Government cannot invoke harassment Act to make website remove statements on Mindef: High Court

Dr Ting Choon Meng made statements against Mindef on the socio-political blog The Online Citizen. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The High Court ruled on Wednesday (Dec 9) that the Government cannot use the Protection from Harassment Act to make socio-political blog The Online Citizen (TOC) take down statements on its site made by a doctor against the Ministry of Defence (Mindef).

Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon, who gave his decision in chambers, overturned an earlier decision by a district court that had ruled in favour of the Government.

The case turned on the legal question of whether the Government can be considered a "person" under the Act, which came into force this year to protect people from harassment and stalking and to provide remedies for victims of false statements.

In the current case, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) had invoked the Act against Dr Ting Choon Meng, co-founder of medical device firm MobileStats Technologies.

MobileStats had sued the Government for patent infringement, claiming that Mindef had copied its concept of a mobile emergency medical station. But the firm dropped its claim in January last year, citing financial difficulties.

In January this year, TOC posted an interview with Dr Ting about the case.

The AGC sent a cease-and-desist letter to Dr Ting , asking him to stop making false statements about Mindef. When Dr Ting and TOC refused to take down the statements, the AGC applied for a court order under Section 15 of the Act to have them taken down.

Mindef took issue with Dr Ting's statements that it had knowingly copied his concept and that it was trying to wear him down financially.

But lawyers Eugene Thuraisingam, who acted for the five individuals running TOC, and Choo Zheng Xi, who acted for Dr Ting, argued that Mindef is not entitled to invoke the provision.

In May, a district judge found that the statements made by Dr Ting were false and granted the AGC's application. Dr Ting and TOC appealed.

On Wednesday, JC See allowed their appeal on the basis that the Government is not a "person" for the purpose of the provision and therefore cannot start legal actions against the appellants.

Mr Thuraisingam and Mr Choo told The Straits Times that although they won the appeal, they did not seek costs against the AGC as the case involved a novel point of law of public interest, which will impact a significant number of people.

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