Prosecution seeks fine for activist Jolovan Wham, jail term for SDP's John Tan for contempt of court

Jolovan Wham (left) and John Tan were the first to be charged under new contempt laws that took effect in October 2017.
Jolovan Wham (left) and John Tan were the first to be charged under new contempt laws that took effect in October 2017.PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Prosecutors are seeking a fine of between $10,000 and $15,000 for activist Jolovan Wham, who was found guilty last year for a Facebook post which scandalised the judiciary.

They are also seeking a jail sentence of at least 15 days for opposition politician John Tan Liang Joo, who made a Facebook post commenting on Wham's case, which was also found to be in contempt of court.

Noting that the duo's postings impugned the integrity and impartiality of the Singapore judiciary, State Counsel Senthilkumaran Sabapathy on Wednesday (March 20) also urged the High Court to order both men to publish an apology and remove their contemptuous postings.

In proposing a custodial sentence for Tan, Mr Sabapathy noted that he was a repeat offender.

Tan was found guilty in 2009 for wearing a T-shirt - with a picture of a kangaroo dressed in a judge's gown - at the Supreme Court, and later posting or allowing the online posting of a photograph of him and others doing the same. He was sentenced to 15 days' jail.

On April 27, 2018, Wham made a Facebook post stating that Singapore's courts are not as independent as Malaysia's on cases with political implications. The remarks accompanied a link to an online article titled "Malaysiakini mounts constitutional challenge against Anti-Fake News Act".

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) then initiated contempt of court action against Wham. In May last year, Tan, currently the Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) vice-chairman, stated on Facebook that the AGC's actions confirmed the truth of Wham's comment.

 
 

Wham and Tan were the first to be charged under new contempt laws that took effect in October 2017. Under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act 2016, a person found guilty of contempt could be fined up to $100,000 or jailed for up to three years, or both.

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, who is representing Tan, said his client would take down the Facebook post on Wednesday and asked the court to sentence his client to seven days in jail, instead of a fine.

Mr Thuraisingam said a custodial sentence would be better for Tan, as a fine - of an amount of $2,000 or more - would make him ineligible to participate in the next election.

Tan's intention in making the Facebook post was to criticise the AGC and not to scandalise the court, Mr Thuraisingam added.

Mr Sabapathy, however, argued that it would be unprincipled to allow Tan to "pick and choose" the sentence he wanted, and a custodial sentence was warranted because of his past offence. Mr Sabapathy said a jail term would serve as a "specific deterrence" for Tan.

Turning to his other client, Wham, Mr Thuraisingam said a suitable fine would be appropriate, proposing an amount of between $4,000 and $6,000. Wham is also represented by lawyer Choo Zheng Xi in this case.

The prosecution is also seeking costs of $8,000 for Wham, and $5,000 for Tan.

Justice Woo Bih Li has decided to reserve his judgment, after hearing submissions from both sides.