SDP's appeal on 10m population claim adjourned till after apex court rules on two other Pofma cases

On July 4, the authorities issued corrections under Pofma against the Facebook pages of SDP, The Online Citizen, Peoples Voice and "Sin Rak Sin Party". ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - A High Court hearing for the Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) appeal against a correction direction issued to it under the fake news law has been adjourned to a date to be fixed.

During a virtual hearing in chambers on Friday (Sept 11), the party's lawyers applied for the case to be adjourned until after the Court of Appeal rules on two other appeals related to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) involving the SDP and The Online Citizen website.

The lawyers - Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, Mr Suang Wijaya and Mr Joel Wong - said Justice Woo Bih Li granted the adjournment as there are overlapping issues between the SDP's latest appeal and the earlier cases.

"These overlapping issues mainly involve questions of where the burden of proof lies in Pofma appeals, and the manner in which Article 14 of the Constitution regarding the right to free speech interacts with the provisions under Pofma," Mr Wong told The Straits Times.

He added that the outcome of the earlier cases could affect the judge's decision on the latest case, which involves the SDP's claims about Singapore having a population of 10 million by 2030, which it made during the campaign period for the recent general election.

On July 4, the authorities issued corrections under Pofma against the Facebook pages of SDP, The Online Citizen (TOC), Peoples Voice and "Sin Rak Sin Party".

In a Facebook post made on July 3, the SDP had quoted Housing Board chief executive Cheong Koon Hean as saying that Singapore's population density would increase from 11,000 people per sq km to 13,700 people per sq km between now and 2030.

"Given our land area, this means that our population would go up to nearly 10 million by 2030," the SDP added in its post.

The alternate authority for the Minister for National Development, which issued the correction, said Dr Cheong had made no statement suggesting that Singapore's population would increase to 10 million by 2030.

The SDP complied with the correction direction on July 5 but said it would apply to cancel it.

The Court of Appeal, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and four Judges of Appeal, is set to hear the two earlier appeals by the SDP and TOC on Sept 17.

In the earlier case by the SDP, Justice Ang Cheng Hock had ruled on Feb 6 that the burden should fall on the Government to prove a statement is false because in issuing correction directions, it is curtailing the right to free speech which is protected by the Constitution, among other things.

But another High Court judge, Justice Belinda Ang, gave a different opinion in her ruling dismissing TOC's appeal on Feb 19. She had said the onus is on the person who made the statement that received a correction to show it is true.

TOC then filed an appeal to the apex court.

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