The Online Citizen

Refrain from using defamation lawsuits against political opponents and critics

March 05
15:42 2012

~by: Braema Mathi / President, MARUAH~

MARUAH is troubled by the recent incidents of politicians threatening defamation lawsuits against internet blogs and forums, and calls on our political and corporate leaders to refrain from using defamation lawsuits against political opponents and critics. 

MARUAH recognises that individuals, including public figures, have a right to protect their reputations. However, that right needs to be balanced against the right to free speech.

When political leaders threaten defamation lawsuits against internet blogs and forums, there will invariably be a “chilling effect” on online political discourse. Such actions to protect one’s reputation carries a heavier “footprint” than necessary, and more appropriate responses to defamatory comments are possible, in today’s Web 2.0 world.
 
We would encourage politicians who believe that they have been defamed, to write to the site owner directly to inform the owner; ask for the comment to be taken down; and request for the publication of the politician’s own statement. We believe that blog and forum owners, including those operating anonymously, would generally respond positively to a polite and cogently-worded request. There is no need to engage lawyers or threaten lawsuits to rebut defamatory comments.
 
MARUAH urges politicians, who seek to build a better Singapore for Singaporeans, to step back and take a broader big-picture perspective. It is incumbent on politicians to refrain from unnecessarily restricting the overall space for political speech in Singapore.
 
In any case, history demonstrates the poor record of defamation lawsuits in quelling rumours and speculation. TR Emeritus apologised to the Prime Minister over comments that were first made a decade ago, despite these comments having been the subject of repeated defamation lawsuits. These past lawsuits have clearly not been effective in eliminating the speculations.
 
MARUAH does not condone the publication of defamatory statements. This is especially so, if it is done as part of an organised, deliberate campaign to destroy the reputation of a public figure.
 
But just as society has a responsibility to protect the reputations of individuals against illegitimate attack, society should also protect the freedom of expression. And when or if a politician has a valid cause of action, he/she, as a leader of Singapore, also has a moral obligation to avoid unnecessarily limiting freedom of speech to clear his/her good name. 
 
We urge that this letter be taken in the spirit that it is written as we mature as a society and walk this fine balance between rights and responsibilities.

MARUAH is a human rights NGO based in Singapore. 

"Maruah" means "dignity" in Malay, Singapore'snational language. Human rights is fundamentally about maintaining, restoringand reclaiming one's dignity, and MARUAH strives to achieve this by working onnational and regional human rights issues. MARUAH is also the Singapore focalpoint of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, which is officially recognised in the ASEAN Charter as an entity associated with ASEAN. 
 
More information on MARUAH can be found at www.maruah.org.
 

 

  • iOFFICEpoen

    in britain..there is NO lawsuit @ all..if being point fingers..the politician concerned would need to refute if the allegations is real or gossips…
    so simple..would you sued your colleauges if they says you stole some paperclips and stationary from the workdesk?

  • yan can cook

    Its good to have a diversity of political views. These should be fair, objective, non slanderous, not given to be interpreted as seditious or libellous. Say our piece calmly,logically and cogently without resorting to anything close to defamation. This will still allow meaningful discourse without fear of litigation

  • hangman

    Errr…why did this come out so late?
     
     

  • hangman

    One day all bullies will grow arrogant and proud and they will pick on a serious man. When that day comes they will know the error of their ways as this man will know more serious men and they will play them like a violin dragging the case for years and years not even caring about money and they will cry a river.
    It is really only a matter of time. Those who live by the sword will also die by the sword. That is why I never play with knifes or recommend that anyone plays with them either.
    You never know who is the serious men or for matter who is one of them or even how many there are. But I know one thing for certain, they are all watching this very carefully and they are whispering amongst themselves.
    That scares me.
     
     

  • fat hope

    Maruah's wish is like wishing the lepards to change its spots. And old habits die hard.

  • KMT

    They have the money and big wig lawyers to do the "threathening" for them. 

  • Damn

    SG wasn't placed 135th in Press Freedom Index for nothing!

  • BK

    We still have a very long way to go in respecting human rights to freedom of expression.

  • PUTHUCHEARY AVOIDED NS

    Good for you, Maruah. 

  • son of s

    This suing business only works for the PAP. If CSM sues VN, the latter will get a  light tap on the wrist not half a million dollars which would be the order of magnitude we often hear. when the PAP cadre sues.
    The whole suing business is a Human Rights abuse  by the Ruling Party and should be brought before the UN Council of Human Rights.JBJ paid a King's ransom and CSJ has his financial back broken. Those not sued are incarcerated by the ISA.
    The only thing we lack in Singapore is genocide.
     

