Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam fined $6,000 for contempt of court over Facebook post on death penalty

In a post on May 19, Eugene Thuraisingam, 42, alleged that "million dollar men", including judges, have "turned blind" to a cruel and unjust law.
In a post on May 19, Eugene Thuraisingam, 42, alleged that "million dollar men", including judges, have "turned blind" to a cruel and unjust law.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

SINGAPORE - Hours before his client was to be executed for drug trafficking, a "demoralised" lawyer posted a 22-line poem on his Facebook page.

In his post at about 12.55am on May 19 (2017), Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, 42, alleged that "million dollar men", including judges, have "turned blind" to a cruel and unjust law and are more preoccupied with acquiring financial wealth and material goods.

For that, the lawyer was fined $6,000 for contempt of court on Monday (Aug 7).

Mr Thuraisingam's client, Muhammad Ridzuan Mohd Ali, 32, was hanged on May 19 for trafficking 72.5g of heroin. In December 2016, Ridzuan failed in his bid to challenge the constitutionality of the Misuse of Drugs Act. His petition for clemency was turned down in May.

On May 26, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) filed an application to commit Mr Thuraisingam for scandalising the judiciary in his Facebook post. It also lodged a complaint with the Law Society.

On June 5, after he was notified by the Law Society that his post was contemptuous in nature, Mr Thuraisingam took it down and posted a public apology on his Facebook page the same day.

Senior State Counsel Hui Choon Kuen sought a $10,000 fine on Monday, arguing that Mr Thuraisingam's statement posed a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice.

Mr Hui argued that being Ridzuan's lawyer, Mr Thuraisingam's statement would have carried more weight than that of a member of the public. He also argued that Mr Thuraisingam used gratuitous and offensive words in his post, likening judges to "rats" who thought only about when their new cars will come.

Mr Hui noted that publication of the post was widespread; the post garnered 476 reactions and was shared 357 times, as of May 26.

Senior Counsel Ang Cheng Hock, acting for Mr Thuraisingam, argued that he was emotionally distressed and not in the right frame of mind at the time.

He said what Mr Thuraisingam intended to mean was that those in the "upper echelons of society" did not care about the death penalty because those facing the gallows for drug trafficking are, by and large, the poorer members of society.

In an affidavit, Mr Thuraisingam said he saw Ridzuan for the last time on April 26, a meeting that still haunts him today.

"I was demoralised that there was nothing further than I could do for him as his lawyer. He was young and there was so much more than he could have done with his life," he said. Ridzuan was Mr Thuraisingam's fourth client to be sent to the gallows.

Mr Ang also pointed to Mr Thuraisingam's long history of voluntary work in taking on cases under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme and the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences.