Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hong Lim Park Countdown, 31 Dec, 6pm to 12am

What are you doing on New Year's Eve?
Singapore Democrats, 15 Dec 08

Dear all,

Every year on the eve of the New Year, we do a countdown with MediaCorp on Orchard Road and sing Auld Lang Syne with the President or the PAP Ministers. And every year nothing changes. Can the celebration be anymore meaningless?

This year, for the first time in Singapore's history, an opposition party is organising a New Year's Eve gathering. It'll be at the Speakers' Corner. While we want this to be a time of celebration, we also want it to be a moment of reflection of what went on this year and what's in store the next.

Of course, 2008 cannot pass without remembering the passing away of a friend and loyal servant of this nation, the late Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (JBJ). In the final minutes of the year, it would be appropriate to remember him and everything he has done for Singapore. More importantly, let us stand by his legacy and help make it grow. Speakers will pay tribute to the man and we will organise an "open-mic" for those who wish to remember him.

There will also New Year's Wish Board where folks will be able to write and post their wishes and resolutions for 2009. We'll sing freedom songs as well as songs of tribute to JBJ. We'll do a countdown ourselves to 2009 and usher in the New Year our way. We're also planning to do a candlelight display with the help of everyone present.

Party members and Friends of SDP will be serving a simple dinner of hot dogs and chips.

There'll be plenty to do that evening and we hope that you will bring your family and friends to be with people who truly care about this nation and its future. Let us make this a truly memorable and meaningful evening.

So join us at Hong Lim Park starting at 6 pm on 31 Dec 2008 all the way into the 2009. Tell everyone!

We'll be announcing more details in the coming days. (See here and here)

Gandhi Ambalam
Singapore Democratic Party

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Book review: Beyond Suspicion? - The Singapore Judiciary

See my earlier post for an excerpt from this book by Francis Seow.

This is a book review by Michael D Barr. Barr is the author of Lee Kuan Yew: The Beliefs Behind the Man which was published in 2000. This year saw the publication of the book Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-War Singapore which Barr co-edited with Carl A Trocki. Barr's chapter in the book is called Singapore's Catholic Social Activists: Alleged Marxist Conspirators.

Source: Singapore Window

Pacific Affairs Fall 2008
Vol 81, Number 3

ProQuest Asian Business and Reference pg. 494

Review by Dr Michael D Barr, Flinders University, Australia

BEYOND SUSPICION? The Singapore Judiciary By Francis T. Seow; with a foreword by Gary Woodard. New Haven (Connecticut): Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, 2006. xxii, 405pp. (Tables.) US$26.00 paper. ISBN 0-938692-87-9.

Order from Amazon

FRANCIS Seow's third book is a savage and unmerciful critique of Singapore's judicial system. He provides convincing evidence that the Singapore court system is basically the play-thing of former Prime Minister (currently Minister Mentor) Lee Kuan Yew, through which he toys with and destroys his enemies at his leisure; corrupting the Bench, the legal profession, the police and the profession of journalism on the way through. The case presented by Seow - which is overwhelming drawn from the intimate detail of a single legal battle - demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that Singapore is at heart a corrupt dictatorship separated from Third World dictatorships primarily by its national income and the cleverness of the techniques by which it manipulates institutional power.

It is a damning indictment that could have been much more powerful if Seow had resisted the temptation to indulge in childish name calling and heavy-handed didacticism. These acts of self-indulgence dominate the first part of the book and are never far away in the rest. Their main impact, as far as I can see, is to give defenders of the Singapore system and of Lee Kuan Yew the excuse they need to dismiss the book as "just another anti-Singapore rant". Seow's arrogant style was probably perfected while he was part of the system he is now critiquing (having been Lee's choice for the position of Solicitor-General in the 1980s), but if the reader can put these defects aside it will become clear that this is a deeply disturbing story of manipulative and duplicitous behaviour on the part of Lee Kuan Yew as he set out to use a quiescent judicial and legal fraternity to destroy an innocent man, along with his wife and his lawyer.

The man in question is Tang Liang Hong who had the temerity to question the procedure by which Lee Kuan Yew and other notables (including his son and the current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong), were cleared of any suggestion of impropriety when they accepted million dollar discounts from a property developer. Much of the book is concerned with the political and public relations machinations by which Tang was caught up in Lee's web of retaliation, but in this review it must be sufficient to relay just a few of the most salient facts to give the reader a sense of the book.

For instance, what are we to make of a legal system that gives a defendant a couple of hours (literally) to find a solicitor, a translator (since she could speak no English), and prepare and present a defence in court to a procedure about which she had literally no understanding? Or where a judge sits in judgement on a case where he himself is implicated as a recipient of one of the real estate discounts that started the whole procedure, and who had previously worked for the family law firm of the primary litigant (Lee Kuan Yew)? Or where a judge (not the same judge) can receive many sets of documents, each hundreds of pages thick and so badly copied and paginated as to substantially illegible and unreadable, and yet two and a half hours later bring down a legal judgement based on his considered legal interpretation of the implications of their contents? Or where a summons to chambers is issued by an appellant's lawyers rather than by the court, but the court upholds it? Or where evidence that proves beyond all reasonable doubt the innocence of the defendant is not only refused admission in court, but all record of its existence is expunged from the record?

Seow has drawn primarily on court documents for his evidence, having been supplied with a complete set (included documents later expunged from the record) by Tang Liang Hong, who is now a de facto exile from Singapore. Fully the last third of the volume is occupied by transcriptions of some of the most damning court documents, including a fair sample of documents where Lee Kuan Yew and his allies condemn themselves by their own words. (Seow delights in using Lee's own words to demonstrate his capriciousness and duplicity. At one point he was even able to cite Lee as his primary source to sustain his charge that Lee was the arch-manipulator of the proceedings. Seow tends to overplay his hand when using this technique, but Lee's arrogance and peremptory choice of words do rather lend themselves to ridicule.)

This is a powerful book, but it could have been much more.

Dr Barr :
Lecturer in International Relations,
School of Political and International Studies,
Flinders University

School Director of Studies (B.A)

School Ethics Research Adviser Deputy Chair,
Faculty of Social Sciences Undergraduate Standing Committee.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Report, photos & videos of Roo Boys' release from Queenstown Remand Prison

More photos here

The latest Hooray
Singapore Democrats, 19 Dec 2008

A candlelight vigil was held on the night of 17 Dec 08, the last night of Mr Isrizal's and Mr Shafi'ie's prison sentence.

More than 30 friends, family, activists and supporters came to the vigil which stretched through the night as they awaited the release of the two men. Mr John Tan started serving his sentence on 16 Dec and will be released on 30 Dec 08.

Candles were lit and lined the kerb facing the main gates of the Queenstown Remand Prison. By midnight, there were just five who were able to stay through the night. But they were not alone as messages of support and pledges of solidarity had been penned on a large placard. SMSes of the same spirit were received throughout the night.

A vigil is a kind of purposeful sleeplessness – the Latin root, vigilia, denotes "watch, watchfulness, wakefulness". Traditionally used in an ecclesiastical sense to describe a devotional exercise performed on the eve of a festival or holy day, in this instance it was a night to devote attention to our three prisoners of conscience.

Famously dubbed as the "kangaroo t-shirt trio", the contempt of court charges were brought against them by the Attorney-General who insisted that he took action in his capacity as the "Guardian of the Public Interest".

As a public interest issue, the question remains if this was the best course of action to take against three citizens for wearing t-shirts which bore an image with no words.

The night was cool and the air still. Sound carried from the guardhouse behind the gates. At one point, late into the night, the guard could be heard reporting on the vigil: "One was 'doing arts-&-craft', the others chatting whilst another was 'looking at the stars', etc." The arts-&-craft activity was in reference to the making of a "Welcome Back" sign.

A song* (see below) was written and rehearsed, sung tongue-in-cheek to the tune of Amazing Grace, to greet the two.

Morning came and supporters and well-wishers arrived to greet the two as the time of release neared.

