Singapore: ‘Sovereign’ woman who refused to wear mask gets two weeks’ jail, S$2,000 fine

Paramjeet Kaur arriving at the State Courts on May 7, 2021. — TODAY pic
Paramjeet Kaur arriving at the State Courts on May 7, 2021. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, May 7 — A woman who gained notoriety last year for claiming she was a “sovereign” above the law was jailed two weeks and fined S$2,000 today.

Paramjeet Kaur, a 41-year-old Singaporean, pleaded guilty to one charge each of public nuisance and not wearing a face mask during the circuit breaker period last year that restricted movements and activities.

Five other charges, including refusing to sign a police statement and failing to report a change of residence to the authorities within 28 days, were considered for sentencing.

A judge ordered that her two-week remand last year at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) be taken into account, which means she ultimately does not need to serve her jail term.

Videos of her confrontations with members of the public at Shunfu Mart had gone viral online last year, prompting Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam to speak up about the case.

Court documents showed that she left her home to eat in front of a food stall at Shunfu Mart on April 14.

She also did not wear a face mask in public on three occasions — April 26 and 30 and May 3.

On May 3, she went to Shunfu Mart to buy groceries.

The daughter of a couple who owned a bean sprout stall at the wet market’s basement level noticed that she was not wearing a mask and decided to confront her.

Paramjeet then retorted that she did not need to as she was not sick. She also refused to wear a mask when someone offered her one.

This led to an argument and commotion in full view of stallholders and customers there.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) V Jesudevan told the court that the woman who confronted Paramjeet called the police, after Paramjeet remained “defiant and adamant” about not wearing a mask.

When members of the public prevented her from trying to leave the scene, she raised her mobile phone and began filming everyone.

She shouted that the police could not do anything to her, adding that she was a “sovereign” and not a person but “we the people”.

She again refused to wear a mask even after someone offered her one in the presence of police officers.

The radical belief that one is a “sovereign citizen” above the law — and gets to decide which rules to obey and which ones to ignore — has its roots in the United States in the 1970s and was largely influenced by white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups from the 1960s to 1980s.

When she was first charged in court two days after the incident, she told the court that she was a “living woman” and would “extend her sovereign immunity” to her then-lawyer.

‘She had asthma’

DPP Jesudevan asked for two weeks’ jail, noting that Paramjeet had remained “openly defiant in the face of law enforcement being present and in the glare of the public eye”.

While she claimed to have asthma, she was merely diagnosed with acute bronchitis in 2013. She obtained a medical memo after the incident last year and the doctor merely stated that she should use an inhaler to control it, the prosecutor added.

“If she complies with an inhaler, I don’t see why she can’t wear a mask. Certainly she’s wearing one now even though it’s not covering her nose,” DPP Jesudevan added.

When she was remanded and assessed at IMH, a psychiatrist found that she did not suffer from any mental ailment.

While the defence said that she suffered from depression, her private psychiatrist simply said she was not of unsound mind and there were no real issues with her, DPP Jesudevan added.

Her lawyers, Kertar Singh and Mohamed Arshad from law firm Kertar & Sandhu, asked for a fine instead.

They told the court that the case appeared to have attracted an “unhealthy level of publicity” that led to her being harassed, with people even turning up at her residence. Some comments even appeared to be defamatory in nature, they said.

Singh added: “She has suffered in silence and seeks to put this unfortunate episode behind her, but she’s worried the social media bullying will continue even after she’s paid the price She is deeply remorseful and regrets her actions. She is careful to adhere to measures and dutifully wears a mask when she needs to.”

As for the incident itself, Singh claimed that she was “shocked and frightened” by a “tall bespectacled man” stomping up to a stallholder at the time and breaking out in a “sudden, unwarranted outburst”.

Members of the public verbally abused her and slapped her hand, with many taking videos and shouting at her, Singh added.

The lawyers also sought to explain that she had asthma of moderate severity, and did not think she needed to wear a mask as it would “hinder, to some extent, her ability to breathe normally”. He added that the Government had also changed its stance and made it mandatory to wear masks on April 14.

On her background, Singh said that she experienced a “difficult childhood”.

She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Australia and worked there as a physiotherapist, but “loneliness drove her” to return to Singapore. However, she could not find a job.

In sentencing Paramjeet, District Judge Ronald Gwee agreed with the prosecution’s characterisation of her behaviour.

He added: “The incidents demonstrate an egregious disregard for the provisions imposed for the safety of everyone during the early days of the most serious aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Such provisions were made public and there’s no reason for anyone to state that they were not aware of (them) and, more so, to be in blatant disregard and disobedience of such provisions.”

For public nuisance, she could have been fined up to S$2,000.

She could also have been fined up to S$10,000 or jailed up to six months, or both, for breaching Covid-19 regulations. — TODAY

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