Brian: *Comes out and uses phone and types out “offensive” post*”If you’ve been watching the latest political crisis in a distance, but would like a summary, this is a good one.
Keep in mind, of course, that the Singapore Government is very litigious and has a pliant court system. This constrains what the international media can usually report.Brian: Oh no, I’m summoned for contempt of court!Juliet: Zoelle, did you see the case of Li Sheng Wu that I shared to your wall yesterday? Zoelle: Ya I did! Is it the post where he mentioned “Keep in mind, of course, that the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system. This constrains what the international media can usually report”?Juliet: Yeah that’s the post! Isn’t it illegal to criticize the government? He didn’t even bother to take down the post even after getting a warning letter by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) now he’s involved in a lawsuit.
Digging his own grave only. Zoelle: On a side note, I stalked his Facebook profile and he only had a few friends, and his post was set to “friends only”, I wonder who’s the person who snitched, what a loser. Juliet: Yeah, why would you want to harm your friend? The AGC even asked him to purge the contempt and to apologise by the extended deadline, even after getting his deadline extended, he still did not respond. I don’t understand him though. Zoelle: I feel so insecure now, I don’t think I’m able to post freely on my social media anymore, I don’t even know the actual reason of him getting arrested. They said that the Facebook post was “an egregious and baseless attack on the Singapore Judiciary and constitutes an offence of contempt of court.” but isn’t he just stating the facts? Juliet: Wow that’s so confusing. Zoelle: Yeah, small issue also become like that.
Juliet: So interesting, let me go post on Facebook to see what our friends think about it! Juliet: Oh no! I’ve charged for contempt of court! Brian: Miss, you are currently being charged for contempt of court. Please return to the police station with me for further investigation.Afiqah: Now that we’ve seen that scenario, doesn’t it make you wonder if people in Singapore are restricted to what they can and cannot say? Based on statistics from the World Press Freedom Index in 2017, Singapore is ranked a whopping 151st place out of 180 countries. That just shows how little freedom they have to say what they want to.So you must be wondering, what exactly is this law? In print, it states it consolidates contempt (disregard) of court laws into statute any person who (i) imputes improper motives to or impugns the integrity, propriety or impartiality of any court; and(ii) poses a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined;Which was what Li Sheng Wu associated himself with, as well as any person who (i) prejudges an issue in a court proceeding that is pending and such prejudgment prejudices, interferes with, or poses a real risk of prejudice to or interference with, the course of any court proceeding that is pending; or (ii) otherwise prejudices, interferes with, or poses a real risk of prejudice to or interference with, the course of any court proceeding that is pending;There is still more to the law but as it does not concern the matter of debate today, I will not elaborate on it. Gosh, that sure is a mouthful. Let me explain it in simpler terms! So, let’s put it in a scenario. Juliet, who prejudged an ongoing court case which is the Li Sheng Wu case, may assume that he is innocent and post her opinions online, which might result in an online petition for him to be released even though he is still going through an ongoing trial.
This judgement influences other people, to have a prejudgement towards the case which interferes with the court of proceeding. This resulted in Juliet, who influenced others to interfere with the court of proceeding, to be arrested. Hence, Juliet got arrested not because she privately discussed the Li Sheng Wu case with Zoelle, but because of her post online.Afiqah: Many must be curious of what they can do and cannot do. The Ministry of Law in Singapore came up with a simple list of things that one is able to do, and what they can’t; with examples given. Afiqah: Now that you have a clearer understanding of the law, let’s have a look at what’s happening in the parliament house.Zoelle: Following the recent Li Sheng Wu case, “The current contempt of court law threatens to criminalise individuals for criticising the courts or the administration of justice in Singapore, it also threatens to diminish the constrained space that our prevailing media has, and could deny people access to information and have a chilling effect on bloggers and social media users, sometimes the most sensible and reasonable argument originates from the citizens as onlookers sees the best, but outsiders see most of the game. People in a country that calls itself democratic should not be afraid to criticize the court fairly or participate in public discussions even if it’s a court case.
Thus the proposed change that we would like to bring up is that the law should only narrow to people that – publishes any matter that might pose a significant risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be seriously prejudiced or interfered with, and – publishes any matter or doing any act that will significantly lower the public’s confidence in the administration of justice. This is equivalent to more people being not afraid to discuss and share their thoughts on a court proceeding as well as giving positive criticisms on the court, as the current law makes our citizens unsure of whether it is okay for them to share their thoughts online and what are the boundaries of it.Brian: Firstly, it is important to understand that the original purpose of enacting the Administration of Justice Bill is not to restrain discussion on issues that concerns of the public interest.
