A Singaporean blogger was fined S$8,000 (US$5,843) by the High Court on March 5, 2015 for writing a blog post two years ago that allegedly accused the Chief Justice of manipulating the court proceedings related to the petitions against Section 377A, the law which criminalizes sex between men.
Alex Au Wai Pang is a 62-year old writer who blogsat Yawning Bread. He is also a prominent member of Singapore's LGBT community. Alex said he will appeal the decision of the court.
The case involves an article that Alex wrote entitled“377 wheels come off Supreme Court’s best laid plans”, which discussed the “strange calendaring” of petitions challenging Section 377A in the High Court. Prosecutors said the article “unfairly suggested that the Chief Justice had acted impartially” and therefore it “risked undermining public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore”. The court agreed with the prosecution and ruled that the article “crossed the legal boundary and constitute scandalizing contempt”.
Alex and his lawyers argued through their written submissions to the court that the article did not violate any law:
The [government] has had to twist Mr Au’s words out of context and to editorialize to impute sinister innuendo into his article where none exists. In so doing, [it] has mischievously ignored the caveats in Mr Au’s article that clearly flag out to his readers that he is theorizing, as opposed to making statements of fact.
Many criticized the decision of the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) to charge Alex. A statement signed by 170 people in December 2013 described the case as a threat to free speech:
The AGC’s action, rather than enhancing confidence in the judiciary, might weaken public confidence. It also implies that the public is not allowed to form opinions on judicial processes.
But the AGC reminded them that free speech is not absolute:
As important as the right to free speech and expression is, the Constitution recognizes that our society as a whole must be safeguarded against statements without basis which injure the reputation of persons or lower confidence in the administration of justice.
The case of Alex is cited by various political groups as the latest manifestation of the systematic harassment suffered by activists and critics of the government. Reacting to the court decision, the Reform Party urged the public to be vigilant about their rights:
Alex Au has already declared his intention to file an appeal. People we have to unite and fight to keep our rights, those few that we have left, if we are not to lose them for ever.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, advised Singapore to repeal the archaic law of “scandalizing the judiciary.” He also frowned upon the court decision to convict Alex:
Singapore’s courts, like any other public institution, are strengthened, not weakened, by open debate on issues of general concern. The prosecution of Alex Au for speaking out is just one more example of Singapore’s willingness to misuse law to gag its critics.
The issue should embolden Singaporeans to step up the pressure in demanding the abrogation of two colonial-era laws: Section 377A and the crime of “scandalizing the judiciary.” It should also inspire activists and other concerned citizens to broaden the campaign for greater media freedom and stronger protection of human rights.