At around 10 am, Mr Shafi'ie emerged. He strode to the gates, calm, composed and dignified. He was garlanded and warmly hugged. He was also presented with a booklet, a compilation of articles about his valour and strength in the face of such difficulty, especially at such a young age. The song was performed with gusto and to much laughter.

Mr Isrizal appeared soon after (at about 10.30 am). Upon exiting the prison, he punched the air shouting "Merdeka!" The same welcome was extended and he was also garlanded, hugged and "serenaded".

*Song lyrics

Oh Shafi'ie and Isrizal,
For seven days, you were jailed
Because of _ _ _ and _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (**)
And a single kangaroo

And now you're back with us today
We hope you enjoyed your stay
But John's still inside this afternoon
And the rest will join in, soon

Hip Hop Hooray
Hip Hop Hooray
Hip Hop Hooray Hooray

Hip Hop Hooray
Hip Hop Hooray
Hip Hop Hooray today

**Play hangman. Fill in the blanks at your own peril.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

3 Jan 09 - Memorial service for J B Jeyaretnam

Date: Jan 3, 2009
Time: 5pm - 6.30pm
Venue: St Andrew's Cathedral
Organiser: Kenneth Jeyaretnam
Sign-up/log-in to see the facebook event page here. See here for the facebook group In Memory of J B Jeyaretnam.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Overnight vigil for 3 prisoners of conscience on Dec 17

There will be a candlelight vigil from 8pm, Wednesday 17 December 2008 outside Queenstown Remand Prison for the three jailed citizens – activists Isrizal Mohamed Isa and Muhammad Shafi'ie Syahmi Sariman, and the Assistant Secretary-General of the SDP, John Tan. They were convicted for contempt of court for wearing t-shirts bearing only an image in and around the New Supreme Court Building whilst another hearing was going on in May 2008. This was interpreted to have scandalised the Singapore Judiciary.

The charges were brought against the three in the Attorney-General's capacity as the "Guardian of the Public Interest" (as recorded in the submissions made by the AG). Contempt of court is a serious charge with consequences that impinge upon the fundamental liberty of a person, and this power of the Courts should be exercised with great wisdom. Given that the matter was pursued 4 to 5 months after the fact; and that the sentences passed (7 days in jail for Isrizal and Shafi'ie, 15 days for John as well as each being ordered to be pay costs of $5000 plus disbursements to the Attorney-General) are one of the heaviest sentences, did it really serve the public interest to have theses cases brought to court? If it is indeed such a grave public interest issue, was there anything else that could have been done to resolve the matter more efficiently and effectively? Perhaps they could have been warned on the day of the incident itself, or stopped, or had the t-shirts confiscated. Instead state resources have been ploughed into putting these brave souls, who did not apologise based on reasons of conscience and convictions, behind bars.

The vigil will be a show of solidarity and support, as well as to welcome Isrizal and Shafi'ie, who will be released the next morning (Thursday, 18 December) at 9.30am. Regrettably, John would still be serving his sentence, which would have commenced on 16 December 2008.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What the Constitution gives, the State takes away

Judge refuses to consider ban on protests unconstitutional
Singapore Democrats, 4 Dec 08

In the ongoing trial of four activists charged for attempting to participate in a procession, Dr Chee Soon Juan asked District Judge Toh Yong Joo to allow the defendants to question the police on why it rejected the application for a permit to conduct a rally and march. The Judge refused.

Dr Chee also asked the Judge to determine that the policy to ban all demonstrations and processions in Singapore is unconstitutional. The Judge also refused.

Dr Chee is charged together with Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Ms Chee Siok Chin and Mr Teoh Tian Jing for protesting during the WB-IMF meeting in Sep 06.

In his submissions Dr Chee cited a decision made by former Chief Justice Yong Pung How who had relied on Lord Justice Woolf's judgment in an English case.

Woolf LJ had ruled that where it is pointed that there has been an abuse of power and bad faith on the policy maker a criminal court should allow cross-examination of the prosecution witness to determine the issue.

The issue stemmed from prosecution witness Deputy Superintendent Marc E Kwan Szer's testimony that the "policy position of the police regarding outdoor processions and demonstrations is one of disallowance."

Dr Chee asked Judge Toh to rule that this policy contravenes the constitution that guaranteed Singaporeans the right to freedom of speech and assembly.

"No person, able to reason, would conclude that the policy is not substantially out of line and patently unreasonable with the Constitution, both in spirit and in the letter," the SDP leader pointed out.

He added that the police are playing the fool with the Constitution which according to Article 4 "is the supreme law of the Republic of Singapore and any law enacted by the Legislature after the commencement of this Constitution which is inconsistent with this Constitution void."

He cited Lord Justice Woolf's judgement on this issue: "No citizen is required to comply with a law which is bad on its face. If the citizen is satisfied that that is the situation, he is entitled to ignore the law."

The Prosecutor insisted that the only thing that mattered was whether or not the defendants had a permit to conduct their activity. But didn't DSP Marc E testify that all applications for demonstrations and processions would be disallowed?

"The illogic of the charge jars the reasonable mind. Can the police accuse anyone of not having a permit when it makes clear that it will not give that permit?" Dr Chee posed the question to the Judge.

"If the Constitution clearly tells me that I have the right to freedom of speech and assembly," the SDP leader continued, "but the police tell me that it will not grant me a permit for it, then the police policy is clearly [unconstitutional].

"This being the case, LJ Woolf, to which Yong CJ attached much importance, tells me that I am not required to comply with such a policy."

Judge Toh dismissed Dr Chee's arguments and insisted that the only thing that was important was the "existence or non-existence of a permit."

The hearing continues at Subordinate Court 19 at 9:30 am tomorrow.
Full text of Dr Chee's submissions

Your Honour,

When the defence tried to question the witness, licensing officer DSP Marc E Kwan Szer, to show that the police had acted in bad faith when they rejected my application for a rally and march on 16 September 2006, and hence violating my constitutional rights, the prosecution objected on two grounds:

One, the line of questioning was irrelevant to the charge and, two, that even if it was relevant, this court is not the forum to hear such an issue. The proper forum should be by way of a Judicial Review.

Let me begin by addressing the second question first, that is, whether this court is the proper forum to canvas issues about bad faith and mala fide on the part of the police as it relates to the constitution.

I will do this by citing the decision of Yong Pung How, then CJ, in Colin Chan v PP (1994) 3 SLR 662. In the decision, Yong CJ had examined a host of authorities and culminated with the citing of an English case Bugg v PP (1993) 2 WLR 628 which was heard by Woolf LJ.

Yong CJ remarked that some “conflicting decisions seem to have been finally determined“ by Woolf LJ in Bugg v PP. I quote Yong CJ to emphasize the weight he placed on Woolf's LJ judgment, that there was a sense of a finality, and hence great importance, in Woolf's decision.

Woolf had addressed the issue of the role of a criminal court, such as this one, as it related to the question of substantive validity of a law or subordinate law. Woolf LJ said:
"These developments are, in our judgment, of importance when considering the proper role of a criminal court where a defendant who is charged with breaching a byelaw seeks to challenge the validity of that byelaw. It is possible to identify at least two different situations in which this will arise. The first is where the byelaw is on its face invalid because either it is without the power pursuant to which it was made because, for example, it seeks to deal with matters outside the scope of the enabling legislation, or it is patently unreasonable. This can be described as substantive invalidity."
Is there a question of substantive invalidity in the present case? Of course, there is. I want to place these two statements side by side. The first statement is Article 14 (1) of the Constitution which is the supreme law of the land:

(a) every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression;

(b) all citizens of Singapore have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and

(c) all citizens of Singapore have the right to form associations.

The second statement is from the witness DSP Marc E: "police position regarding outdoor processions and demonstrations is one of disallowance...Our policy position is clear: Outdoor processions and demonstrations are disallowed whether or not there is a major meeting going on.

Your Honour, you will first have to rule whether, on the face of it, this police policy enunciated by DSP Marc E is substantively invalid vis-a-vis the Constitution.

