Singapore’s High Court yesterday overturned a ruling acquitting a group of pro-democracy activists of taking part in an illegal march.
The five, who include members of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), were cleared last year of taking part in the September 2007 protest.
The High Court, however, accepted an appeal by the public prosecutor and ordered the court that made the original ruling to sentence the group.
High Court Judge Choo Han Teck said that “evidence on record shows that the respondents had a political purpose for what they called a ‘walk.’”
“This appeal is therefore allowed and the orders for acquittal against all five respondents are set aside,” Choo wrote in his ruling.
Last year’s acquittal had been a rare legal victory for Singapore’s small group of pro-democracy activists who had in the past been jailed or fined for flouting the country’s strict laws on public assembly.
The five defendants had been charged for walking together wearing T-shirts with the words “Democracy Now” and “Freedom Now” in order to circumvent a law that barred public assemblies of more than four people without a police permit.
Last year, Singapore tightened its rules so that any political gathering outside a designated zone known as Speakers’ Corner would require a permit, regardless of the number of people involved.
Chee Siok Chin, one of the five activists involved and an SDP member, said she was surprised by yesterday’s ruling.
“I think the impact, frankly speaking, is not on us. It’s on the judiciary,” she said.
Singapore, one of Asia’s wealthiest countries, has been ranked highly by surveys in terms of its attractiveness to foreign investors, but it has also been criticized for its tough curbs on free expression.
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