The Singapore Court's Absurd "Inverse Responsibility to Provide Proof" Stance in a Criminal Trial

Six Falun Gong practitioners in Singapore were accused of "assembly without a permit" for distributing materials containing facts about Falun Gong and the illegal persecution currently taking place in China whilst in the busy areas of Singapore. After 13 days of the trial, the judge fined each practitioner1,000 Singapore dollars (SGD) or a week in prison if the fine was not paid.

The six Falun Gong practitioners did not hire an attorney this time. They chose to defend themselves in court. They effectively questioned the prosecutor's witnesses and answered the prosecutor's questions and the cross-examination. They effectively exposed the absurd and ridiculous nature of this lawsuit. These practitioners presented their own understandings of this case in addition to the legal considerations. This is an unprecedented case in the history of Singapore's judicial court.

The judge set a lot of limitations during the cross examination. The judge blocked the practitioners' questioning of the motivation of the prosecution, such as raising questions about the Singapore police using a special operational procedure for Falun Gong. Sometimes the judge even threatened to hold the practitioners "in contempt of court" when they asked questions during the cross examination. Practitioners were often stopped when they asked questions or made a statement. But the practitioners refused to be defeated in spirit. They cooperated with each other and asked questions in alternative ways to prevail over the judge's interference. They made the best use of the limited space granted by the judge and established enough evidence and a legal stand to show the world the case's false charges.

"Presumption of Innocence" and "Inverse Responsibility of Providing Proof"

"Presumption of Innocence" is a legal right that the defendant holds in criminal trials in many modern nations. It states that no person shall be considered guilty until convicted by a court. The burden of proof is on the prosecution, which has to convince the court that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, the prosecution has the responsibility to provide proof to convict the defendants. However, the defence may present evidence to show that there is a doubt as to the guilt of the accused.

Most criminal trials are prosecuted by a government entity against individuals. There are small individuals on one side of the scale and a government's entire justice and police system representing the state authority on the other side. To balance the power of the two sides, there comes the legal right of "presumption of innocence." The increase in the prosecution's responsibility and the increase in the defence's legal rights will maintain legal balance and fairness.

Because of this consideration, international criminal trials are based on the principle of "presumption of innocence." However, a court of law cannot always use the the principle of "presumption of innocence" for the same reason of balancing the rights of the prosecution and the defence. In such cases, the court uses the principle of "inverse responsibility to provide proof." This is usually done in administrative trials.

Administrative trials refer to lawsuits in which individuals file against government officials. Such trials do not presume the innocence of the accused officials. It is based on the principle of "inverse responsibility to provide proof." In other words, the burden of proof is on the accused, or the government. If the government fails to provide proof that convince the judge of its innocence, the government will be considered guilty.

Both "presumption of innocence" and "inverse responsibility to provide proof" mean to balance the rights and power of the prosecution and the defence in the court of law.

The Singapore Court Is Unfair in Its Demand that the Accused Falun Gong Practitioners Assume "Inverse Responsibility to Provide Proof"

The Singapore Court made a mistake in making the defendants assume "inverse responsibility to provide proof" in the criminal trial against Falun Gong practitioners for distributing materials about the practice on the streets of Singapore on October 23rd, 2005. In this case and other false charges against Falun Gong practitioners in Singapore, there are the authoritarian Singaporean police and the Singaporean Prosecution Bureau on the prosecution side of the scale and extremely underprivileged individuals on the defence side. However, the Singaporean judge forced the underprivileged defendants to assume "inverse responsibility to provide proof," making the scale tip to the side of the prosecution even further .

In the first stage of the trial when the prosecution had provided its evidence, the defence had already pointed out enough doubt about the evidence to close the case. For example, the videotape was edited, two witnesses were found telling lies, etc. But the judge claimed that the evidence was not completely overturned and that he would not make an evaluation on the credibility of the prosecution's evidence. Then the judge found the defendants guilty of the charges.

