On 20 April 2019, press reports highlighted how “some persons” are “falsely claiming that there are double standards applied for the granting of permits”.
“These allegations which suggest that the police have been biased and shown favouritism are untrue and baseless, and maliciously seek to undermine confidence in public institutions,” a police spokesman was quoted as saying to the press.
The spokesperson was referring to online queries about why Nas Daily, a Israeli-Palestinian vlogger, was able to hold an event at the Botanic Gardens, when foreigners were not allowed to even participate in events at Hong Lim Park, Singapore’s government-designated “free space” for assemblies and protests.
The persons the police accused of “maliciously [seeking] to undermine confidence in public institutions” included, I presume, myself. I had written a post on Facebook questioning if allowing Nas Daily to hold the event amounted to double standards.
I have since removed that particular sentence in my post, and I apologise if it had caused confidence in the police to be eroded. It is not my intention for this to happen, and I do sincerely apologise to the police.
Nevertheless, I am still puzzled by why Nas Daily was able to hold the event without needing to apply for a permit under the POA. Let me explain.
The police’s reason for allowing him to do so is because the event, the police said, “does not involve a cause”, in the words of the Straits Times. (See here.)
The Straits Times said:
“In response to media queries, the police clarified that a POA permit is not needed as “it is a non-cause based event”.
“‘It is a meet-and-greet event involving a media celebrity with his fans, and such events can be held outside of Speaker’s Corner without a permit,'” said the police, noting that similar events in the past also do not require this permit.”
While that may be true (although some have questioned what is meant by “non-cause based”), the Public Order Act – an Act “to regulate assemblies and processions in public places” – also states list down other types of events or assemblies which require a permit.
Under Section 2, it explains “assemblies” as meaning “a gathering or meeting (whether or not comprising any lecture, talk, address, debate or discussion) of persons the purpose (or one of the purposes) of which is… (c) to mark or commemorate any event.”
Let me repeat that [emphasis mine]:
A permit is required to hold an assembly which the POA describes as a gathering or meeting… “to mark or commemorate any event.”
Do note the word “mark” for it is important.
According to the dictionary, “mark” has the same meaning as “commemorate”. Indeed, the POA uses the two words interchangeably – “to mark or commemorate any event.”
The other two words to note are “any event”.
It is clear the POA refers to basically any event.
So, is Nas Daily’s event just a non-cause based event, which would not require a permit?
It would seem that it is – and it is not.
It is a non-cause based event (leaving aside the question of what “non-cause based” means), but it is also an event to “mark or commemorate” an event.
And what event is that?
The event of his arrival in Singapore.
Prior to the announcement that he was going to hold an event at the Botanic Gardens, Nas Daily revealed that he was moving to Singapore to set up a company. According to press reports, he was going to “mark” this move or his arrival here with the event at Botanic Gardens – the “big bang” event, as news reported it.
In short, Nas Daily’s event would, it seems, come under the Public Order Act – for it is an event which “mark or commemorate… [an] event”, which would require a permit under the Public Order Act.
Here is what the POA says:
Nas Daily’s Botanic Gardens’ event was to “mark or commemorate” his arrival or move to Singapore.
As such, it appears to me that he indeed was required to apply for a permit.
The only way he would not have needed a permit was if the minister had exempted him from doing so, under Section 46 of the POA. But the minister does not seem to have exercise such discretion in this case.
So, when we questioned why Nas Daily was allowed to hold the event, we were not trying to “maliciously undermine confidence in public institutions”. We were, in fact, raising questions about what is in the law and what is happening in real life.
It would have been good if the police had explained why there seems to be incongruency between what the POA says and why Nas Daily was not required to apply for a permit.
From press reports of how his event was to “mark” his arrival in Singapore, it would seem that he was required under the Public Order Act to apply for one.
This is my honest understanding of what press reports say, and what the POA says. Certainly, if I am wrong – and I am no lawyer – I stand corrected.