I recognise that subsection 2 of Article 14 provides that Parliament may by law impose restrictions. But these restrictions are imposed only under certain circumstances such as the security of Singapore is concerned, or where public order is threatened.

It does not allow the government, or worse the police, to adopt a "position" that "outdoor processions and demonstrations is one of disallowance" and that "all applications are rejected."

The police are playing the fool with the Constitution. They are making a mockery of our Constitution which states in Article 4: "This Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic of Singapore and any law enacted by the Legislature after the commencement of this Constitution which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void."

It would take someone very reckless to say that there is no substantive invalidity in this police policy. No person, able to reason, would conclude that the policy is not substantially out of line and patently unreasonable with the Constitution, both in spirit and in the letter.

Or course the next question that is: Does this court have the power to consider such a question of substantive validity? Of course, you have. Woolf LJ writes:
"In the criminal proceeding what has to be established is that the byelaw is unreasonable in the way in which it operates. This aspect of substantive invalidity was illustrated by Lord Russell of Killowen CJ in Kruse v Johnson (1898) 2 Q B 91, 99 as occurring, for instance, if the byelaws:'were found to be partial and unequal in their operation as between different classes; if they were manifestly unjust; if they disclosed bad faith; if they involved such oppressive or gratuitous interference with the rights of those subject to them as could find no justification in the minds of reasonable men...' "
Woolf reiterates this point later:
"In the case of substantive invalidity, it is a matter of law whether, for example, a byelaw is unreasonable in operation or is out with the authorising power. No evidence is required; the [criminal] court can decide the issue by looking at the terms of the primary legislation and the subordinate legislation which is alleged to be invalid."
So the law is utterly clear that the criminal court, that is this present court, can consider the question of whether the written policy of the Singapore Police Force is substantively invalid of the Constitution.

Which brings us to the next question: What does this Court do with a policy that is substantively invalid? On this subject Woolf LJ didn'tt mince his words:
"Where the law is substantively invalid...No citizen is required to comply with a law which is bad on its face. If the citizen is satisfied that that is the situation, he is entitled to ignore the law."
I had a discussion with a lawyer and she had tried explaining to me what an "element of the charge" was. She used the analogy of a person being charged for, say, not displaying a parking coupon. An element of the charge is that there was no coupon displayed at the time the car was checked.

She went on to explain that the driver cannot then say that at that time the shops were all closed and there was no one from whom he could purchase the parking coupon. Such a defence was irrelevant to the element of the charge.

But what if the authorities said they did not sell the coupons? Would the matter now change? The driver had no way of buying such coupons at any time to display on his car. Could he still be charged for parking his without a coupon?

This is exactly what is happening in our present charge. The prosecution maintains that the element of the charge, or at least one of the elements, is that we did not have a permit for the procession. But as you have heard from DSP Marc E, the police's policy position is that they reject all applications and that they disallow all processions.

The illogic of the charge jars the reasonable mind. Can the police accuse anyone of not having a permit when it makes clear that it will not give that permit?

If the Constitution clearly tells me that I have the right to freedom of speech and assembly but the police tells me that it will not grant me a permit for it, then the police policy is clearly substantively invalid and this being the case Woolf's LJ decision, to which Yong CJ attached much importance, tells me that I am not required to comply with such a policy.

Clearly there is an abuse of power on the part of the police to not give permits under any circumstance because, as I outlined above, the Constitution does not grant the blanket ban on demonstrations and processions.

We have been trying to demonstrate to the court that there is abuse of power, mala fide and bad faith by the police. The only way that we can do this is to adduce evidence through cross-examination of the present witness, Mr Marc E. Should Your Honour allow us to do with such cross-examination?

Woolf LJ cannot be clearer on this:
"We have particularly in mind cases where it is suggested that there has been an abuse of power because of mala fides on the part of the byelaw maker. In the case of bad faith, there may be an issue which the criminal court can determine and if so, evidence will be required."
To recap:

The crux of the matter is that our constitutional rights may not be taken away by the police taking on some "policy position." Such policy is substantively invalid.

The issue of substantive invalidity of the police policy must be relevant to the charge because it renders the charge null and void. No citizen is expected to obey a law that is substantively invalid to the Constitution.

There is more than a suggestion of bad faith and mala fide on the part of the police. This necessitates our cross-examination of the licensing officer in order for us to adduce evidence.

Because of the issues of substantive invalidity and bad faith, this court has the power to hear the arguments without the need for a Judicial Review.

Your Honour, the law is clearly with the defence and we ask that you administer justice accordingly.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Back to being Singapore Dissident

I wonder what the Attorney-General's Chambers means when its reported to have said its "currently looking into the matter". Ominous choice of words. Don't tell me they're going to pursue Gopalan Nair all the way to the United States.
Nair retracts apologies
by Zakir Hussain, ST Online, 3 Dec 08

FORMER Singaporean lawyer Gopalan Nair, now back home in the United States, has retracted apologies and statements he made in court here last month.

Mr Nair, an American citizen, had admitted to being in contempt of court and apologised for offending remarks he made about the judiciary and a district judge.

He also promised to remove two blog posts relating to his trial and conviction for disorderly behaviour.

But in a blog post on Nov 28 - two days after returning to the US from Singapore - he announced that he was withdrawing the admission and apologies, and repeated his criticism of the judiciary.

Mr Nair, who lives in Fremont, near San Francisco, wrote: 'The only reason for my apology was a desire to get out of prison as soon as possible.

'They brought these new contempt charges while I was incarcerated in prison, with only eight days to go for my release. If I had not apologised as Lee Kuan Yew wanted, there was the possibility that I could be kept in prison for a further period of up to six months...'

On the two postings he agreed to remove, and which he did delete from his blog, he 'will be re-posting those two blog posts and stand by every word that I had written in them'.

He has yet to re-post them, a check last night showed.

Asked for comments on these developments, a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said it is 'currently looking into the matter'.

Mr Nair came to Singapore in May to attend a hearing to assess damages in a defamation suit that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew won against the Singapore Democratic Party, its chief Chee Soon Juan and his sister Chee Siok Chin.

In writing about the case on his blog, he insulted High Court Justice Belinda Ang, who presided over the case. He was charged and found guilty of the offence and received a three-month jail term in September.

Separately, in July, he behaved in a disorderly fashion and hurled expletives at police officers. He was charged and after a trial held on various dates between July and September, he was fined $3,000.

In late October, while he was serving his three-month term, the AGC applied to start contempt proceedings for Mr Nair's attacks on the independence of the judge and judiciary. These were made during his trial for disorderly conduct and in two blog posting.

The posts on Sept 1 and Sept 6 were titled 'Another classic case of trying to use the courts to silence dissent' and 'Convicted'.

But when he was brought to court on Nov 12 for the contempt hearing, Mr Nair unconditionally withdrew the allegations he made against District Judge James Leong, and statements alleging that the courts were beholden to the Government.

As a result of the apology and an undertaking he gave not to make such statements in future, and to remove the offending blog posts, the AGC did not press for a jail term.

Mr Nair was admonished, warned against launching future attacks on the judiciary, and had to pay the AGC $5,000 in legal costs.

Shortly after his release from prison on Nov 20 - following a one-third remission on his three-month sentence for good behaviour - he returned to the US.

Apart from last Friday's blog post retracting his statements, Mr Nair had a separate post on Sunday criticising High Court Justice Judith Prakash. This was over the jail terms she imposed on three men found to be in contempt of court for wearing T-shirts depicting a kangaroo in judge's robes.

Fremont attorney released from Singapore jail
By Linh Tat, The Argus, 28 Nov 08

FREMONT — Immigration attorney Gopalan Nair returned to the Bay Area this week after six months in Singapore, where he was imprisoned for two months after being convicted of sedition.

Nair, a San Jose resident who practices law in Fremont — in an office above The Argus — maintained his innocence Friday and continued to lash out at the Singaporean government as being corrupt.

The 58-year-old had traveled to his homeland in May to observe the defamation trial of some opposition political leaders.

