The city-state's tight control over how and when its citizens may speak in public was thrown into the spotlight yesterday as an opposition leader went on trial over a speech at Speakers' Corner. Chee Soon Juan, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, appeared before District Judge Kow Keng Siong on charges that he breached the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act by speaking about a banned topic on February 15. If convicted, he could be fined up to S$10,000 (HK$45,000). Speakers' Corner is the only place in Singapore where citizens can speak publicly without an official permit. But the venue still has rules, including a stipulation that speakers may not raise any matter 'which relates directly or indirectly to any religious belief or religions generally'. Chee's 40-minute address, a videotape of which was played to the court, criticised the government's ban on Muslim schoolgirls wearing Islamic headscarves in state schools. Earlier this year, three girls were barred from school for flouting the dress-code. A fourth was removed by her parents before she was suspended. During the speech, police warned Chee that he could not raise the headscarf topic. They advised him to apply for a licence but did not arrest him. Assistant Superintendent Foo Hong Ping told the court Chee was questioned on March 8 and charged on May 28. Issues of race and religion are sensitive in multicultural Singapore. 'Let us advocate tolerance, let us embrace diversity . . . Let us reach across the racial divide,' Chee said during his address. The case continues.