Singapore: Seelan Palay sentenced and arbitrarily detained for an art performance

Urgent Appeal

SGP 001 / 1018 / OBS 122
Sentencing /
Arbitrary detention
October 9, 2018

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Singapore.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the sentencing and arbitrary detention of Mr. Seelan Palay, a human rights activist and artist who has criticized Singapore’s human rights record on many occasions, including with regard to the use of the death penalty, restrictions on freedom of expression, and arbitrary detention.

According to the information received, on October 3, 2018, Singapore’s State Court convicted Mr. Seelan Palay for “staging an unlawful performance without a permit” under Section 7 of the 2009 Public Order Act and sentenced him to pay a S$2,5000 fine (around 1,570 Euros). Following Mr. Seelan Palay’s refusal to pay the fine, he was ordered to serve a two-week prison term.

Mr. Seelan Palay was arrested on October 1, 2017 outside Parliament House, where he briefly staged a solo performance by holding an art piece that was meant as a tribute to former political prisoner and elected Member of Parliament (MP) Mr. Chia Thye Poh. The performance, titled “32 years: The interrogation of a mirror”, aimed at commemorating the 32 years Mr. Chia Thye Poh spent either in detention without trial or under travel restrictions [1]. Mr. Seelan Palay started the performance at Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park before continuing on to the National Gallery and then Parliament House. Mr. Seelan Palay had obtained a National Parks Board (NParks) permit that allowed him to conduct his performance only at Speakers’ Corner. On October 2, 2017, Mr. Seelan Palay was released on a S$5,000 (around 3,145 Euros) bail, pending investigation.

On May 18, 2018, Singapore’s State Court heard the case of Mr. Seelan Palay. During the hearing, the Deputy Public Prosecutor requested the court to sentence Mr. Seelan Palay to a fine of S$3,000 (around 1,890 Euros) - the maximum penalty under the 2009 Public Order Act. The Deputy Public Prosecutor justified the request by arguing that Mr. Seelan Palay had previously been convicted and fined on charges of participating in an assembly without permit on two separate occasions in 2010.

The Observatory condemns the sentencing and arbitrary detention of Mr. Seelan Palay, which are only aimed at punishing the legitimate exercise of his rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression. The Observatory calls on the authorities of Singapore to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Seelan Palay and end all acts of judicial harassment against him and all human rights defenders in the country.
Actions requested:
Please write to the authorities of Singapore asking them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Seelan Palay and all human rights defenders in Singapore;
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Seelan Palay, as his detention is arbitrary because it is merely aimed at punishing him for his human rights activities;
iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Seelan Palay and all human rights defenders in Singapore, and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance;

iv. Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially Articles 1, 6(c) and 12.2; and
v. Ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, Fax: +65 63328983/68356621, Email:; Twitter: @leehsienloong
Mr. Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs, Minister of Law, Fax: +65 62546250/ 633 28842, Email:;
Mr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Fax: +65 64747885, Email:;
Mr. Lucien Wong, Attorney General, Fax: +65 6538 9000
H.E. Mr Foo Kok Jwee, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Singapore in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41-22-796 8078, E-mail:;
H.E. Mr. Jaya Ratnam, Ambassador, Embassy of Singapore in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 660 8685; Email:

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Singapore in your respective country. 
Paris-Geneva, October 9, 2018
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

[1] Mr. Chia Thye Poh was elected to Singapore’s Parliament in 1963. He was arrested in 1966 for organising a street procession without permit demanding the release of all political prisoners and the suppression of repressive laws. After being detained for 23 years, he was released in 1989 and allowed to live under restrictions imposed on his travels, political activities, and public speeches for nine years, until 1998, when all the restrictions against him were finally lifted.

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