SINGAPORE — A man who destroyed a People’s Action Party (PAP) poster during last year’s General Election was fined $1,000 on Thursday (4 February), in the first such prosecution under the Parliamentary Elections Act.
Lim Song Huat, 48, had gone out to buy 4D tickets on 3 July last year and ended up tearing a PAP poster of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong off its backing.
Lim, who works part-time in security, pleaded guilty to one out of three charges under the Parliamentary Elections (Election Advertising) Regulations, which prohibit the alteration, removal, destruction, obliteration or defacement of any poster or banner displayed in accordance with the regulations.
His remaining two charges were taken into consideration for his sentencing. These involved him tearing a second poster and using a marker to draw across a third one.
In mitigation, the unrepresented Lim told the court that he had done the offences out of frustration. He had also intended to rip a Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) poster, but could not reach it. He told the court that he was influenced by a friend as well.
CCTVs caught culprit in the act of tearing poster
On 1 July last year, members of PAP’s Marsiling Branch displayed posters relating to the party’s candidates for Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency along the service road of Woodlands Street 13. The PAP posters were displayed on lampposts – beneath posters of SDP candidates – and each cost $10.
On 3 July, Lim left his residence to buy 4D lottery tickets at around 9.30am. After buying the tickets, he headed back to his residence and passed by the election posters along the service road of Woodlands Street 13 at around 9.53am.
He then picked up a stone on the road and attempted to tear a poster bearing the image of PM Lee but failed. He then used his hands to peel the image instead, causing more than half of it to detach from its backing.
Nearby closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) captured him in the act. His identity was established and he was arrested the next day.
Pleaded for community service
The prosecution sought the maximum fine of $1,000, citing general deterrence as the key sentencing consideration.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Selene Yap said that election campaigns were “highly regulated” in Singapore and took place over a short period of time. Considering the limited number of posters that can be put up, Lim had deprived candidates of the ability to present themselves to the electorate, said the DPP.
DPP Yap added that it was “incredibly hard” to detect such offences and Lim was only found after “extensive trawling of CCTV footage” near the incident location.
Lim initially pleaded for District Judge Marvin Bay to give him community service, however the judge replied that a rehabilitative sentence was unjustified given his age and that Lim “ought to have known better”.
Said Lim in mitigation: “This is my first-time offence, (it’s) because of my stupidity and stress of my work. That day (was) during my off day.... Because of (my) stupidity and (the) influence of my colleague, that’s why I (did) this stupid thing. I sent email to PAP to volunteer work as well... Your honour, if (it’s) possible for lighter sentence, (it) will be appreciated.
“I promise you I very scared already, I won’t do this anymore. I got black record in my future, when employer find out this kind of thing, (they) won’t employ me.”
When asked by DJ Bay what frustrations he had faced, Lim said that he was worried about the lack of “talent” in political parties.
“Whether (it’s) PAP, (Singapore) Democratic Party (or) Worker’s Party, we don’t have talented people there. As (a) member of public, (I am worried) maybe in two or five years’ (time), what (may) happen to Singapore… (I wanted) to pour out (my) frustration, that’s why,” he said.
In sentencing Lim, DJ Bay said, “While a person may hold strong political views, these should be expressed by their vote at the ballot box or by legally sanctioned means. Acts of defacement and destruction of political posters set up by any party for the purpose of national elections are not merely unlawful, but are also extreme, divisive, and potentially inflammatory forms of expression, which must be strenuously deterred in our country.”
Lim could have been jailed up to a year or fined up to $1,000.
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