Activist and SDP politician fined for contempt of court

Jolovan Wham (above) posted on Facebook on April 27 last year that Singapore's courts are not as independent as Malaysia's on cases with political implications. The Attorney-General initiated contempt of court action against him. On May 6, SDP politi
Jolovan Wham (above) posted on Facebook on April 27 last year that Singapore's courts are not as independent as Malaysia's on cases with political implications. The Attorney-General initiated contempt of court action against him. On May 6, SDP politician John Tan posted that the Attorney-General's Chambers' actions confirmed the truth of Wham's comment.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ST FILE
Jolovan Wham (above) posted on Facebook on April 27 last year that Singapore's courts are not as independent as Malaysia's on cases with political implications. The Attorney-General initiated contempt of court action against him. On May 6, SDP politi
Jolovan Wham posted on Facebook on April 27 last year that Singapore's courts are not as independent as Malaysia's on cases with political implications. The Attorney-General initiated contempt of court action against him. On May 6, SDP politician John Tan posted that the Attorney-General's Chambers' actions confirmed the truth of Wham's comment.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ST FILE

Jolovan Wham, John Tan made separate Facebook posts that scandalised judiciary

Civil activist Jolovan Wham and opposition politician John Tan Liang Joo were each fined $5,000 yesterday for scandalising the judiciary in separate posts on Facebook.

In sentencing, High Court judge Woo Bih Li said that Wham did not show any remorse as he had refused to remove his post and refused to apologise even on being convicted in October last year.

Justice Woo said Tan's attack on the courts was less direct by comparison, as he was criticising the Attorney-General for starting contempt proceedings against Wham.

However, Tan was a repeat offender, he noted, adding that while Tan removed his post after the hearing on sentence in March, this was not a reflection of remorse.

"It was an 11th-hour manoeuvre to try and persuade the court to accede to his request not to impose a fine," said Justice Woo.

Tan was also ordered to pay $6,966 in legal costs and disbursements to the Attorney-General's Chambers, while Wham was ordered to pay $7,298.

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam indicated that both men will be appealing against conviction.

 

Wham made a Facebook post on April 27 last year stating that Singapore's courts are not as independent as Malaysia's on cases with political implications. The post included a link to an online article, "Malaysiakini mounts constitutional challenge against Anti-Fake News Act".

The Attorney-General then initiated contempt of court action against him.

On May 6, Tan, a Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) politician, wrote on Facebook that the Attorney-General's Chambers' actions confirmed the truth of Wham's comment.

The cases are the first to be brought under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, which took effect in October 2017.

Last October, Justice Woo found that the posts had impugned the integrity and impartiality of the Singapore courts, and posed a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined.

In March, prosecutors sought a fine of between $10,000 and $15,000 for Wham, and a jail term of at least 15 days for Tan.

At that hearing, Tan sought seven days in jail, saying a fine of $2,000 or more would disqualify him from standing in the next election. He also offered to remove his post.

Addressing this argument yesterday, Justice Woo said a person who breaches the law must expect to face the consequences, whether or not he also suffers collateral consequences.

"It may even be said that it is for any person who has political aspirations to ensure that he does not run afoul of the law," the judge said, adding that this was not Tan's first brush with the law.

In 2008, Tan was sentenced to 15 days' jail for wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a kangaroo dressed in a judge's gown, at the Supreme Court.

Justice Woo said that had Tan removed the post as soon as he was aware that the Attorney-General intended to take action against him or as soon as he was convicted, he would have been in a better position to seek a fine of less than $2,000. "In the circumstances, Tan is responsible for the situation he finds himself in."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2019, with the headline 'Activist and SDP politician fined for contempt of court'. Print Edition | Subscribe