Ms Chee Siok Chin began serving her one-week jail sentence yesterday after District Judge Chng Lye Beng had found her guilty together with Mr Gandhi Ambalam and Dr Chee Soon Juan for distributing flyers without a permit.
A permit was required because, one, 5 or more persons were involved and, two, the police insist, the flyer was demonstrating “opposition to the actions of the Government.”
The Deputy Public Prosecutor had during the hearing emphasized that it was not the distribution of the flyers per se that was illegal but the content of the flyer which was critical of the policies of the Government was also illegal.
The police witnesses had testified during the trial that distibuting flyers was a common and normal activity. They could not say what offence the Defendants had committed. One even said that in his opinion, the SDP leaders were not committing an offence.
Furthermore, the licensing officer testified that distributing flyers for a commercial cause did not require a permit whereas one was needed if the cause was political. This, of course, is not true because the law (Miscellaneous Offences Act) does not make such a provision.
The Defendants also argued that the fact that the flyer criticised the Government was irrelevant to the charge.
Despite all these, Judge Chng sided with Prosecution and convicted Ms Chee, Mr Ambalam, and Dr Chee, sentencing them to the maximum fine of $1000, or one-week jail in default. (See here)
The three have appealed the conviction. Ms Chee has chosen to serve her sentence first but will continue with her appeal because it is important that the High Court renders its decision and grounds if it upholds the conviction.
Even as she begins serving her sentence, Ms Chee will be brought to court daily for the on-going hearing before District Judge Toh Yung Cheong for a separate charge for “attempting to take part in a procession” during the WB-IMF meeting in 2006.
Immediately after Mr Chng made his decision on 18 Dec 09, Ms Chee stood up and told him:
I continue to say that what we did was not a crime. Criticising one’s government is a right guaranteed in a democratic society. By finding us guilty you are as good as saying that we do not have this right. By pronouncing us guilty you are also saying that Singapore is not a democratic society and that this government is an undemocratic one.
Updated 10 Jan 2010: Read Going to jail is least of Chee Siok Chin’s concerns