  • Really?

    Don't understand the logic…if someone makes a defamation against another, why is it that they cannot sue the accuser? What rights does the accuser has in making false comments and think he has every right to get away with it?
     
    Such is precisely the hypocrisies and double standards of those who always professes freedom of speech and expressions, but are precisely the ones that are despicable enough to fabricate lies and then cry father cry mother when being sued!

  • Letgo

    All these lawsuits in this day and age have an unintended consequence which unfortunately our cold war era politicians does not understand.  It has served to make generations of Singaporeans apathetic, and it has made martyrs of some of those sued.  Look at CSJ, Singaporeans respect and admiration for him rises everyday he is a bankrupt due to the lawsuits.
    so how?

  • son of s

    The PAP will never leave off defamation suits and ISA.. This is their only way to keep in Power.
     

  • son of s

    @Really
    I too think that  the right to sue should not be unused. But where will the suit be heard?

  • Spencer

    "Look at CSJ, Singaporeans respect and admiration for him rises everyday he is a bankrupt due to the lawsuits."
     
    I'm not so sure about CSJ…he deserve it for making comments without substantiating it, and spare me the fallacies…CSJ does not have many admirers at all. If any, he serve as a good example of people who are good at opening their mouth without using their brain!
     
    I personally have no respects fo him, and I had told him openly right in his face during one of his walkaround in GE2011…and not many want to shake his hand either!

  • FanaticD

    next time before an article or comment is to be posted, it must be vetted by MDA before it can go online. this will come true as PAP believe that it has the power and the legal system behind them to whack us all. no need for elections in 2016 as they will change the whole system to safeguard their own interests

  • cannot anyhow say

    cannot anyhow point fingers like say they paid themselves so much money,otherwise ge sue for saying they corrupted.
    only can call them 'DOGS' and they will defend you saying that singaporeans are 'narrow-mnded' and xenophobic.
    like dat sy,i also clal you 'DOGS',can or not?
    dun sue me ah,i got no job.

  • Free speech has responsibility

    Don't defame and there'll be no lawsuits…its simple as that.
    Persons who defame must justify when required to and it is democratic that the defamed person can seek the law to vindicate himself and get damages as a form of redress for his reputational loss. 
    On a politician, it is not only an individual right, but also in public interest, because at the end of it, politician of a good repute will be good for soceity and its system of governance.
    Singapore must not allow free speech san justice.
     

  • Jafri Basron

    Harassment and intimidation towards freedom of expression
    has to be halted. The world has changed and the people can no
    longer be subdued from their rights and privileges.

  • Sim

    Freedom of speech or expression does not equate to freedom to defame.
     
    Rights and privileges of a human does not include rights to defame or sow lies to put down another person for whatever reasons…these people who think they have such rights are no different from bandits and gangsters!
     
    I said, sue all those who abuse this freedom and let them learn some respects for truth and facts!

  • sangent

    Maruah, you should have posted these comments earlier.

  • iSUEwhoSEW

     
    Sim6 March 2012

    Freedom of speech or expression does not equate to freedom to defame.

    I said, sue all those who abuse this freedom and let them learn some respects for truth and facts!
    ………………………    
    so if go to johore road seek the ahkua to blow your dickhead…your nephew saw you and report to his auntie your wife…..  
    would you sue him with your undenieable LIEs…

     

  • IESCAPEnoWHERE

     
    FanaticD6 March 2012

    next time before an article or comment is to be posted, it must be vetted by MDA before it can go online. this will come true as PAP believe that it has the power and the legal system behind them to whack us all
    …………………………  
    didnt the x-lta lawyer spouse used her hubby rank to stop the sales/publication of a book in the national library and border bookshops?

     

  • http://- yesmanyesman

     
    by FeedMeToTheFish
     
     

    Imagine this conversation between a confused Singaporean and a Minister:

    Citizen Lost: "Wow, Mr Minister, you all very lucky hor, walk here walk there, shake hands here, shake hands there, speak a few times in Parliament, make us wait long long for you as Guest of Honour in this RC Event, then you get million dollars salary every year. Shiok, huh?"

    Minister: "Hey, don't anyhow say. Can or not? No lah, you think suka suka we can get million dollars salary, meh? It's not us who decide how much we get, you know. It's Mercer who helped Gerard and his Team decide our $million pay. Hello, we paid Mercer $860,000.00 for only small job done. How can you grudge us ministers for getting $million pay for full year's full time job? Hello, we also must come up with policies to help you poor lost citizens, you know. Aiyah, you think minister job easy meh? Like now I come to your RC Event, I late 45 minutes, you all also buay song (Hokkien for 'unhappy'). Hello, today is Sunday I also kena work and make appearance. Don't say I say, but because of Mercer's "technical expertise on human resource and remuneration issues" that I can get my current $million pay. So don't think I greedy ok? Don't blame PAP ok? I have to sacrifice a lot to be PAP minister, ok?" [Link] 

    The above imaginary conversation came from the tricky headline I read below:

    "Ministerial pay review panel did work on a voluntary basis.

