Police turn down estate agent's application to speak on Tamil language issues
Published in The Straits Times, September 19 2008
By Zakir Hussain
Police have warned a real estate agent, who had planned to go to Speaker's Corner today to talk about the use of Tamil in public signs, against doing so.
A police spokesman said in a statement to the Straits Times yesterday: "Police communicated its concerns to the applicant that the topic of his speech is a sensitive one impinging on race. The applicant then informed the police that he would not proceed with the speech."
The spokesman added: "Singapore is a multi-ethnic society and maintaining community harmony is a key imperative that we must not take for granted."
The police caution comes three weeks after rules at the Hong Lim Park venue were liberalised.
With the change, speakers need only to register online at the National Parks Board (NParks) website any time before they speak and state the topic of their speech or demonstration.
Only race and religion remain out of bounds.
The person who applied to speak on the Tamil language issue is Mr Thamilselvan Karuppaya, 40.
He told the Straits Times he had registered at the NParks website over the weekend, on behalf of a group of 10 friends.
He received a call on Tuesday from the police, telling him he had to apply for a Public Entertainment License. He did so.
Yesterday, he found that his application had been rejected.
Asked by the Straits Times if he was still going to the Speakers' Corner to speak today, Mr Tamilselvan retorted: "You expect me to give a talk and go to jail?"
He then added: "But we are finding a way to get a license approved. We are not going to keep quiet on this topic."
Police said NParks had referred the applicant to them as "NParks had asserted that the speech was closely related to race and, hence, required express approval from the police as it does not fall under the exemption conditions for speeches at Speakers' Corner."
Said its spokesman: "Police would like to remind the public that a Public Entertainment License is still required for those who wish to hold events concerning race and religion at Speakers' Corner."
In the past two days, a number of Singaporeans - Tamils and non-Tamils - received SMSes telling them about today's aborted event at Speaker's Corner.
The SMS, which was also recieved by The Straits Times, called on "all Singaporeans to tell the Singapore Tourism Board to 'Put Back Tamil' on the signages at Changi Airport and directional signboards all over the island".
The police yesterday urged people who had received the SMS to "take note that the applicant has informed the police he would not be proceeding with the event".
Earlier this year, Mr Thamilselvan wrote to the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), which runs the airport, about the absence of Tamil signs there.
The CAAS replied last week that directional signboards were previously only in English. From April 2005, they were also in Chinese, Malay and Japanese, to cater to the large number of visitors speaking those languages.
As English was India's second language, it was advised by the Singapore Tourism Board that English signs were sufficient.
Mr Thamilselvan was not satisfied with this, saying he was asking only for the four official languages to be reflected.
Contacted by The Straits Times, another Tamil housing agent, Mr N. Rajendran, 60, felt a distinction should be made between commercial and official recognition of Tamil.
Lawyer R. Ravindran, 48, a former MP, said: "It is still premature to allow issues such as race, language or religion to be discussed in an open forum. Other channels should have been pursued first."