Afterward, he criticized the High Court judge, Belinda Ang, as a "stooge" for the country's leader, Lee Kuan Yew. She was "prostituting herself during the entire proceedings, by being nothing more than an employee of Lee Kuan Yew and his son and carrying out their orders," he wrote in a May 29 blog entry.

Friday, he pulled out his Webster's dictionary to explain what he meant by prostitute: "a person ... who sells his or her services for low or unworthy purposes."

Nair said he did not mean the judge engaged in sexual activities, but that she had misused her powers.

"Those words were strong, no doubt. But ... those words were necessary because this judge was ... shamelessly abusing her authority," he said.

"She was not carrying out her duties in a judicial manner."

In the same blog entry, Nair seemingly challenged the court by providing his name and the name and address of the hotel at which he was staying, stating that, "It will be interesting to see if ... Lee Kuan Yew and son, who strut around ... bullying everyone who so much as criticized (them), will sue me now for calling him nothing more than a small time street bully."

Nair was arrested at the hotel May 31 and spent several days in solitary confinement, during which time police officers would interrogate him at odd hours of the night to try to get him to confess to e-mailing the judge with threatening letters, he said. He has continued to deny that accusation.

The immigration attorney posted bail about a week after his arrest, and a trial date was set for September. But Nair said authorities confiscated his passport, forcing him to remain in the area.

Homeless, Nair at one point slept in a warehouse and developed a respiratory problem that landed him in a hospital for five days, he said.

On July 4, while awaiting trial, Nair was arrested again — this time for disorderly conduct and insulting an officer. He denied both claims, saying he was walking alone on the street when five plainclothes officers attacked him. Nevertheless, Nair was found guilty and fined $3,000.

As for the sedition charge, despite his insistence that he had used the term "prostituting" correctly and that he never sent threatening e-mails to the judge, Nair was sentenced in September to three months in jail. After serving two months, he was released Nov. 20 for good behavior.

A week before his release, Nair said authorities accused him being contemptuous in court during the trial regarding his July 4 arrest. Because he did not want to jeopardize his chances of being released, Nair said he pleaded guilty and agreed never to criticize the government on his blog again. He also agreed to remove controversial entries he had posted Sept. 1 and 6.

But on Friday, he said he plans to repost the two previous entries and that he will continue to write critical pieces of the government, realizing he'll never be able to step foot in Singapore again.

Nair, who lived a total of 35 years in Singapore, twice ran for Parliament as a member of the Workers Party, but lost his bids for office. He immigrated to the United States in 1991, where he was granted political asylum and became a U.S. citizen in 2005.

After leaving Singapore this week, he flew into San Francisco airport Wednesday, and spent his first two nights back in the United States at the Islander Motel in Fremont because power and water lines had been turned off at his San Jose home. Although electricity had not been restored to his home by Friday evening, Nair planned to return home.

He owes about six months in mortgage payments for his house, back rent for his law office, plus he needs to pay off his credit cards, including half a year's worth of interest. While waiting for his trial to begin in Singapore, Nair took out cash advances on his credit card to pay for living expenses.

Factoring in lost wages, court fees and the interests on debts he owes, Nair estimated that the entire ordeal has set him back $100,000 — and he believes he is in danger of losing his house.

"I paid a price, but the Singaporean government has paid a bigger price," he said, adding that his case has shed more light on what he called a tyrannical government.

"Before this incident, I was just Gopalan Nair. Who? ... But after this case, (Singaporean leaders) have made me more popular. They made my blog popular. They've given publicity to my cause," he said.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Singapore (government) strikes again: Wall Street Journal

Singapore Strikes Again
Wall Street Journal, 29 Nov 08

The city-state resumes its campaign against the Journal.

Let us begin with an apology to our readers in Asia. Unless they are online, they will not see this editorial. For legal reasons, we are refraining from publishing it in The Wall Street Journal Asia, which circulates in Singapore.

Our subject is free speech and the rule of law in the Southeast Asian city-state -- something on which the international press and Singapore's government have often clashed. We can't say which side would prevail if the Singapore public could hear an open debate, but the fact is that we know of no foreign publication that has ever won in a Singapore court of law. Virtually every Western publication that circulates in the city-state has faced a lawsuit, or the threat of one.

Which brings us to the ruling against us this week in Singapore's High Court. Dow Jones Publishing (Asia) was found guilty of contempt of court for two editorials and a letter to the editor published in The Wall Street Journal Asia in June and July. The Attorney General, who personally argued the contempt case against us, characterized the articles as "an attack on the courts and judiciary of Singapore inasmuch as they impugn the integrity, the impartiality and the independence of the Court."

In suing for contempt, Singapore chose to go after us for the most basic kind of journalism. The first editorial, "Democracy in Singapore," reported on a damages hearing in a defamation case brought (and won) by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew against opposition politician Chee Soon Juan. The second editorial, "Judging Singapore's Judiciary," informed readers what an international legal organization had said about Singapore's courts.

Regarding the first editorial, we'll note that court proceedings are privileged under Singapore law, which means they can be reported -- though Singapore's media rarely do the job. Mr. Chee wrote a letter in response to the first editorial, which we published and which is cited in the contempt charge. We also published two letters from Mr. Lee's spokeswoman.

In the second editorial, we reported on the International Bar Association's critical study of the rule of law in Singapore. This is the same outfit that held its annual conference in Singapore last year, a meeting that Mr. Lee himself touted as a sign of confidence in Singapore's courts. The Law Society of Singapore is a member of the IBA. If reporting on what such a body says is contemptuous of the judiciary, then Singapore is saying that its courts are above any public scrutiny.

Again, we published a letter from the Singapore government responding to the editorial. This one was from the Law Ministry, which blasted the IBA report and us for repeating its "vague allegations." The IBA then weighed in, in a posting on its Web site, saying it wished "to correct some inaccurate comments" in Singapore's letter. It invites readers to read the report and "see for themselves" that its views are "based on comprehensive examples and evidence." The IBA homepage is

In his ruling, Justice Tay Young Kwang refers to us as a "repeat offender." He's right in the narrow sense that this isn't the first time Singapore has pursued the Journal Asia for contempt. In 1985, the newspaper and its editors were sued over an editorial about legal actions against opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam. The editors apologized.

In 1989, the paper was sued for contempt again, this time over a news story that quoted Dow Jones's then-president, Peter Kann. Mr. Kann had criticized a libel judgment won by Mr. Lee against the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Journal Asia's sister publication. The paper, its editor, publisher, local distributor and local printer were all named. They lost.

We are not eager to return to that fractious era, when the Journal Asia had its circulation severely restricted in Singapore and the paper's reporters were unwelcome. Since 1991, when the newspaper and Mr. Lee reached a settlement, our relationship with Singapore had been more or less stable until the latest contempt charge.

Meanwhile, in September, the Far Eastern Economic Review lost a defamation case brought by Mr. Lee and his son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, over an interview it published with opposition leader Mr. Chee. The elder Mr. Lee has long used defamation suits to silence his critics in the press and among the political opposition.

As for this week's contempt ruling, the first line of Justice Tay's decision is revealing as a standard for Singapore justice. "Words sometimes mean more than what they appear to say on the surface," he writes, going on to interpret the words as contemptuous because they had an "inherent tendency" to "scandalise the court." The fine he levied, S$25,000 ($16,500), is the largest ever meted out for such an offense. Justice Tay expressed the hope that it will deter "future transgressions."

We'll pay the fine. We'll also continue to express our views about politics, the courts and other subjects that we think our readers should know about. And we'll let readers decide what to make of the judiciary in Singapore.

Singapore Wins Again
Asia Sentinel, 26 Nov 08

A high court judge reinvents Alice in Wonderland in a contempt case

As expected, a Singapore high court judge has once again ruled against a western news organization, in this case the Wall Street Journal Asia, for contempt of court for three articles published in June and July that “impugn the impartiality, integrity and independence of the Singapore judiciary,” according to the complaint.

