Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests
Vajnai v. Hungary
Closed Mixed Outcome
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In September 2014, Singaporean blogger and activist Roy Ngerng organized a public demonstration, called “Return Our CPF,” at Hong Lim Park, demanding the government to make changes to the compulsory savings plan. Prior to the protest, the group obtained a permission from the Commissioner of Parks and Trees to give a “speech” in the park. Under Singapore’s Parks and Trees Act, however, it is prohibited to organize demonstration in any national park without the approval of the Commissioner. Ngerng and his co-organizers allegedly refused to use an adjoining lawn of the park at the request of government officials, as the demonstrators were gathering in the vicinity of an unrelated charity event.
In October 2015, a court of Singapore found Ngerng and five other protest participants guilty of “public nuisance” and “organising a demonstration without approval.” Ngerng was sentenced to a fine of S$1,900.00 (approximately $1320.00).The court held that the permit obtained by Ngerng was granted for a specific purpose and that the demonstration was not covered by the permit.
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.
On September 27, 2014, Singaporean blogger Roy Ngerng and his five colleagues organized a government demonstration, called “Return Our CPF,” at Hong Lim Park to protest against the rise of CPF Minimum Sum by 4.7%. At the same time and place, an unrelated charity event also was taking place. As Ngerng’s protest drew more audience, the National Park officers demanded the group to use an adjoining lawn of the park in order to avoid disrupting the ongoing charity event. The group, however, refused to relocate and instead “they demonstrated by shouting loudly, chanting slogans, waving flags, holding placards, blowing whistles loudly and beating drums.” According to Witnesses, the group became more aggressive when the Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Sur Luck arrived at the charity event as the guest of honor.
Prior to the demonstration, Ngerng and his co-organizers made a successful application to the Commissioner of Parks and Trees for approval to give a “speech” at Speakers’ Corner, located within Hong Lim Park. However, under the Parks and Trees Act, “no person may, except with the approval of the Commissioner and in accordance with the terms and conditions of such approval: (a) carry out any play-reading, recital, lecture, talk, address, debate or discussion; (b) organise or participate (other than solely as a member of audience), in any performance or exhibition; or (c) organise any demonstration, at the area known as Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park . . .”
Initially, it was reported that Ngerng did not admit that his action was wrong. He said: “We have not done anything illegal. We have done everything legal within our constitutional rights. I think if anything, we do this [protest] out of respect for Singaporeans.”
District Judge Liew Thaim Leng delivered the judgment.
During the trial, Ngerng’s lawyer defended his client by stating that Ngerng genuinely believed that “he was speaking on matters of public interest, and is ‘deeply remorseful’ that he did not do this in accordance with the law.” The lawyer added that Ngerng’s offense was ignorance, as he did not know that a separate approval was needed for a demonstration.
Ngerng later pleaded guilty to charges of “public nuisance” and “organizing a demonstration without approval.” The judge sentenced him to a fine of S$1,900 (approximately $1320.00). According to Channel NewsAsia, in order to have Ngerng pay the fine, the judge “singled [him] out as the ‘leader of the group,’ and said that the demonstration had ’caused disruption to other events in the vicinity.’” The judge also ruled that the permit obtained by Ngerng was for a specific purpose and that the demonstration was not covered by the permit.
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