Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tokens or Lemonade

To update on an earlier post, the clarifications on the revised use of Speakers' corner for public protests were announced yesterday (see below).

I shall not comment on the rules as they sound fine and dandy at first glance. The true test of any rule/guideline is of course the actual administration and enforcement of them.

I am however slightly disappointed with Alex Au's response**. In a CNA interview, Alex said: "I would not dignify this tokenism by organising anything there. It will have to be at a proper place like here at Raffles Place or down a major street, or nothing."

I have a great deal of respect for Alex and I understand in essense his rejection of token handouts. However his remarks do come across as being critical for criticism sake. Surely if the government were to announce a new speakers' corner in Raffles Place, one could argue "what about orchard road?".

In fact, he should have argued that there should be no restrictions on demonstration locations. Or alternately, a trade-off could be made for such freedoms (demonstrations virtually everywhere) by listing more restrictive guidelines (e.g. no effigies, placards...).

There is a saying, "When given lemons, make lemonade".

**I must however add that its very likely his comments were taken out of context, knowing how our first world press operates.

Singaporeans can demonstrate at Speakers' Corner from Sep 1
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 25 August 2008 1411 hrs

SINGAPORE: Banners, placards and effigies will be allowed at the Speakers' Corner when the site is opened for public demonstrations from September 1.

For Singapore citizens, there is no longer a need to apply for a police permit.

The new rules came about as the government seeks to open up the space for political engagement and activism in the country.

It is Singapore's version of London's Hyde Park. Hong Lim Park in central Singapore was designated as a site for public speaking on September 2000, but interest has waned over the years. However, with the new rules, things may change.

From September 1, Singapore citizens can organise demonstrations at the Speakers' Corner without a police permit.

All they need to do is register online at the National Parks Board website at www.nparks.gov.sg, which takes over the management of the Speakers' Corner from the Police.

Anyone who registers can immediately carry out his demonstration. Online registration begins on August 30.

Singapore Permanent Residents, though, will require a police permit to organise demonstrations.

But citizens and PRs can participate in assemblies without having to register.

Current rules for foreigners remain and they have to apply for a police permit for any activity there.

And all groups, even those that run counter to the establishment, will be allowed to demonstrate. These include gay rights groups and even the Falungong.

Other changes include self-powered amplification devices like loud hailers, which will be allowed in the area between 9am and 10.30pm. Police said the restriction is to minimise noise pollution in the area.

Activities can also be carried out at any time of the day. Currently, activities are restricted to between 7am and 7pm.

However, basic rules will still remain. Topics cannot touch on issues like race and religion. Content that promotes violence or are lewd in nature will also not be allowed.

Even with a light touch approach, there will still be some police presence at the Speaker's Corner.

Wong Hong Kuan, Director, Operations, Singapore Police Force, said: "Generally if there are no issues of concern, there won't be any overt police presence there all the time and we will manage it just like other places in Singapore."

NParks said that demonstrators are free to do what they want as long as they do not damage surrounding trees and property. There will not be any cosmetic changes to the site, even though some have asked for more benches and shelter.

Dr Leong Chee Chiew, chief operating officer, National Parks Board, said: "If we were to plant more trees, you actually have less space. So there's a trade-off."

Work is underway to build a mound, so speakers do not have to bring their own soapboxes to speak and be seen. - CNA/vm


Singapore said...

But the lemon is yours in the first place.

The govt took away the whole basket of your lemons and gave one back to you. Are you not going to demand rightfully (ok, ask politely) for the rest back?

Temp said...

For more detailed discussions on these important topics, see:
Singapore Kopitiam