Reporters Without Borders today condemned a case brought by the authorities under the Sedition Act against blogger Gopalan Nair, a 58-year-old American lawyer, who criticised the Supreme Court’s handling of a defamation case.
Nair, who allegedly emailed a judge to criticise her handling of the high profile political case, has been held in custody since 31 May. His trial is set for tomorrow and he faces up to three years in prison and a fine equivalent to nearly 2,400 euros.
“We urge the authorities to drop charges against Gopalan Nair, who has only exercised his right of free expression. This charge is improper and will add to the intimidation of bloggers and Internet users who express themselves about Singapore’s political life”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
Nair is accused of sending an email to Judge Belinda Anq Saw Ean telling her that she had mishandled a defamation case pitting former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his son, the current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, against the leader of the Singapore Democratic party (SDP) Chee Soon Juan and his sister, Siok Chin. These last two were today sentenced to 12 and 10 days respectively in prison for “contempt of court”.
“We express our solidarity with Chee Soon Juan and Siok Chin wrongly charged with defamation. We call for their immediate release. This sentence only confirms our opinion that Gopalan Nair was providing a news service on his blog by showing how this case was conducted,” the organisation added.
Nair denied having emailed the judge and said that all his publications on the trial hearings were posted on his blog. He had particularly criticised the final day of the trial, during which Lee Kuan Yew reportedly said that he wanted to sue all Internet users who were guilty of defaming him online.
In an article posted on his blog on 30 May, Nair said: “There is no doubt in the Singaporean sense, I have defamed him and his Prime Minister son, not only in my last blog post but in almost all my blog posts since my blog’s inception in December 2006”. He also gives the name of the hotel in which he is staying and the telephone numbers where he can be reached.
Nair was arrested in Singapore on 31 May for “insulting a public servant” under Article 13D of the Miscellaneous offences Act, because of his criticism of the judge. His lawyer learned today that Nair is being charged under the Sedition Act (http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/). His blog remains accessible in Singapore.
He worked in Singapore for ten years before leaving for the USA in the 1990s and is an active member of Singapore’s Workers’ Party (http://www.wp.org.sg/party/history/1991_2000.htm) and stood at parliamentary elections in 1998 and 1991. He took US citizenship in 2005.