By Ho C S, November 2, 2014
The Hong Lim Green ‘Speaker’s Corner’ was set up to parallel the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London. However, unlike Hyde Park, the venue at Hong Lim is increasingly being misused.
At Hyde Park, I was told, individuals stand on ‘soap boxes’ and give vent to their strongly-held views on a wide range of topics ranging from social, political, cultural, economic, the arts, current affairs, and etc.
There’s no such thing as announcing in advance to the general public, by any speaker or team of speakers via various media, what they intend to do at the said venue at some date in the near future. And there has been no such thing as a protest rally on behalf of an individual or individuals who are crossing swords with the government of the day even as they hold their event at Hyde Park.
The Hyde Park attracts members of the public because the speakers, who position themselves at a discreet distance from one another, speak eloquently and rationally on a range of topics of current and general interest, as mentioned above. No speaker uses the venue to promote matters of personal or narrow partisan interest in the guise of the the general interest of the people at large.
For the reasons mentioned above, the relevant authorities/agencies might wish to consider reviewing its present set of terms and conditions for an individual or a group of individuals who apply for permission to use the Hong Lim ‘Speaker’s Corner’. The ‘Speaker’s Corner’ like its Hyde Park counterpart in London should serve both to educate and entertain the general public. People who use the venue at the Hong Lim Park should assure the relevant authorities/agencies, at the time of applying for a license to hold an event, that they have no personal or a special agenda of no relevance to the public.
It is not infrequent that a measure introduced by the government meant to promote the public interest is unwittingly allowed to lose sight of its original objective(s) which over time is then subverted and abused by the ever present and less than desirable elements of society.
This is exactly what is happening at the Speaker’s Corner at Hong Lim Park in recent times. Hong Lim Park is not a venue for political rallies masquerading as public events. I’d rather that the venue at Hong Lim Park be used for civic-minded purposes aimed at enhancing the public-spiritedness of our general populace.
Singapore is a very small nation and given its geo-political situation, an educated and intelligent people is a condition crucial to the sustainability, growth and further development of the tiny city-state. Let not what is currently being played out in some cities in very recent days in our part of the world, that leads to the disruption of normal public life and temporary cessation of economic activities at huge costs to the ordinary people, be ever allowed to happen in Singapore.
Singaporeans should ever be wary of what is portrayed above as ‘Singapore’ being what it is, has very narrow margin for errors and any mishap that is unwittingly allowed to develop on account of a lack of foresight on the part of the relevant agencies / authorities may be a cause for deep regret, only too late.
Singaporeans may want to have greater freedom of expression but they have to ensure that such freedom does not lead to ever increasing social permissiveness or degeneration that has a detrimental effect on the moral status quo of the nation.
- The Londoners do not just have Hyde Park. They can organise street marches anytime for various causes, and they do. That is true freedom of assembly, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many countries allow their citizens the right to peaceful public assembly.
In contrast, like the control freaks that we are, street protests are disallowed in Singapore. Instead we have a small area for this purpose, and only because Chee Soon Juan dared to challenge the status quo. Allowing people to do their thing at HLP is a far cry from the right to peaceful public assembly as defined by the spirit of the UDHR.
And then we wonder why social activists cannot behave themselves at HLP. The truth of the matter is that like typical Singaporeans, they have been extremely well-behaved. Even at the so-called heckling incident, at no time was anyone in danger of violence committed against them.
Perhaps it’s time that the government should consider how we should align our laws closer to the UDHR — not just in the matter of public assembly but in all the other areas where we fall short.
- Ho C S :
I’m talking about the Speaker’s Corner. And there is no such thing as true freedom. Freedom in any society is not a given and should be granted only when it is exercised in the interest of Society in general.