Twenty one Malay nationals were arrested at Speakers Corner in Singapore yesterday. I know this because I saw it on the news. They were protesting about the result of the recent election results in Malaysia. They were not happy but from what I can gather they were not rowdy in their protests. They simply gathered in a group and were quietly voicing their displeasure.
The original Speakers Corner is located in Hyde Park in London. It was established in the late nineteenth entry to allow for British citizens to exercise their freedom of speech in a public domain. I have been there on a number of times before and I have witnessed all manner of lunatics standing up on boxes and speaking their mind.
It was very entertaining.
Great and significant orators such as George Orwell and Karl Marx have made magnificent speeches at the English Speakers Corner however I was not there to witness these speeches. I am not that old.
The Singapore equivalent Of Speakers Corner is located in the Hong Lim Park just outside the central business district of Singapore and was established on the first of September in the year 2000. I have been there on a number of occasions but have I never seen anyone actually speaking. Publically speaking that is – I have witnessed groups of people having normal everyday conversations there.
As with many things in Singapore there are a number of rules and regulations that apply to speaking at Speakers Corner and these are listed under the Public Entertainments and Speaking Act.
I thought I would wander down there this morning to see if there was any more action with Malay Protesters. I am a bit of a fan of civil unrest and it is not something that you see very often here in Singapore. I have never seen it actually.
When I arrived at the park I was a bit surprised to see that it was surrounded by a dozen or so very heavily armed policemen. They were all carrying enormous machine guns and they were looking very serious. I strolled nonchalantly into the park and approached a quite elderly officer. He was the only one not carrying a machine gun and he looked as if he was in charge.
"Good morning uncle" I announced.
"Are you expecting trouble?"
"Maybe" he grunted.
"Malays?" I enquired.
"Perhaps" he replied.
"You will shoot them?"
"I would like to give a protest speech about the English. Can?"
"You have a permit?"
"I do not"
"Cannot?" I asked.
"Cannot" he repeated.
"But there is no-one here to listen" I retorted.
"It would be like speaking to myself"
"OK what if I sat on the lawn over there and spoke quietly to myself. Can?
"You have a permit?"
"I do not"
I was a bit worried about the guys with the guns so I decided that pursuing the matter any further was both futile and also potentially dangerous. I am also quite OK protesting about the English direct to the English in my own office for I do this on a daily basis anyway.
Anyone who would like to speak at Speakers Corner here in Singapore must register their intention to speak at the Kreta Ayer Police Station no less than thirty days before they intend speaking. Under the legislation only Singaporean citizens or permanent residents of Singapore are allowed to speak. As a guest of Singapore who is working here on an Employment Pass I am ineligible to publicly voice my opinions or protest or demonstrate at Speakers Corner.
Even about the English or even with a permit.
The use of banners, flags, photographs, signs or writing is prohibited and people making speeches can only do so in one of the four official languages of Singapore. These are English, Mandarin, Tamil or Malay. Speeches are not permitted that deal with any subject that relate to religion or race. Topics that may cause feelings of "enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility" are also not permitted and no political demonstrations are allowed.
Otherwise complete and utter freedom of speech is permissible.