The court fined Dow Jones Publishing Co. S$25,000, said to be the highest amount ever levied for such a case, according to the Wall Street Journal. "Dow Jones is extremely disappointed with the ruling of the High Court and strongly disagrees with the court’s analysis that the editorials and letter to the editor constitute contempt of court," a Dow Jones spokesman said. "Also, contrary to what the attorney general has alleged, The Wall Street Journal Asia has not engaged in a ‘campaign’ of any sort against the Singapore judiciary. We will in the future continue to defend the right of The Wall Street Journal Asia to report and comment on matters of international importance, including matters concerning Singapore."

The 43-page judgment, written by High Court Judge Tay Yong Kwang, contains some startling language in its attempt to pin contempt charges on the newspaper, its editor, Daniel Hertzberg, managing editor Christine Glancey, and Dow Jones Publishing Co., now owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. In effect, Tay said, there were no actionable words in the articles. But, he wrote:

“Words sometimes mean more than what they say on the surface. This proposition is a recurring theme in the present proceedings before me, which concerns an application for by the Attorney General for orders of committal for contempt against [the] three respondents...”

And, as part of the background of the case, Tay wrote: “As will be demonstrated shortly, it is not the AG’s case that the publications contained passages or words that expressly scandalize the Singapore judiciary, but that they do so by implication, especially when the offending passages or words of each publication are read in the context of that individual publication.”

In other words, any publication deemed by Singapore to have been hostile to Singapore in the past could find itself in the dock without using “passages or words that expressly scandalize the Singapore judiciary” or presumably the family of ageing patriarch Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s minister mentor.

The court, however, is about as touchy as the Lee family. In October, three supporters of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party were promptly arrested when they turned up at Singapore’s Supreme Court wearing T-shirts depicting a kangaroo in judicial robes. The three, 19-year-old Muhammad Shafi'ie Syahmi Sariman, 33-year-old Isrizal Mohamed Isa and 47-year-old John Tan Liang Joo, were convicted and were to be sentenced November 27 for contempt of court.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the Wall Street Journal ruling, saying that "Even if the fine is not colossal, the ruling very clearly shows that Singapore's judges have no intention of letting the foreign media express themselves freely about the country's judicial system, which is lacking in independence."

As to the Journal case, it is hardly the first time Singapore has found the western press wanting, or used tortured language to go after them. The lawsuit-happy Lee family has filed a plethora of defamation lawsuits and contempt charges repeatedly against Dow Jones publications, particularly the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Asian Wall Street Journal, now known as the Wall Street Journal Asia, as well as Time Magazine, the Economist, the International Herald Tribune and many more.

In 2007 for instance, the Financial Times issued a hasty apology and paid undisclosed damages for a story in which there appeared to be no libel. The article dealt with the growth of so-called sovereign wealth funds, particularly a new Chinese fund that was unveiled at the end of September, and referred to growing concern over the acquisition of strategic industries by funds controlled by governments in Asia and the Middle East. At the end of the piece, the author referred to Temasek, the increasingly troubled Singapore state investment fund, and described some of the problems Temasek has faced with the fallout from the fund's acquisition last year of Shin Corp, the Thai telecoms group owned by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which ultimately contributed to Thaksin’s downfall. At the end of the article, the author referred to the fact that Temasek is run by Ho Ching, the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and concluded with these words:

“DBS Bank, whose biggest shareholder is Temasek, this week surprised many by announcing that US-born Jackson Tai would step down towards the end of the year. Mr Tai was said to be keen to ‘spend more time with his family.’

“Last week Jimmy Phoon, Temasek's chief investment officer, announced he was leaving ‘to take a break and spend some time with the family.’ “Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at the reasons. Singapore, after all, is built on strong family values. Lee Kuan Yew, founding father of the city-state, must be proud to see Lee Hsien Loong, his son, occupy the role of prime minister. “Mr Lee (Jnr) himself will be pleased Ho Ching, his wife, has helped turn round the performance of Temasek after being appointed chief executive in 2002. The rumour mill now suggests Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother, could replace Mr Tai at DBS. The younger Mr Lee earned his spurs as chief executive of SingTel, also part of the Temasek firmament.”

That caused an apparent explosion among the Lees, and allegations of libel over charges of nepotism. The FT quickly complied with its public apology.

In 1994, the Lee family sued the International Herald Tribune, which also quickly issued an apology and paid damages, for a column in which the author wrote about dynastic politics in China and, in passing, mentioned Singapore, saying “Dynastic politics is evident in ‘Communist’ China already, as in Singapore, despite official commitment to bureaucratic meritocracy. Similarly with the Kuomintang inheritance in Taiwan, which won out until 1987, when lack of candidates and the pressure of opinion ended the Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek era".

The courts awarded aggravated damages on the basis of Lee Kuan Yew’s claim (and similar claims by Lee Hsien Loong and Goh Chok Tong) that "The said words, in the context in which they were published, and in their natural and ordinary meaning, meant and were understood to mean" that Lee Hsien Loong was "appointed to various offices in the Singapore government on the basis of nepotism and not on the basis of merit."

No member of the Lee family has ever lost a case in a Singapore court as far as can be determined. The Lees recently won damages against Far Eastern Economic Review for defamation and the government has banned the publication over a 2006 interview with Chee Soon Juan, the head of the Singapore Democratic Party, in which Chee said the authoritarian city-state would only change direction after the elder Lee’s death. At one point, Judicial Commissioner Sundaresh Menon refused to allow the Review’s lawyer, Australian Tim Robertson, permission to sit in on the hearing because Robertson had made comments critical of Singapore in 2005 over Singapore’s decision to execute a convicted drug trafficker.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Singapore's embattled human rights lawyer

Leading Rights Lawyer Faces Jail Term
By Baradan Kuppusamy

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25, 2008 (IPS) - Singapore’s embattled human rights lawyer and leading anti-death penalty campaigner, Ravi Madasamy, intends to defend his reputation "all the way" to the highest courts after being released on bail for allegedly causing a disturbance at a mosque.

On Aug 11, a Singapore judge ordered Ravi to be examined by the Institute of Mental Health after police arrested him on charges of harassment and causing a public disturbance during a prayer session.

Ravi, 40, who was discharged from the hospital earlier this month, remains on bail facing a possible three-year prison sentence, if found guilty.

Ravi has strenuously denied the charges and dismissed prosecution suggestions about his mental health. He represented himself in court as no lawyer in Singapore was prepared to take up his case.

Only a small group of committed local rights activists have rallied to his defence. The country’s Law Society, which took him to court for allegedly disrespecting a judge, leading to a one-year practicing suspension in 2007, has distanced itself from the case.

"I am saddened but I will continue my mission," Ravi told IPS. "The environment is increasingly tough and dangerous."

Charles Hector, a prominent Malaysian human rights lawyer, described Ravi as "a victim of state repression".

"The Malaysian Bar is closely monitoring his plight," Hector told IPS. "He is a defender of human rights and we are very concerned. We are taking up his victimisation internationally.

"The Singapore authorities should immediately end the persecution and respect Ravi’s right to free expression and advocacy to end mandatory death penalty."

Ravi has led a virtually one-man international campaign to save death row prisoners facing execution by hanging, mostly for drug trafficking in Singapore. He has also fought, in the courts and outside, to defend dissidents, persecuted opposition politicians, lawmakers and human rights activists. As a result he has been vilified and severely criticised by Singapore’s government-controlled mainstream media and often accused of being a publicity seeker.

"I face numerous other problems arising out of my activism," Ravi told IPS.

"With all the happenings I came under tremendous pressure. Because of the mounting problems my pace has slackened but my resolve is the same. I will press on to enlighten Singaporeans on the horrors of the death penalty. People should know that mandatory death penalty [impelling judges to sentence people to death in capital convictions] is a step backwards into a barbaric era. We must campaign and people should want to end it."

Ravi, who is also an author and manager of the anti-death penalty website Hung at Dawn first gained prominence in mid-2005 for trying to save death row inmate Shanmugam Murugesu, who was sentenced to death for possession of 1 kg of marijuana.

