject to certain conditions being met,” the statement read.

Wham’s arrest was condemned by Human Rights Watch, whose Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson warned it would make Singapore a “laughing stock” around the world.

“You would think that the Singaporean authorities would be smart enough to not take on such a ridiculous case that will make them a laughingstock around the world, but they are blinded by their command and control mind-set that prefers maximum response to the slightest provocation,” Robertson said.

It is not the first time that Wham has run into trouble with authorities because of his political activism. Last year, he was similarly charged with violating the city’s Public Order Act after holding up a sign outside the former State Courts building to demand the dropping of defamation charges against a prominent journalist who accused senior government of corruption.

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