After the defence provided the evidence, and after the hearing was over, the judge asked the prosecution to provide the following pieces of evidence, including:

A) Must prove that the defendants appeared within a span of 100 meters between two downtown plazas between 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

B) Must prove that the defendants knew, to a reasonable extent, that she was attending "an assembly without permit."

C) Must prove that the defendants shared a common goal of creating propaganda and putting a spin on the Falun Gong movement by attending the "assembly."

D) Must prove that the "assembly" led to misconduct or created trouble.

In terms of A), the prosecution has but one videotape, but the tape did not have a time frame track, nor did it capture the six defendants together in the picture. It failed to prove A). In the testimonies, the six defendants admitted walking around in the 2,000-meter long area on Wujie Road between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. They admitted that on average one to three of them were together, but it has been over a year. No one remembers where she was on the road at any given time.

But the judge found the defendants guilty as charged because "the defendants failed to deny A)." Apparently, the judge has shifted the prosecution's responsibility to provide proof to the defence.

As for B), all six defendants denied that they had attended an "assembly without permit" because everyone knows that no permit is required to distribute fliers in Singapore. Ms. Hong Shuyuan said that in her spare time she has distributed not only Falun Gong fliers, but also other materials for her relatives. She knows that her behaviour is by no means harassment to anyone.

The judge emphasised that it would be very dangerous to allow people to attend an assembly because they did not know they needed a permit or think that they were entitled to have an assembly without a permit.

As for C) and D), the defendants emphasised in their testimonies that clarifying the facts about Falun Gong has become part of their life for the past few years and that it is a requirement for a Falun Gong practitioner. Hence, they stressed that distributing Falun Gong fliers is part of religious or spiritual freedom as warranted in the Constitution and that it should not be regarded as the agenda of the activity on October 25. Besides, a few individuals spreading some fliers among the vast crowd is but an individual act to share information with predestined people. It cannot possibly achieve the goal of creating propaganda or putting a spin on the Falun Gong movement. In Singapore, the Singaporean government's official media is required to spread propaganda or put a spin on something. For the past few years, the smear campaign on the media is the real "propaganda" and "spin."

The prosecution admitted that the defendants did not cause harassment, but had the possibility and tendency to cause harassment. The prosecution said that the materials they were handing out contained photographs of Ms. Gao Rongrong's ruined face and the words, "Heaven shall annihilate the Chinese Communist Party." He said this is politically sensitive information and is not neutral. Hence, he believes that the information might cause people to panic or become emotional and, thus, cause riots.

The judge said that the parliament and the constitution define what "harassment" is, but he does not think the prosecution needs to prove the existence of "harassment" in order to prosecute the six Falun Gong practitioners.

Falun Gong practitioner Dr. Wang Yuyi refuted, "It is a well known fact that the Chinese Communist Party brutally persecutes Falun Gong practitioners. If the media reported the fact that Hitler brutally killed the Jews, it would not mean the media failed to be objective. On the contrary, the media would fail to be objective if they did not report the fact of Hitler's genocide of the Jews. For many decades, there have been numerous reports about WWII. People reference the genocide of the Jews as a lesson not to be repeated. We have never heard any report of irrational actions caused by the reports. For the past few years, Falun Gong practitioners worldwide have been spreading the same facts and we have never heard of any riot."

Ms. Ng Chye Huay said that the situation is not at all like what the judge imagined. "For the past few years, Falun Gong practitioners have been clarifying the facts about the persecution of Falun Gong. Many people thank us for the information after they understand the facts."

In short, the judge and the prosecution accused the defence of spreading propaganda, putting a spin on the Falun Gong movement, and having the possibility of harassing people. However, both the prosecution and the judge failed to present any evidence backing up their accusation. They simply made a subjective speculation. This is a typical example of "presumption of guilt."

