Blogger Alex Au loses appeal against conviction for contempt of court

An appeal by blogger Alex Au against a High Court decision which found him guilty of contempt of court has been dismissed.
An appeal by blogger Alex Au against a High Court decision which found him guilty of contempt of court has been dismissed. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Court of Appeal on Tuesday (Dec 1) dismissed an appeal by socio-political blogger Alex Au against a High Court decision which found him guilty of contempt of court by scandalising the judiciary.

While Au, 62, did not appeal against sentence, the appeal court noted that the $8,000 fine, which he has paid, was "wholly appropriate".

Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, delivering the decision of the three-judge court, said Au's article posed a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice.

"It was carefully crafted so as to take the form of insinuations that were just as effective as - if not more effective than - overt or express statements," said Justice Phang.

Au's article also did not constitute fair criticism, said the court.

The case stemmed from an article published by Au on his Yawning Bread site in October 2013, titled "377 wheels come off Supreme Court's best-laid plans".

In it, he had implied partiality on the part of Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in the scheduling of two separate challenges to strike down Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men.

The first challenge was launched by Mr Tan Eng Hong in 2010 after he was caught with a man in a toilet. The other, by gay couple Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee, was filed three months after Mr Tan was allowed to proceed in 2012.

Au wrote of how the couple's case was heard first - and reached the Court of Appeal earlier - even though Mr Tan had launched his challenge before them. Au put this down to "strange calendaring" to allow CJ Menon to sit on the three-judge Court of Appeal panel hearing the challenge against S377A.

Au wrote that CJ Menon could not do this in Mr Tan's case due to a conflict of interest, as he was the Attorney-General at the time Mr Tan's criminal case was before the courts.

In a 41-page written judgment, Justice Phang noted that if Au had merely written that CJ Menon wanted to hear the gay couple's appeal, he would not have been guilty of contempt.

But Au's article stated that the CJ Menon had deliberately delayed the release of High Court judge Quentin Loh's judgment in Mr Tan's case so that the couple's case would be heard first. The title of the article and the language used in Au's article insinuated something "sinister in the alleged deliberate scheduling" of the cases, said Justice Phang.

The article cannot be said to be fair criticism as there was no rational basis for it, said Justice Phang, pointing out that Au had made vague references to " the common view" and cited unidentified sources.

Justice Phang also rejected Au's claim that he had simply summarised an article in The Straits Times on the case, albeit using "a different phrasing". "This is untenable. His 'different phrasing' ended up communicating a wholly different point."

selinal@sph.com.sg