MHA refutes fresh claims by Malaysian NGO Lawyers for Liberty

Rights group claims civil suit against Shanmugam was not struck out by Malaysian court, but 'simply expired'

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Saturday issued a statement refuting several fresh allegations levelled against it by Malaysian rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL).

MHA was responding to a statement posted on LFL's website on Friday, in which the non-governmental organisation (NGO) made several allegations against the ministry.

In the statement issued by its adviser N. Surendran, LFL claimed that its civil suit against Singapore's Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam had not been "struck out" by the Malaysian High Court, but had "simply expired" on Sept 21.

It also claimed that the Malaysian High Court had allowed it to re-file the civil suit, which showed that its lawsuit was "far from being baseless".

LFL had tried to take Mr Shanmugam to court earlier this year after it was issued with a Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) direction to correct claims on its website regarding Singapore's judicial execution processes in Changi Prison.

On the first two points raised by LFL, MHA responded in a statement to The Straits Times on Saturday, stating that it was untrue that LFL's civil suit had expired.

Rather, the Malaysian High Court had struck out LFL's legal action, which was filed in January through an originating summons, MHA said. This originating summons was valid for six months - meaning that LFL's legal action had expired in July.

LFL had applied to renew the originating summons. But for reasons it had not disclosed, the ministry added, the organisation withdrew its renewal application on Sept 21, leading to the Malaysian High Court striking out the case.

On the NGO's claims that its legal action had basis, MHA said this was "misleading", as the lawsuit had not even been served on Mr Shanmugam, nor had it been considered on its merits.

"It is disingenuous for LFL to suggest that the Malaysian High Court had expressed a view as to the merits of its suit simply by giving LFL liberty to re-file its originating summons," it added.

LFL in its statement on Friday made further allegations against MHA, claiming that the ministry had "dishonestly" failed to mention that the Attorney-General's Chambers had "refused to accept service" of court papers on Mr Shanmugam.

MHA refuted this, saying that proper procedures had not been followed in the process of serving the court papers.

LFL's solicitors had in January asked if the minister had legal representation in Malaysia to accept service of the court papers on his behalf. Singapore's Attorney-General's Chambers replied on Feb 13, stating that no one has been or is authorised in Malaysia to accept service of process on behalf of the minister or the Singapore Government.

The correct process would have been for LFL to obtain leave from the Malaysian High Court to serve its court papers on the minister in Singapore, which it did not follow, said MHA.

"LFL's flip-flopping on the matter demonstrates its cavalier attitude towards these proceedings," it added.

Separately, LFL also alleged on Friday that Singapore has tried to "bury" the truth about "brutal execution methods" in Changi Prison. In response, the MHA statement rubbished these claims as "untrue, baseless and preposterous".

"If LFL had any evidence of such unlawful methods, they would have produced it by now, instead of repeatedly claiming that they are unable to do so unless granted immunity by the Singapore Government," said MHA.

"If LFL is indeed privy to 'the real truth' about allegedly unlawful execution methods in Changi Prison, it is incumbent upon them to disclose it. Until such time, and on account of LFL's persistent failure or refusal to substantiate its spurious claims, its claims remain baseless."

LFL had made similar claims in an article on its website on Jan 16 that Singapore prison officers were instructed to kick the back of a prisoner's neck with great force to break it, if the rope breaks during a hanging.

A Pofma direction was issued on Jan 22, which required the NGO to insert a correction notice on top of the article. It was in response to that Pofma direction that LFL filed the lawsuit in the Malaysian High Court against Mr Shanmugam on Jan 24.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2020, with the headline 'MHA refutes fresh claims by Malaysian NGO Lawyers for Liberty'. Subscribe