Murugesu, 38, a former military veteran and Singaporean civil servant, was arrested in August 2003 for carrying six packets of marijuana in his bags when returning home from Malaysia.

Under Singapore law, the death penalty is mandatory for possession of 500 gm of marijuana and 2 gm of heroin.

Before Murugesu’s execution on May 13, Ravi and a few supporters organised a three-hour vigil at a hall in the Furama Hotel. "It was the first time citizens had organised to speak against the arbitrary, biased and discriminatory death penalty law," Ravi said. "It was an eye opener for us all."

In 2004, Singapore, with a population of 4.3 million, had the highest per capita rate of state executions in the world, according to Amnesty International. From then on, Ravi represented other death row inmates in court. He also travelled the world speaking out against state repression and the mandatory death penalty in Singapore.

A colleague, requesting strict confidentiality, said police placed Ravi under strict surveillance. "They followed him, took photographs and filed reports," he told IPS. "The relentless scrutiny caused Ravi tremendous personal and professional stress."

Although on bail, Ravi has resumed practicing law until his trial date is set.

Last year, Singapore carried out two executions and sentenced two people to death, according to Amnesty.

This is the synopsis of Hung at Dawn, a book by M Ravi, published in 2005,

On what first seemed like just another day, a young Malaysian commuter-worker was arrested in Singapore in September 2001, a nation which has the highest per capita execution in the world (according to 2004 report by Amnesty International). The charge: drug-dealing. He had just handed an undercover narcotics agent a small bag packed with 27.65g of heroin and received $8,000 in return. But was he really a drug-dealer? The young man swore his innocence, insisting that he was only doing a favor for an old family friend, who had asked him to pass along some religious incense to an associate and collect some money from him.

From there, the young man went on a rapid plunge downward through the dark hole of a system he had little understanding of. He found himself facing a mandatory death penalty for dealing drugs and was dragged quickly through the few stages the Singapore justice system allows between arrest and execution: trial, the single appeal, and the clemency plea to the president – all to no avail.

The story might have ended right there for this young man, as it has for so many others found guilty of capital crimes in Singapore. It would have if not for a veteran human rights activist and a young lawyer who took up the cause and brought the young Malaysian's fight into legal areas never before dared in this tightly regulated city-state.

Hung At Dawn is the true story of the desperate fight to save this young man from a possible miscarriage of justice, veering around and leaping over all the roadblocks the legal system here sets up. It also tells the story of a second, even more well-known case the young lawyer fought in defence of a convicted drug-dealer two years later. This tale, also true in every detail, involves a charismatic figure who had risen from grinding poverty to become a kind of national hero in Singapore (having won a medal in the Jet-Ski World Championship), only to fall when personal problems led him to start using and dealing in soft drugs. Caught at a border crossing, this former hero was sentenced to die for possession of just over 1 kilo of cannabis!

The latter part of Hung At Dawn looks at the unprecedented campaign which Guardian described as a “high profile campaign” in their report entitled “Singapore finally finds a voice in death row protest”. To save this man's life, a campaign that stretched beyond the courts into the streets to engage the general Singapore public and brought together a wide coalition of people galvanized by this particular case and the wider struggle to bring Singapore's drug laws more into line with international humane standards.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Kangaroo court" trio sentenced to 15 days and 7 days imprisonment

I just received this piece of news from a friend who attended the sentencing today of the "kangaroo court" activists.

John Tan has been sentenced to 15 days imprisonment. Shafi'ie and Isrizal have been sentenced to 7 days each. Furthermore, they each have to pay S$5,000 costs to the Attorney-General. Their jail term begins mid-December.

Here are two recent related posts: Persecution and prosecution of activists continue and 3 out of 3 as Wall Street Journal Asia fined S$25,000 for contempt of court.

Updated at 1715hrs with this report:
Singapore jails 3 for kangaroo T-shirts in court

SINGAPORE, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Three Singaporeans were jailed on Thursday after being charged with contempt of court for showing up at Singapore's Supreme Court wearing T-shirts depicting kangaroos in judges robes.

Isrizal Bin Mohamed Isa and Muhammad Shafi'ie Syahmi Bin Sariman were sentenced to seven days' jail, while Tan Liang Joo John received 15 days imprisonment. They were each ordered to pay S$5,000 in costs.

Tan is the Assistant Secretary-General of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, led by Chee Soon Juan.

The three had worn the T-shirts at a court hearing in May to determine the damages that Chee Soon Juan and his sister Chee Siok Chin were to pay after being found guilty of defaming Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former leader Lee Kuan Yew.

Singapore's attorney-general said in bringing the case to court the trio had "scandalised the Singapore judiciary".

Singapore bans gatherings and protests in all public areas without a permit except Speakers' Corner, the country's equivalent of the historic free-speech haven in London's Hyde Park.
Updated 10am, 28 Nov: According to this report by TODAY,
Yesterday, the trio sought to start their jail terms at a later date. Justice Prakash gave time for Mr Isrizal to settle his personal affairs and for Mr Shafi’ie to complete his basic military training. They were ordered to surrender themselves on Dec 12.

Mr Tan sought to start his jail term four weeks later as he was “thinking of the possibility of an appeal”. Mr Tan, who represented himself, said he would need to seek legal advice to weigh his options. Justice Prakash ordered Mr Tan to surrender himself on Dec 18.

Persecution and prosecution of activists continue

Speakers Cornered by Martyn See. See his blogpost here.

Chee, 5 others charged
By Aaron Low, Straits Times website, 26 Nov 08

ONE of six people charged with attempting to hold a public processsion without a permit has pleaded guilty.

Jeffrey George, 44, was part of a group that allegedly tried to hold a procession at the Speaker's Corner in 2006 when the International Monetary Fund and World Bank were holding meetings here.

Four of the six - Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, 46; his sister Chee Siok Chin, 42; Teoh Tian Jin, 23; and Yap Keng Ho, 47 - have pleaded not guilty to the charge.

The other individual, Gandhi Ambalam, 65, did not enter a plea.

George faces a fine of up to $1,000 and his guilty plea is being dealt with at a separate hearing this afternoon.

Earlier, at the hearing held in the morning in the Subordinate Court, the Chees, Yap and Gandhi complained about an amendment made to the charge against them.

They were unhappy that the prosecution amended the charge from 'holding the public procession' to 'attempting to hold the public procession'.

The group, who are representing themselves, pointed out that this was done just a week before the trial started.

They argued that this caused difficulties in preparing for their defence and asked the court to give them more time.

District judge Toh Yung Cheong will hear their application for an adjournment of the trial tomorrow morning.

First day of trial for WB-IMF protesters
Singapore Democrats, 26 Nov 08

The first day of the trial of six SDP members and activists was adjourned. The defendants wanted more time to prepare the case because the prosecution had amended the charge at the last minute.

"What is amazing is the fact that only two days ago, the Prosecution decided to amend the charge when the matter happened more than two years ago," noted Mr Gandhi.

The Judge gave the defendants the rest of the day to seek legal advice on the amended charges.

The adjournment was also needed for Mr Jeffrey George to plead guilty in another courtroom. Mr George had applied to the court for him to be tried separately because of his overseas work commitment, which remained incomplete.

"If my case can be postponed till after this job is done, I will come back and face trial," he told District Judge Toh Yoon Cheong.

Judge Toh rejected his request and insisted that Mr George stand trial immediately. That left Mr George no option but to plead guilty because he needed to return to work the same afternoon.

Mr Jeffrey's case was then transferred to another court before District Judge Liew Thian Leng who fined him a total of S$1,300 for two charges, the present one and another for distributing flyers in September 2006.

In a statement, Mr Jeffrey said: "I am pleading guilty as there are no alternative avenues open to me. First I tried to postpone the trial or have a separate trial for me but both requests were rejected by DJ Toh. I put up the two requests because of my work commitments outside Singapore. I'm half-way through on a contract job in Peninsula Malaysia.

