The trial for blogger Han Hui Hui and three others — who allegedly caused public nuisance during a protest that clashed with a YMCA event — started yesterday (Oct 13) in bizarre fashion, with Han questioning the mothers of the special needs performers on their views on the freedom of speech and if they understood the Constitution, among other things.
Taking the witness stand, the parents repeatedly objected to Han’s questioning and asked the judge to intervene. One of them likened the protesters’ actions at Hong Lim Park in September last year as bringing a coffin to a wedding.
During the #ReturnOurCPF protest, Han, 24, and fellow blogger Roy Ngerng, 34, had led a few hundred people in a march around the park and allegedly disrupted YMCA’s annual carnival Proms @ the Park when some performers who have Down’s syndrome were on stage.
Six people — including Han and Ngerng — were charged for causing public nuisance. The two bloggers had an additional charge of organising a demonstration without approval. Ngerng and another co-accused Chua Siew Leng, 43, have pleaded guilty and were fined S$1,900 and S$300 respectively.
Han, Goh Aik Huat, 42, Koh Yew Beng, 60 and Low Wai Choo, 55, are contesting the charges against them in a trial scheduled for four days. They are conducting their own defence without any lawyers.
Yesterday, Han cross-examined three witnesses — two mothers of the performers and a member of the public who had filmed the protest.
Among other things, she asked them whether they felt the protesters were a nuisance, whether they took steps to stop the demonstration, what they saw that day, and what they felt constitute freedom of speech.
The two mothers, whose children were part of a group called Y-Stars that was invited to dance for the YMCA event, declined to respond to several of her questions, with District Judge (DJ) Chay Yuen Fatt having to intervene on several occasions.
Referring to the Central Provident Fund protest, one of the mothers, Ms Karen Lee, said the YMCA carnival was “spoilt by people in the other event”. “It’s just like a wedding function, and someone brings a coffin around, do you think you will be happy?” she asked.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Amanda Chong asked the mothers how the performers — comprising children and adults — responded to the commotion caused by the protestors. In response, they said the dance routine went awry because the protestors made “loud and high-pitched noises” which distracted the performers.
Ms Regina Ang said: “People with Down’s syndrome are more sensitive to noise … Every segment of our dance is synchronised, but now everyone is doing their own dance, some stuck in their first pose, because they cannot hear the music.”
Referring to a video recording of the YMCA event which was shown in court yesterday, Ms Ang pointed out that her son, 27, had his lips pursed — an expression that he usually makes when he is anxious or uncomfortable, she said.
She added that the performers were unusually quiet after the event, whereas in the past they would “cheer and give each other high-fives” after a performance. “We kept trying to distract them, praise them, trying our best not to let them dwell too much on what happened,” Ms Ang said.
She added: “I didn’t understand the cause (of the protest) … You may want to speak up on your cause but it is not right to interrupt … Maybe I had too much faith in human nature to think they could stop for three-and-a-half minutes to let (the participants of the YMCA carnival) perform.”
She said that, until now, some of the performers are still emotionally affected by what happened. She alluded to how one performer cried when being interviewed about the carnival earlier this year.
The trial continues today with Han — who had contested unsuccessfully in the General Election last month — cross-examining the prosecution’s fourth witness, who is also a caregiver of a Y-Stars performer.
At the end of yesterday’s hearing, DJ Chay told Han to shorten her questions during cross-examination, and advised her not to question, among other things, “undisputed facts” such as whether witnesses attempted to stop the protest. “You ask questions to establish a fact … (It is already agreed) that no one tried to stop the protest,” the judge said. He also told her to refrain from asking questions about the Constitution, for example.
Fourteen prosecution witnesses, most of whom were members of the public present at the event, are scheduled to take the stand.
For causing public nuisance, a person can be fined up to S$1,000. The maximum penalty for organising a demonstration without approval is a S$5,000 fine.