Judge hearing rape case expresses concerns over 'disrespectful' online comments

Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah said he was leaving it to the relevant authorities to determine whether action can and should be taken against comments made online. PHOTO: ST GRAPHICS

SINGAPORE - A judge presiding over a widely reported rape trial said on Wednesday (Sept 13) that negative online comments about the victims in such cases would discourage other victims from coming forward.

Noting that the anonymity enabled by the Internet has emboldened people to make comments they would not otherwise make in person, Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah said it was raised to his attention that various comments have been made online causing distress to the victim.

"Those who make such comments have to reflect... that that kind of behaviour would discourage victims of offences from coming forward. Their comments serve no greater purpose than allowing themselves to mouth off and play up their prejudices," he said.

"There's a real impact on people in the court process," he said, adding that he was leaving it to the relevant authorities to determine whether action can and should be taken.

He made the remarks following sentencing arguments by the prosecution and the defence in the case of Ong Soon Heng, 40, who was convicted in July of raping a drunk woman, then a 22-year-old intern at his friend's company, after driving the unconscious woman back to his home from nightspot Zouk.

The woman, who was attending a farewell party for a co-worker, was found in a stupor by her boyfriend after he searched for her using the Find My iPhone app when she went silent on her mobile phone.

When the case was first reported in March, disparaging online comments were made about the woman for, among other things, drinking with a man at a club. However, some netizens expressed concern over the victim-blaming.

On Wednesday, the judicial commissioner did not specify the nature of the comments he was referring to, which he said should be "strongly discouraged" in this and other cases.

He said such comments were "disrespectful" of the court process and the victims.

It was also "not helpful" for people to pass comments on accused people, who are innocent before proven guilty, he said, adding that it should be left to the justice system to determine whether they are guilty or not.

In Ong's case, prosecutors are seeking at least 14 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane for Ong.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sellakumaran argued that Ong took advantage of her vulnerable condition, fully aware that she was intoxicated. "The victim's capacity not to consent was not merely compromised but completely absent," said the DPP.

The DPP also argued that Ong abused her trust in him. The court heard that during her three-month internship, she became good friends with Ong and sought his advice on work-related issues.

However, defence counsel Sunil Sudheesan asked for a sentence of 10 years' jail and six strokes of the cane.

Mr Sudheesan noted the need to protect victims who are especially vulnerable because of age, physical frailty, or mental disability. He accepted that a victim may be vulnerable owing to inebriation but argued it should have less impact on the sentence in this case.

The case has been adjourned for further arguments.

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