Judge Asks Defence to Prove the Prosecution Failed to Provide Evidence

The videotape that the prosecution presented as evidence is a focal point of controversy. There are red flags all over the tape. Few will believe it was the original videotape taken on October 23rd, 2005 and most would conclude that it has to be an edited videotape used as false evidence. This is far from reasonable doubt.

The prosecution also understood his responsibility to provide proof, so he immediately produced another videotape to conceal problems in the first videotape. But when the videotape raised more questions, the prosecution immediately rebuked took the videotape. The two witnesses kept trying to hide something while speaking. They provided self-conflicting testimonies, especially the second witness Mr. Huang Yaozong. Normally the judge would raise more doubts on the first videotape. Instead, the judge tried to smooth things over for the prosecution! The judge said, "The defence has raised questions about the second videotape. It is fine for the prosecution to retrieve the videotape. The defence must not ask any more question about it."

In the end, the judge pronounced the defence guilty of all charges based on this single piece of questionable evidence. No wonder the judge insisted on having a "secret trial" until he sent the defendants to jail.

Because the defendants kept questioning the videotape, the prosecution and the judge teamed up and shifted the responsibility of providing proof to the defence. They demanded that the defence provide technical evidence to prove the prosecution's evidence was flawed. Because the prosecution suggested having the videotape examined by a third party and the defence did not respond, the judge and the prosecution used it as evidence that the defence failed to "provide proof."

Dr. Wang Yuyi refuted, "It is our responsibility as the defence to raise questions and defend ourselves. It is the prosecution's responsibility to respond to our defence. The prosecution knows that he has failed to provide proof to convict us with the first videotape and he has produced the second videotape to address the questions over the first videotape, but he failed on both accounts. As for having a third party examine the video, I do not have to respond to that at present. If they cannot obtain a report favourable to the prosecution, it is good for us. If they can, we will respond after we read the report."

In summary, when the defence raised a lot of questions over the first videotape, both the prosecution and the judge knew that the prosecution failed to provide proof to convict the defendants. That was why the prosecution produced the second videotape, but both videotapes failed the prosecution's purpose. Yet the judge still pronounced the defendants guilty as charged.

The Singapore Justice System Knowingly Transgresses the Law

In fact, the legal professionals in Singapore are far from unprofessional. The prosecutor and the judge tried to fill the holes in their prosecution when the first videotape was presented. They have done so in the previous lawsuits against Falun Gong practitioners in Singapore. But they were not filling holes to establish the charges. They simply wanted to make the sham trial less obvious. It does not matter even if it is obvious to the public that this is just a sham trial because the judge has already made the decision to pronounce the defendants guilty regardless.

In "Haw Tua Tau v Public Prosecutor [1981] 2 MLJ 49," which is often cited in the Singapore Justice System, Lord Diplock expounded clearly on the principle of "presumption of innocence" and the prosecution's responsibility to provide proof in criminal trials:

"The evidence must be subjected to the highest, not lowest standard of scrutiny. The facts proved by the prosecution must therefore satisfy the trial judge beyond reasonable doubt that the correct inference to be drawn from those facts is that the accused person is guilty. The trial judge is not allowed to act on the presumption that the primary evidence is true. Nor is he to make only a minimal assessment - to decide if the necessary inferences 'would reasonably be drawn'. He must make a maximum assessment - to decide if he has no reasonable doubt that those are the correct inferences to make."

In "Mat v PP [1963] 29 MLJ 263," another case often cited in court, Suffian J stated:

"The correct law for Magistrates to apply is as follows. If you accept the explanation given by or on behalf of the accused, you must of course acquit. But this does not entitle you to convict if you do not believe the explanation, for he is still entitled to an acquittal if it raises in your mind a reasonable doubt as to his guilt, as the onus of proving his guilt lies throughout on the prosecution. If upon the whole evidence you are left in a real state of doubt, the prosecution has failed to satisfy the onus of proof which lies upon it."

The judge might as well argue that he is convinced that the defendants are guilty from the very beginning and that he will never change his mind despite the defence's arguments or evidence.

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