Letter on Speakers Corner

This letter was sent to the ST Forum page by MARUAH but was not published.

28th September 2014
The Forum Page Editor
The Straits Times

Dear Sir,
MARUAH, a human rights organisation, refers to the story “Chaos at Hong Lim Charity Carnival” ( ST, 28th September, 2014). We are writing to ask two questions that are puzzling us on processes and the rights of our citizens.

According to the Statements issued by NParks and the Police as reported, the YMCA had applied to use the park first on 9th September 2014 whilst the application made by Ms Han Hui Hui to use the park was received on 22nd September 2014. Both applications were approved. From Ms Han’s application/approval date to the event itself there was a gap of at least four days, ample time for NParks to intervene if they had foreseen problems.

These two large scale events are different. They were both strong cases of community participation, with the YMCA having a Mayor, Mr Teo Ser Luck to grace the event. These two events needed some level of understanding on use of space that both have a right to use and had been given the approvals.

So why did NParks only intervene on the 27th September and just before Ms Han’s group was ready to execute their plan after their setup? Based on the video that has gone viral, it does not seem to be a negotiation and neither did it show an understanding of the importance of Speakers’ Corner to Singaporeans or who value the space for free expression.

We note that according to the Terms and Conditions for Approval for Events and Activities Carried Out at Speakers’ Corner (https://www.nparks.gov.sg/cms/docs/speakers_terms_n_conditions.pdf) there were opportunities for the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation to revoke the approvals. That did not happen either.

The second disturbing factor is that in the video that has gone viral, the NParks Director is accompanied by a number of plainclothes police officers, as he tried to discuss the space available for Ms Han. The civil service personnel had to be persuaded to identify themselves. Verification of the documents held by Ms Han too was not well handled as a procedure by the NPark officer. What MARUAH would like to know is whether it was necessary to have a group of police officers to be with the NParks staff and what are the processes for identification of personnel?

The rights and wrongs on how the protest was carried out are being investigated. We are keen to clarify the processes to ensure the rights of all Singaporeans are preserved especially in that small protected space. Many of us use the Speakers’ Corner – to speak, to watch, to engage for a better Singapore.

Ms Braema Mathi
President, MARUAH

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