ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN FOR ACTION AND RESEARCH: AWARE is concerned to hear that charges have been brought against Jolovan Wham, a social worker and civil society activist with a long track record of good work for marginalised people, especially women migrant domestic workers.
This case raises important questions about whether the laws and regulations on assembly in Singapore are too restrictive. Our own experience of organising events at Hong Lim and elsewhere is that seeking a permit can be cumbersome and uncertain. Sometimes we have not been informed of the outcome of the application until the day just before, which makes publicity and logistics – especially for foreign speakers – difficult.
It is important to make space for diverse voices in our society. When the conditions for speaking up about social and political issues are restrictive and carry potential criminal liability, this can have an intimidating effect on the public and discourage people from expressing their views.
Some regulation of public assembly may be necessary to safeguard the public interest in safety and prevent disruption. Yet it may be timely to reconsider how restrictive these regulations should be. Events that do not threaten the safety and well-being of any person, damage any property or cause disruption to ordinary affairs should not be made difficult to organise, and it is doubtful whether society’s interests are best served by making them liable to criminal prosecution.