Instead, such laws are meant to encourage a more responsible discussion and reporting on matters before the court.” Secondly, if we agree to this proposed change, is it then okay if the trial is prejudiced, so long as it is not significantly so? A defendant of a criminal trial might face a sentence anywhere from a few days to a few years. Would it then be acceptable to prejudice his right to a fair trial even if it is “not significant”? Who can guarantee that the “insignificant prejudice” will not affect the final outcome of the proceeding? Are we then neglecting the basic right to a fair trial as well as the presumption of innocence?” Comparing it with someone’s wish to comment on the proceedings, which prejudices the proceedings, is like comparing a defendant’s rights in the court against another’s personal desire to comment. Isn’t it obvious which side should be safeguarded and prioritized?Brian: While there is no denying that freedom of expressions should not be neglected, it should not come at the sacrifice of those who should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Regardless of one’s personal opinions to those charged and the nature of their charges be it a theft or even murder, it is important that the principle of giving every defendant the right to remain innocent until proven guilty and a fair trial must be upheld.Zoelle: Even so, the law set “double standards” by enabling the Government to comment on ongoing proceedings, but not the people. It has given the Government limitless rights. When comments and remarks come from the mouth of the minister, it becomes completely legal, so long as the Government can say this is in public interest. The presumption of innocence and basic right to a fair trial would not be affected if our judge is aware of what is proper and incorrect despite being able to read the comments by the general population. Our judge’s verdict will definitely not go according to the public’s opinion just because their voice is bigger; it will go according to the law. Our professionally-trained judges do not need to be protected from public opinion.
Brian: Even if a judge’s verdict is unaffected by the opinions of the public and he distributes justice fairly to the defendant, there is still a risk of the public feeling that the judge was being biased and unfair and thus resulting in improper accusations on the integrity of our court. This might affect the judge’s ability to deliver justice effectively as well as lower the public confidence in the judiciary.Zoelle: However, by doing this, it will limit the citizens’ freedom of speech, as members of the public no longer realize whether or not their views justify as “contempt of court”. This leads to citizens questioning that whether it is better to not say anything at all, in fear of getting on the wrong side of the law. This would defeat the purpose of having a bill that is meant to provide clarity and allow for discussion that is in the public interest. You stated that it might be an issue concerning the judge’s ability to deliver justice effectively because there is a risk of the public feeling that the judge was being biased and unfair, however, our judges are protected by the contempt of court, which prevents citizens from accusing them of corruption and biases. We are not able to change their opinions but surely we are able to prevent them from saying anything that discriminates our current justice system.
If there really are people blatantly insulting our judges for being biased or corrupted without any evidence, then it should be fair that they should be charged for contempt of court. However, as long as the criticisms on the court are positive and logical criticisms, then they should be protected from the law. I believe that the public’s confidence in the judiciary will not be easily affected as long as our court is fair and impartial.Afiqah: Wow, that seemed like a pretty heated debate. Now that we’ve heard from them, let’s hear what the general public has to say about this matter.VOXPOPHannah: I think this change is good lah, at least now I know what I can post and cannot post right.
What if I post something wrong then go to jail how? Not good. At least now I know what I can say, and I can say it safely. Syahmina: I actually have a very mixed opinions about this new proposed change as I find that it is dangerous for people to state their opinions especially if it is an assumption or very one sided and biased. This might be unfair especially when one party is prejudiced by the public to be deemed guilty even when the judge has not decided on it. On that note, I feel that it is also unfair to only allow the government to give their own statements as it is also very one-sided and cannot be proven right or wrong.Afiqah: Now that we’ve heard from the public, let’s hear about what an official expert has to say.Afiqah: Today we have invited an expert from Human Rights Watch Miss Juliet to talk about whether this law breaches human rights, in terms of freedom of expression. Afiqah: Hi Ms Juliet, so my first question for you is, do you feel that this law breaches one’s human right to freely express themselves? Why so?Juliet: Yes, definitely in certain ways.
As far as the original purpose of this law, it is to promote responsible discussion and to protect public order. However, this law could be misused, regardless of whether it is to suppress critical speech in Singapore intentionally. According to a report published in December 2017 by us, the Human Rights Watch group says that the restriction is so broad that “If anyone is charged, it is anybody’s guess as to what you can and cannot say, so it is best not to say anything.” Forms of expression that might potentially insult a public figure should not be considered adequate enough to impose such a slew of penalties. This, once again, demonstrates the extent Singapore is willing to stretch to restrict freedom of expression and shield its justice system from scrutiny.
Afiqah: Oh, I see! Well on that topic, my other question for you is, So how does Singapore’s law fare against international guidelines in terms of freedom of expression and why is it so important in this context?”Juliet: International guidelines like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.
pdf) have laws in place, such as article 19, for one to have the liberty to express their opinions without fear of getting charged for it. And they are appropriate as so. The right to the freedom of speech on what is going on in your country in however way or form is a part of democracy and is a safeguard against abuse of power, allowing journalists and even ordinary citizens to expose corruption and tyranny. A free society is also more dynamic, empowering new ideas, inventions, ways of doing business and of governance.Afiqah: Ah, that’s interesting! So how would this proposed change affect the nation, from the perspective Human Rights Watch expert?”Juliet: They’d certainly be less confused about the boundaries to which they can post and with that, there is less fear to express their opinions on public issues such as court cases as well as positive criticism on the government. However, as far as the Human Rights Watch supports the proposed change, it is also understandable from the Singapore Government’s perspective whereby national security should be prioritized and safeguarded over freedom of expression.Afiqah: Hmm, well then, thank you, Ms Juliet for your meaningful insights about this matter.
Afiqah: Now that we all have a deeper understanding of this law, the question is, “Is freedom of expression more important, or should the government’s protection of public order be prioritized?” Well, based on what we’ve heard today, it seems that everyone has their own different opinion. Whether the proposed change occurs or not… only time will tell.