Singapore court convicts activist, politician over Facebook posts

Jolovan Wham and John Tan face up to three years in jail after judge finds pair guilty of contempt for their remarks.

Civil rights activist Jolovan Wham leaves the State Court after a hearing in Singapore
Activist Jolovan Wham was found guilty of 'scandalising the judiciary' [File: Edgar Su/Reuters]

A Singapore court has convicted a rights activist and an opposition politician of contempt of court, punishable by up to three years in jail, for online comments posted on Facebook.

The country’s High Court on Tuesday found Jolovan Wham, a vocal government critic, and John Tan, a member of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, guilty of “scandalising the judiciary” with the social media posts.

Wham’s post published in April alleged Malaysian judges were “more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implication”, while Tan’s post supported Wham’s comments, according to Channel News Asia.

In his ruling, Judge Woo Bin-li said the posts of both Wham and Tan “posed a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined”.

Wham’s post “impugned the integrity and impartiality of Singapore’s judges, and thus the Singapore courts” by implying judges were not independent and were partial to the government, he added.

Tan’s post “wrongfully asserted” that Wham’s comments were true, and similarly impugned the court’s integrity, the judge said. 

First ruling under new law

The convictions are the first under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act that took effect a year ago, the Singapore Attorney General’s Chambers said, with sentencing set for November 7.

Convictions carry a fine of up to 100,000 Singaporean dollars ($72,200) in addition to the maximum term of three years.

Wham’s lawyer, Eugene Thuraisingam, said he had argued his client was not contemptuous of the judiciary as he was “merely comparing the relative independence” of judges in different jurisdictions.

The defendants have made no decision about an appeal, he added.

In a Facebook post prior to the ruling, Wham said judicial independence was a “legitimate topic of inquiry”.

Tan’s party does not have an elected member in parliament, which is dominated by the ruling People’s Action Party.

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which has urged Singapore to repeal legislation that restrict free speech and public assembly, said the law infringed on basic rights.

“By using this law on scandalising the courts against political activists, the Singapore government blatantly violated freedom of expression and confounded any real sense of justice,” Phil Robertson, its deputy Asia director, told the Reuters news agency.

“The real tragedy in this whole situation is Singapore thinks it’s OK to employ such a rights-abusing law,” the HRW official said. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies