Contempt of court cases

Prosecution seeks fine for activist, jail for opposition politician

Activist Jolovan Wham leaving the High Court yesterday. He was found guilty last year, under contempt of court laws, of scandalising the judiciary in a post he had made on Facebook. He said through his lawyer that he would not take down the Facebook
Activist Jolovan Wham leaving the High Court yesterday. He was found guilty last year, under contempt of court laws, of scandalising the judiciary in a post he had made on Facebook. He said through his lawyer that he would not take down the Facebook post until he has appealed against the case. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

AGC asks High Court to fine Jolovan Wham $10k to $15k, jail SDP's John Tan at least 15 days

Prosecutors are seeking a fine of between $10,000 and $15,000 for activist Jolovan Wham, who was found guilty last year, under contempt of court laws, of scandalising the judiciary in a post he had made on Facebook.

They are seeking a jail sentence of at least 15 days for opposition politician John Tan Liang Joo, who separately committed a similar offence.

Noting that the duo's postings impugned the integrity and impartiality of the Singapore judiciary, State Counsel Senthilkumaran Sabapathy yesterday also urged the High Court to order both men to publish an apology and remove their postings.

In proposing a custodial sentence for Tan, Mr Sabapathy noted that he was a repeat offender.

Tan was found guilty in 2009 of wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a kangaroo dressed in a judge's gown, at the Supreme Court and later, posting or allowing the online posting of a photograph of him and others doing the same. He received a 15-day jail sentence for the offence.

On April 27 last year, Wham said in a Facebook post that Singapore's courts are not as independent as Malaysia's on cases with political implications.

The remarks accompanied a link to an online article titled "Malaysiakini Mounts Constitutional Challenge Against Anti-Fake News Act".

 
 

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) initiated contempt of court action against Wham.

In May last year, Tan, the Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) vice-chairman, said on Facebook that the AGC's actions confirmed the truth of Wham's comment.

Wham and Tan are the first to be charged under new contempt of court laws that took effect in October 2017. Under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act 2016, a person found guilty of contempt can be fined up to $100,000 or jailed for up to three years, or given both punishments.

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, who is representing Tan, said his client would take down the Facebook post, and asked the court to sentence his client to seven days in jail, instead of a fine.

Mr Thuraisingam said a custodial sentence would be better for Tan, as a fine - of an amount of $2,000 or more - would make him ineligible to participate in the next election.


John Tan 
(above) is asking to be jailed for seven days. A fine of $2,000 or more will make him ineligible to contest in the next election.

Noting that the duo's postings impugned the integrity and impartiality of the Singapore judiciary, State Counsel Senthilkumaran Sabapathy yesterday also urged the High Court to order both men to publish an apology and remove their postings.

Tan's intention in making the Facebook post was to criticise the AGC, and not to scandalise the court, he added.

Mr Sabapathy, however, argued that it would be unprincipled to allow Tan to pick and choose the sentence he wanted, adding that a jail term would serve as a "specific deterrence" for Tan.

Turning to his other client Wham, Mr Thuraisingam proposed a fine of between $4,000 and $6,000. In his submissions, he said that while contempt has been established, the court can calibrate a balance to ensure that an individual's right to free speech is not unduly infringed.

Wham said through his lawyer that he would not take down the Facebook post until he has appealed against the case.

The prosecution is also seeking costs of $8,000 from Wham, and $5,000 from Tan. Justice Woo Bih Li has reserved judgement.

Mr Thuraisingam told The Straits Times that Tan's post was removed yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2019, with the headline 'Prosecution seeks fine for activist, jail for opposition politician'. Print Edition | Subscribe