Facebook group administrators apologise for post of doctored article on City Harvest Church ruling: AGC

A collage comparing the fake Lianhe Wanbao headline (left) and the real headline. The part circled in blue says a PAP lawyer saved the (City Harvest accused), whereas the actual headline states it was an oudated law that saved them. PHOTOS: SCREENGRABS FROM FACEBOOK, LIANHE WANBAO

SINGAPORE - Five administrators of a Facebook group have apologised for the post of a doctored article on its page on Feb 2, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said on Tuesday (Feb 13).

The post, made by 38-year-old delivery driver Neo Aik Chau, involved a newspaper report with an amended headline. It claimed a lawyer - who is an MP from the People's Action Party (PAP) - had saved the people accused of misusing funds of City Harvest Church from harsher sentences.

"The Facebook post made false and baseless allegations, and, in doing so, had impugned the impartiality and integrity of the Court of Appeal," said the AGC, adding that it wrote to the five last Friday (Feb 9).

Among them was Madam Ng Kwee Lay, who approved Mr Neo's post for publication on the page of the Chinese language Facebook group, whose name translates to "Policy discussion forum".

"By omitting to remove the Facebook post from the Facebook group between Feb 2 and 5 despite being aware of its publication, Mr Ong Sooi Eng, Mr Lee Leng Kok, Madam Tan Siew Tee and Mr Yap Tze Kiat, as the other administrators of the Facebook group, had also caused publication of the Facebook post," the AGC added.

Mr Neo's post was of Chinese-language daily Lianhe Wanbao's Page 1 report but with a false headline.

The original headline said an outdated law saved church founder Kong Hee and five others from harsher penalties. But the false headline said a PAP lawyer saved them, referring to Mr Edwin Tong, an MP for Marine Parade GRC who was Kong's lawyer in the criminal trial.

The AGC stressed in its Tuesday statement that administrators of Facebook groups or other similar online platforms are responsible for the content published.

"They are not immune from liability even though they are not the authors of the offending content," the AGC said, adding that the five administrators have thereby committed contempt of court under Section 3(1)(a) of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act 2016.

The AGC also said that contempt of court harms the proper administration of justice in Singapore, and, if left unchecked, "can obstruct the determination of truth and erode respect for our judicial institutions''.

"This would, in turn, harm the public interest in the proper administration of justice," it added.

The five complied with the AGC's requirements to post an apology and undertake not to allow any posts amounting to contempt of court to be published on the Facebook group, or to commit any other act with the same effect.

The apology posted on the group's page read: "We, as Administrators and moderators of the Facebook group, unreservedly apologise for scandalising the Court of Appeal by causing publication of the 2 February 2018 Facebook post through Ng approving Neo's post for publication, and all of us thereafter allowing it to remain on the Facebook group."

It was written in both English and Chinese.

The AGC did not say in its statement if the apology meant no further action would be taken against the administrators.

Last Thursday (Feb 8), Mr Neo had also apologised on his personal Facebook page for posting the doctored article, saying: "I unreservedly apologise for scandalising the Court of Appeal by publishing the post. I have removed the post from the Facebook group, my Facebook accounts and all my other social media accounts and platforms."

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