    The committee that reviewed ministerial salaries last year did its work on a voluntary basis, and its eight members were not paid by the Government, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Tuesday.

    But it paid about $860,000 in consultancy fees to Mercer Singapore, the human resources firm that assisted the committee with the review.

    The company was engaged for its technical expertise on human resource and remuneration issues, said Mr Teo. It was selected from three companies that submitted bid proposals.
    Mr Teo revealed this in a written reply to a parliamentary question from Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC)."
    The above came from ST [Link ].

    Blimey! The headline read so charitable but the truth almost blinded me!

    So which part of the Singapore Budget does this $860,000.00 comes from? The PM's Office? In fact, it does not matter. Ultimately, the money comes from us, the taxpayers.

    With all the song and dance of how the budget should be spent, does one realise where the money is coming from?

    The joke of spending $1.1 billion on PTO
    The joke of granting $60,000 to those whose household income of 1,000 can buy a 2-room HDB flat
    The joke of our extravagant Defence Budget where we have jet fighters sitting pretty in Arizona desert? and elsewhere
    The joke of our stingy budget for the poor, the disabled and the needy old
    The joke of our scholarship money of MOE going to PRC and other countries instead of our own children
    The sick joke of CPF where rightful owners can never withdraw their hard earned cash savings unless they are sick, old (65 or above) or dead! Oh, they have to pay an additional admin (protection money) fee to use their CPF Medisave when they are sick!

    The jokes go on and on and on. . . It is a shame that if not for noises from cowboy bloggers and opposition MPs, nobody will care to comment or question on the scheme of things. Things are so opaque and horrendous when we seriously think about it! Sadly, the election rhetoric of 'serving the people and not to lord over us' sounds so hollow as we slowly but steadily uncover the charade that's played before us.

    If not for Pritam Singh of Workers' Party, we would not have been wise to this fact (joke) of $860,000.00! My sincere appreciation to him for this enlightenment that we need more opposition MPs for more transparency and truth in Singapore.

    Talk is cheap. Whatever money they boast of, it comes from us, the citizens of Singapore. Through our Income Tax, GST, CPF, HDB mortgages, ERP, Maid and Foreign Workers' Levies and other ingenious ways of parting money from it citizens, the government, in its political way, put itself in the limelight as the good cop. Surprisingly, 60% of Singaporeans still buy into it!

    Fair is fair. Much as I would like to bitch about this waste of good money ($840,000.00), it's worth noting that, at least, the amount spent after the review has helped to reduce the total expenditure of ministers' salary compared to the previous. However, if not for the greed and the wrong assumption that money buys everything, this disgraceful episode would not have come to pass.

    With the culture of kiasu (fear of loss), kiasi (fear of death), kia bo lui (fear of no money) and kia chenghu (fear of government) so entrenched in Singaporeans for more that 40 years, it is difficult to change. However, there are some (and there will be more) who regardless of being rich or poor; powerful or not; regardless of the colour of their skin; regardless of their religious or non-religious belief will (through the votes, blogs, emails, coffeeshop conversations and other means) change the status quo for the better.

    The elite government has to change its apathy for empathy.
    If not the people will change the government.
    That is for sure!
     

     

  • son of s

    @yesmanyesman
    We have a race against the blackout day. Our people must be told truths like in your comments. We must keep the channels open, so that  the rate additional citizens learn to use the Internet for news exceeds the rate of new citizens who will vote for the PAP. Only then will what you say come true, " the people will change the Government."

  • Ungmoh City Lost in Asia

    When there is no clear separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches of government, defamation suits hence become the order of the day. One only sues at the drop of a hat when one knows one is "bound to win".
    Throughout the world, compliant judiciaries keep tyrants in power. Change can only come from a well-informed and educated electorate. Change can only come from a fearless citizenry who will not be patronised and refuses to be patronised again.

  • Pingback: The Online Citizen » impose moratorium on death penalty and review position on mandatory death penalty – MARUAH

  • wikigam

    1) History proof that White Man /Race with non-black skin are play an important part in succeful of human achievement. why ????
    2) As i believe that human right and freedom of human, i strongly dis-agree that such comment as :  " born as black is bad"

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