Speakers' Corner, What Now?

Posted by under Editorial on 28 March 2001

The police have done their investigations and have administered James Gomez and Kevin Liew a warning that demonstrations or events organised even in the Speakers' Corner are still under the purview of Singapore law and permits have to be applied for and approved. Now we are all clear where the law stands on this matter and we can safely say that another boundary mark has been established. There can be freedom of speech but freedom of expression is definitely not allowed without a permit of course.

It is good that after the lengthy investigations that the case has come to a sensible end. The civil society activists have been fairly dealt with by the police and also at the same time show that our police force is vigilant to respond to the grey areas of the law. First, there is an amicable relationship between civil society and the police. It should stay that way. Second, the police provide a certainty on where the state stands on the interpretation of the law and draws out clear boundaries.

However, there seems to be an unfortunate drawback from all of this. It seems Speakers Corner will be a place where one can only hear individuals speak. It will require a permit if let us say two groups from civil society decides to make speeches on some issues. Once again we will go through red tape and the space of the Speakers' Corner suddenly becomes smaller. Once again there seems to be an OB marker in place. This has got nothing to do with the police investigations, as they had to do their jobs. Lawmakers must look at how we can create the space for freedom of speech and expression without running into trouble with the law. This could be one of the issues of the forthcoming general elections and we might see how public opinion responds to the issue.

Nevertheless, civil society will bounce back and try once again to push for more space. This is important because we need a strong civil and political society to meet the challenges of tomorrow. Yet civil society receives insufficient help from the media. The media needs to be bolder and also try to sometimes give the point of view of civil society. What civil society needs is just a balanced and fair report telling the stories from two sides or maybe from many sides if the need be. Whatever the case, Speakers' Corner will never be the same again. What now? Silent Corner.

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