"My pleading guilty comes after I have exhausted all avenues. My guilty plea should in no way be interpreted as changing my views on challenging some of the unjust laws deliberately kept in place by the ruling party to prohibit peaceful assemblies and association.

"I will continue to defy unjust laws that trample upon my constitutional rights under Article 14. I take this opportunity to express my complete solidarity with my brave colleagues who are standing up for civil liberties and the rule of law."

Earlier the defendants applied to be tried separately from Mr Yap Keng Ho who was not part of the protest group. Mr Yap also wanted a separate trial because he said he was there as an observer, not a participant. The judge overruled this and said that the defendants would all be tried in a joint trial.

The trial continues tomorrow at 11.30 am in Subordinate Court No. 19.

A new trial begins before the last one ends
Singapore Democrats, 23 Nov 08

Even before the trial against the 18 Tak Boleh Tahan protesters is concluded, another hearing will begin on Wednesday, 26 Nov 08. This one involves six defendants who were part of a protest during the World Bank-IMF Meeting in September 2006.

Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Dr Chee Soon Juan, Ms Chee Siok Chin, Mr Jeffrey George, Mr Charles Tan, and Mr Teoh Tian Jing were initially charged for participating in a procession without a permit from Speakers' Corner to Parliament House.

However the charge was suddenly amended at the last minute (yesterday) to "did attempt to participate" in a procession.

The police had blocked the protesters at Hong Lim Park which resulted in a three-day stand off. The Government had also banned all groups from conducting protests during the Meeting which sparked off widespread criticism of the Singapore Government for not respecting freedom of speech and assembly.

The World Bank also chastised the Government for reneging on its promise to allow 28 accredited NGO representatives to attend the Meeting. Then WB president Paul Wolfowitz angrily raised the issue with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saying "Enormous damage has been done...A lot of that damage has been to Singapore and it's self-inflicted."

Mr Lee backed-down and decided to allow 22 of the representatives in. But the activists boycotted the Meeting and refused to attend.
The charge

You are charged that you on 16 September 2006 at about 12 noon, at Speakers' Corner, Hong Lim Park, North Canal Road, Singapore, which is a public place...did attempt to participate in procession from Speakers Corner to Parliament House intended to demonstrate opposition to the actions of the Government, when you ought reasonably to have known that the intended procession would have been held without a permit under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) (Assemblies and Processions) Rules (Cap 184), and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under rule 5 of the said rules read with section 511 of the Penal Code (Cap 224).

Rule 5 of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) (Assemblies and Processions) Rules - Any person who participates in any assembly or procession in any public road, public place or place of public resort shall, if he knows or ought reasonably to have known that the assembly or procession is held without a permit, or in contravention of any term or condition of a permit, be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000.

Section 511 of the Penal Code - Whoever attempts to commit an offence punishable by this Code or by any other written law with imprisonment or fine or with a combination of such punishments, or attempts to cause such an offence to be committed, and in such attempt does any act towards the commission of the offence, shall, where no express provision is made by this Code or by such other written law, as the case may be, for the punishment of such attempt, be punished with such punishment as is provided for the offence: Provided that any term of imprisonment imposed shall not exceed one-half of the longest term provided for the offence.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

3 out of 3 as Wall Street Journal Asia fined $25,000 for contempt of court

Wall Street Journal Asia (WSJA) has been fined $25,000 for contempt of court. See here for my post on this case.

It was one of three contempt of court cases brought by the Attorney-General of Singapore.

The other case involved Gopalan Nair.

And i just blogged earlier today about the third case involving the "kangaroo court" activists who were found in contempt of court and will be sentenced on Thursday.

WSJA fined $25,000
By Zakir Hussain, Correspondent
25 Nov 08, ST Online

THE High Court has found Wall Street Journal Asia (WSJA) to be in contempt of court and fined it $25,000 - the highest ever fine meted out for such a case in Singapore.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang on Tuesday said the fine would serve to denounce the conduct of the newspaper, 'a repeat offender', and hopefully deter future transgressions.

He also ordered the Hong Kong-based publication to pay costs of $30,000.

Previous fines for contempt of court involving newspapers have been in the thousands of dollars. The highest - $10,000 - was meted out to American academic Christopher Lingle in 1995 for an article he wrote in the International Herald Tribune that insinuated the judiciary was compliant.

In the present case, the Attorney-General took Dow Jones - the publisher of the WSJA - to court over three articles published in the newspaper in June and July this year.

The first was an editorial on Singapore's democracy, arising out of a May hearing to assess damages that Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan and others had to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew for libel.

The second was a letter by Dr Chee, in reply to a rebuttal of that editorial by MM Lee?s press secretary.

The third article was another editorial, on the International Bar Association?s Human Rights Institute's report on the Singapore judiciary in July.

At a hearing on Tuesday morning, Justice Tay found that all three articles contained insinuations that the judiciary was biased, impartial and lacked independence.

The articles also implied that the judiciary was subservient to Minister Mentor Lee and the People's Action Party, and was a tool for silencing political dissent.

These allegations had the inherent tendency to interfere with the administration of justice and risked undermining public confidence in the courts, Justice Tay said.

His ruling came three weeks after he heard arguments from Attorney-General Walter Woon and Dow Jones' lawyer, Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam.

In a 42-page written judgment which he summarised in court, Justice Tay noted that although the paper's earlier instances of contempt of court were committed about two decades ago - in 1985 and 1989 - 'that is not a very long period of time in the context of corporate history'.

In 1985, when the paper was called the Asian Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and then-editor Fred Zimmerman were fined $6,000 and $2,000 respectively for a report on the conviction of then-Workers' Party leader J.B. Jeyaretnam.

In 1991, Dow Jones and then-editor Barry Wain were each fined $4,000 for implying that a judge hearing a libel case was biased towards Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Justice Tay also cited three other aggravating factors against the WSJA:

One, the offending articles appeared in the span of three weeks, in a respectable journal with a wide and sophisticated readership.

Two, the constant refrain of the imputations against the judiciary's independence destablised the rule of law and threatened to bring down the reputation of Singapore.

Three, the WSJA had not offered any apology but maintained that the articles were not in contempt.

WSJA has seven days from Tuesday to pay the fine.

Said a Dow Jones spokesman: 'We are currently reviewing the decision.'
Reports from AFP, Reuters and AP,
Wall Street Journal Asia Publisher Fined In Singapore

SINGAPORE (AFP)--The publisher of the Wall Street Journal Asia was found in contempt of court Tuesday and ordered to pay more than $16,000 in damages for questioning Singapore's judicial integrity.

The judgment against Dow Jones Publishing Company (Asia) Inc. is the latest court ruling against critics of the Singapore government.

High Court Justice Tay Yong Kwang found the publisher in contempt for two editorials: "Democracy in Singapore," published on June 26 this year, and " Judging Singapore's Judiciary," which appeared on July 15.

He said that a letter that the business daily published in July by Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, or SDP, was also in contempt, and fined the newspaper a total of SGD25,000 ($16,490).

"In my opinion, all three publications, individually as well as collectively, contained insinuations of bias, lack of impartiality and lack of independence and implied that the judiciary is subservient to Mr Lee and/or the PAP and is a tool for silencing political dissent," the judge wrote.

He was referring to Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, and the People's Action Party, or PAP, which has ruled the city-state since 1959.

Tay noted that the editorials and the letter appeared within a relatively short period of less than three weeks while a defamation case involving Chee and Lee continued, and while charges against an American blogger, Gopalan Nair, were also before Singapore's courts.

"The three publications...are in contempt of court because the allegations by way of insinuations clearly possess the inherent tendency to interfere with the administration of justice," the judge wrote.

"A judiciary which is not impartial and independent is as good as salt that has lost its flavor."

Last month, a Singapore judge ordered the SDP party, Chee - who is bankrupt - and his sister, to pay $610,000 in damages for defaming Lee and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In September, the blogger Nair was sentenced to three months' jail for accusing a Singapore judge of "prostituting herself." He made the comment in a blog about the case involving Chee and the Lees.

