9 October 2018
Quash the Wrongful Conviction and Sentence of Artist-activist Seelan Palay
Singapore Unbound condemns the conviction of artist-activist Seelan Palay on October 3, 2018, for holding a piece of art outside Parliament in 2017. After reasonably refusing to pay the fine of SGD2000 (USD1800), Palay was sentenced to two weeks’ imprisonment. Singapore Unbound considers the conviction a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and calls for the conviction and the sentence to be quashed.
The violation of citizenship rights is particularly egregious in Palay’s case as he was acting peaceably and on his own. One person does not constitute a ‘procession’ or an ‘assembly’, as the current law unreasonably has it. Any public order law should also take into consideration any actual or possible public disorder caused, as was not the case in this instance. Palay had not caused any public disorder. Like any Singaporean citizen, he has the constitutional right to speak and assemble freely. Although the Constitution of Singapore allows for the government of the day to restrict such a right in the interest of public order, the restriction of permissible public spaces for protest to just the Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park and the definition of just one person as an “assembly” are clearly politically repressive and go against international standards for such rights.
Such political repression has created a climate of fear in Singapore. Activists and artists are, with reason, afraid to speak out for fear of legal prosecution and of the withdrawal of official funding and recognition. This fear is inimical to the organic growth of civil society and the arts. According to the 2015 Ipsos and SSI survey, 42% of Singaporeans wish to migrate out of Singapore if given a chance. If Singapore is seen only as a place to prosper economically, then Singaporeans will move out when the economic winds turn against the country. We need to give everyone a genuine stake in Singapore and it must begin with the citizenry knowing that they can influence, impact, even shape, their own society.
Besides quashing Seelan Palay’s conviction and sentence, Singapore Unbound also calls for the repeal or amendment of all laws and legal provisions that unjustifiably restrict the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including provisions in the Public Order Act, Section 142 of the Penal Code, and Section 290 of the Public Nuisance Act, to bring them into line with international human rights law.
Singaporeans deserve to be treated in the same way as the citizens of mature democracies. After fifty years of political independence, Singaporeans are more than ready to assume the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
Jee Leong Koh
Founder and Organizer, Singapore Unbound
A concerned citizen of the Republic of Singapore
Singapore Unbound is an independent, NYC-based literary non-profit dedicated to the advancement of freedom of expression and equal rights for all. We seek to build meaningful cultural exchange between Singapore and the USA.
Thumbnail photo from The Online Citizen, showing Seelan Palay holding his artpiece in front of the Parliament House.