After ninety days into their investigations, the Tanglin Police Station relented and decided to let, four enthusiastic youths trying to bring the Singapore 21 (S21) process forward, off with a warning. The Attorney-General's Chambers decided not to prosecute the case.
James Gomez, Daniel Chew, Melvin Tan and Michael Cheng were verbally cautioned for organizing the first in a series of political talks entitled, Youth and Politics in Singapore on 1st October 99 at the RELC International Hotel.
The comedy-drama unfolded when the Think Centre and some Socratic Circle members initiated the Politics 21 (P21) series to raise awareness and supplement the S21 process. The government launched S21 initiative has called for its citizens to practice active citizenship and shape the Singapore that they want to live in. The P21 committee launched the announcement of their activities on the Internet and had sort to register participants for it's various programmes through its web site - www.politics21.mainpage.net.
Most of the 70 people that registered for the first talk did so online or via forms sent to them. But about ten people, students and plain-clothes undercover types, turned up at the door without prior registration. By allowing these people admittance into the talk, an offence was alleged to have been committed.
The festivities began 25 days after the talk when Gomez was informed that there had been a complaint lodged with the police against the activity on 1st October and was advised to apply for a license for future events. When queried, "Who lodged the complaint?", Gomez was informed that the police does not have to divulge the information unless the case went to trial.
This began the process of statement recording at Tanglin police station over a period of two months by Chief Investigation Officer, ASP Deep Singh. From the conference office representative at the RELC, the several people who organized the forum, the speakers who spoke at the forum to those speakers who were invited but either declined or could not make it were also among those who had to chronicle their story.
The thrust of the investigation was to determine whether there was a pre-meditated and willful action on the part of the organizers to put together a public talk without a license. At the heart of the problem was the P21 committee's innovative use of the Internet to create awareness, invite people and have them register online. The porousness of the Internet did not give these first-time organizers the control they desired to keep their activity "closed-door." Thus, the event under investigation was put into the category of a public talk. Under the present law, it shows that the application for a public entertainment license is necessary when trying to harness the potential of the Internet to bring people together physically.
A sub-plot in the investigation was also to determine the modus operandi of the group, how they meet, who was the "leader", how speakers were invited and by whom, determine the registration of the Think Centre, establish the source of funding and whether anyone in the group had direct connection with any local opposition political party or with a "foreign power".
ASP Deep Singh was very thorough in his inquiry. The group however was confident on all these counts as they had taken the necessary pre-emptive steps. They had expected these very queries to emerge whenever anyone/group tries to explore political space in Singapore and were not surprised in this instance.
That the group was in the clear was quite obvious to all from the onset. Thus it was no surprise that the group's application for licenses for their other talks were promptly issued. During the course of the investigations, the P21 committee, under the auspices of the Think Centre, successfully organized two other licensed public talks and have planned more for the year.
This comedy-drama was finally brought to a close the morning after the groups' third talk was reported in the local media. The four young turks were summoned to Tanglin Police Station and a "warning" was administered. Gomez was "warned" because he was the "chief", according to DSP Goh Lum Khiong and the while the other three, Chew, Tan and Cheng were "advised" for helping to organize the first event in the series without a license.
The group's request to take a picture of this "warning" session, which took place in DSP Goh's room, was predictably declined.
Determined to have a group picture to commemorate this session at Tanglin, the group thus enlisted the help of a gangster-type loitering at the station. He was very obliging and helped the group out with a few photographs. As the group turned to leave they thanked him for doing his part for the Singapore 21 process!