Tay said there were aggravating factors, including the fact that Dow Jones had been found in contempt on two earlier occasions in Singapore.

The publisher also failed to apologize, and maintained that the publications weren't in contempt, he said.

Defense counsel Philip Jeyaretnam declined to comment on the case, referring inquiries to Dow Jones.

A spokesman for the publisher said only that they were reviewing the court's decision. In a statement issued during the hearing, Dow Jones said it was defending its "right to report and comment on matters of international interest, including matters concerning Singapore."

Singapore's leaders have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from defamation suits filed against critics and foreign publications.

International human rights groups have accused the country's leaders of using courts to stifle dissent, but the leaders argue that suing for defamation is necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded attacks.

Singapore fines WSJ for contempt of court

SINGAPORE, Nov 25 (REUTERS) - A Singapore court has found the Wall Street Journal in contempt of court for publishing three articles relating to Singapore's judiciary, and fined it S$25,000 , court documents said on Tuesday.

Singapore's attorney general brought contempt of court charges against the publisher of the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal, News Corp's Dow Jones & Co, and two of the newspaper's editors, Daniel Hertzberg and Christine Glancey.

The case was brought for two editorials and a letter written by opposition leader Chee Soon Juan about Singapore's judiciary in the newspaper.

"The three publications, read individually or collectively, are in contempt of court because of the allegations by way of insinuations clearly possess the inherent tendency to interfere with administration of justice," said Justice Tay Yong Kwang in his written judgement.

Tay said the fine, to be paid in seven days, was supposed to be a deterrent and denunciation of the paper's actions.

The court documents said the previous highest penalty for contempt of court was S$10,000.

A Dow Jones spokesman told Reuters the company was currently reviewing the court's decision.

During the trial, Singapore's attorney general argued that the Wall Street Journal was waging a 20-year campaign to smear the reputation of Singapore's courts. But Philip Jeyaretnam, a lawyer acting for the newspaper, said the claim was not true.

Singapore first took legal action against the Wall Street Journal in 1985 for contempt of court for an editorial commenting on the trial of late Singapore opposition leader J.B. Jeyaretnam. The Wall Street Journal apologised and was fined $7,600, according to newspaper reports.

Singapore leaders have won damages, settlements and apologies in the past from foreign media groups when they reported on local politics, including The Economist, the Far Eastern Economic Review, Bloomberg News and the Financial Times.

Singapore rules Journal in contempt of court
By ALEX KENNEDY, Associated Press Writer

SINGAPORE - Singapore's High Court ruled the Wall Street Journal Asia in contempt of court for publishing two editorials and a letter to the editor that the government says damaged the reputation of the country's judicial system.

The court also fined the newspaper 25,000 Singapore dollars ($16,400).

Justice Tay Yong Kwang ruled Tuesday against the newspaper and two of its editors, three weeks after Attorney General Walter Woon argued the editorials published in June and July questioned the judiciary's independence from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the ruling People's Action Party. Not meting out punishment in this case would undermine the country's rule of law, the court said.

The letter to the editor was written by Chee Soon Juan, head of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party.

The editorials and the letter "contained insinuations of bias, lack of impartiality and lack of independence and implied that the judiciary is subservient to Mr. Lee and/or the PAP and is a tool for silencing political dissent," Tay wrote in the ruling.

"There can be no doubt that allegations of the nature mentioned above would immediately cast doubts on the judiciary in Singapore and undermine public confidence."

The newspaper's lawyer, Philip Jeyaretnam, was not immediately available for comment. The Wall Street Journal is published by Dow Jones & Co., a part of News Corp.

Singapore's leaders have sued journalists and political opponents several times in past years for alleged defamation. They have won lawsuits and damages against Bloomberg, the Economist and the International Herald Tribune.

Human Rights Watch called on Singapore last month to stop using defamation lawsuits to stifle criticism and bankrupt opposition politicians, citing the High Court's decision in October to order Chee and his party to pay $416,000 to Lee and his father, Lee Kuan Yew, in damages stemming from a 2006 defamation case.

Government leaders justify suing political opponents, saying it is necessary to defend their personal and professional reputations since it bears on their ability to govern properly and command respect from Singaporeans.

"Kangaroo court" activists found in contempt of court; To be sentenced on Thur, 9.30am

See my earlier post about this case

The news that John Tan, Shafi'ie and Isrizal (left to right in the picture) have been found in contempt of court is hardly surprising. Doesn't mean i'm not very disappointed and angered. (Sentencing is on 27 Nov, 9.30am, Court 6B)

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) actions are akin to a big schoolyard bully. Ask such bullies to take on someone their own size and they'll either keep quiet or back away. That's probably the reason why they don't go after the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute for their July 08 report or Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada for their Oct 07 report.

The following section is from yawning bread's article Conversation stoppers. Read the full article here.
With the advent of Walter Woon as Attorney-General, another conversation-stopper has been revived -– the contempt of court charge. Or was it in response to the sharp criticisms levelled by International Bar Associations' Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) in its report published July this year?

The 72-page report had examined various instances over the years of questionable court decisions in political cases. It also put under the spotlight the fact that Supreme Court appointments often have no tenure, or are subject to renewal, which thus "casts doubt on the independence of all decisions made by judges."

The Wall Street Journal Asia, in covering this story, got into trouble for it.

Dow Jones, the newspaper's publisher, is currently facing contempt of court charges, together with editors Daniel Hertzberg and Christine Glancey. The Attorney-General's office claims that an editorial published in the newspaper, titled "Judging Singapore's Judiciary" alleged that the judiciary is "not independent" and "is biased and lacks integrity", as did another, titled "Democracy in Singapore". The latter was about on an exchange in court between Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Chee in a separate defamation case filed by Lee against the opposition leader.

Cited too was a letter to the editor by the opposition Singapore Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan, published in the daily on 9 July, touching also on the IBAHRI report.

Dow Jones issued a statement 4 November 2008, asserting their innocence and right to fair comment. "Today in court we defended our right to report and comment on matters of international interest, including matters concerning Singapore," it said.

"We also argued that in this instance, what we published simply does not constitute contempt of court."

Denying complaints that the court action was an infringement of free expression, Woon said the case was "not about the freedom of speech per se" but "about the rule of law and the vital role that the courts and judiciary play in its maintenance."

We'll come back to this later.

Not only are big media companies being charged with contempt of court, but so are intrepid activists John Tan, Isrizal Mohamed Isa and Muhammad Shafi'ie Syahmi Sariman. They are facing similar charges in a case separate from that of the Wall Street Journal, for wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with a grey kangaroo in judge's robes and holding a gavel. The prosecution alleges that in wearing such a T-shirt, they intended to convey the sense that Singapore courts are "kangaroo courts".

At the time, they were in the Supreme Court building to witness a hearing to assess damages against opposition leaders Chee Soon Juan, Chee Siok Chin and the Singapore Democratic Party, after the trio had been found by a court to have defamed Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

According to Today newspaper, at one point, John Tan uttered the words "This is a kangaroo court" as Lee Kuan Yew walked past him in the building.

What good do such prosecutions do? Woon argued that it was to protect the rule of law. But is it necessary to shield courts and judges from criticism to achieve this?

Is it totally inconceivable that judges can be biased, that executive interference can occur? Just look at some countries, say, China, India, Malaysia or Turkey. If it can happen there, it can happen here.

And when someone believes it is happening, should it not be said? How do you cure an ill if you're not even allowed to draw attention to it? Do we put our judges in the same class as God, the Prophet and the Koran, infallible, beyond question or demurral?

If we are so concerned about safeguarding the integrity of our justice system, then make sure our courts act with the utmost impartiality and never even give the appearance of susceptibility to undue influence.

Penalising people for saying that our courts do not meet expected standards does not improve justice. It's just a conversation stopper. A silencer. Some might say that resorting to it is an admission that one cannot win the debate on evidence alone, in other words, it just gives people more reason to believe what one is trying to deny.

Drop the charges before we make an even bigger joke of the system.