I am intrigued by the Attorney General’s Chambers’ (AGC) decision to launch proceedings against Li Shengwu for a private Facebook post which it claims to be an “egregious and baseless attack on the Singapore Judiciary”.
Not because it sued, as the act does seem to fit Singapore government’s litigious nature and AGC’s SOP but for the fact that it is taking action for something itself caused.
Without going into the merits of Li’s defence and AGC’s argument of how the comments by Li are in contempt, what ought to be looked at, is the justification by AGC to take the course of action that it did.
In the AGC’s letter to Li Shengwu on 21 July 2017, it highlighted the post made by him and that AGC found the comments to be an “egregious and baseless attack on the Singapore Judiciary”
In the letter, AGC wrote that the post was widely republished after it was posted and that it was an entirely foreseeable consequence due to various circumstances listed.
What AGC failed to include as one of the circumstances for the post to be widely republished, is its decision to issue a press statement in response to a said media query.
When Li first posted the private Facebook post on 15 July 2017 which was limited to his private audience of a small group of friends, the screengrab was then published by Facebook page, “SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh” and subsequently reported by a local website, “Thoughts of Real Singaporeans” on the same day with a news commentary. The Independent Singapore also reported on the post based on information from the prior-mentioned website.
Even if the comments were indeed in contempt, the viewership of the two sites and Facebook page was limited to a small segment of Singapore population and 60% of non-readers would probably think that the comment is fake news (According to Blackbox survey), which is hardly enough to make a dent on the judiciary.
But AGC’s decision to issue a short press statement to all the media outlets in Singapore – indicating that it is looking into the comments of Li – is irrefutably a major contributing factor as to why the post was widely republished. If Li’s charge was akin to have caused a wildfire for lighting a matchstick then AGC’s press statement should be viewed as pouring a barrel of gasoline on the lit matchstick.
So why did AGC issue a press statement in response to media queries?
Some might argue that it was an established media outlet that sent the enquiry to AGC which prompted their response. But a flashback to what happened on that day where Li’s comment was splashed across the whole Singapore will remind us that it was AGC’s press statement to the media that spurred the nation-wide coverage by MSM and independent media outlets, not the initial coverage of Li’s private FB post by the two websites and Facebook page.
Let’s look at the media reports by Singapore MSM (news agencies that have official media passes) after AGC’s issuing of its statement:
Straits Times wrote – The AGC, following media queries, said in a brief statement yesterday morning: “AGC is aware of the post and is looking into the matter.”
Channel News Asia reported – In response to media queries, the AGC said on Monday it is aware of the post and is looking into the matter.
The New Paper wrote – Replying to media queries, an AGC spokesman said in a statement yesterday: “AGC is aware of the post and is looking into the matter.”
Yahoo wrote – The AGC said in a media statement on Monday (17 July) that it is aware of the post and is looking into the matter.
Zaobao wrote – “总检察署昨早针对李绳武本月15日对我国司法体系提出质疑的贴文答复媒体询问时说：“总检察署已留意到这则贴文，并正在研究此事” (same as other media reports)
Mothership wrote – The Attorney-General’s Chambers told Mothership on Monday that it is “looking into” a Facebook post by Li Shengwu, the oldest son of Lee Hsien Yang.
So looking at the wording of the reports, which established media outlet asked AGC about Li’s post? And in most cases, AGC will only issue press statements when it is taking action (ie: warning letters, file charges and etc) and not when it is taking a wait-and-see approach.
When The Online Citizen approached AGC in 2014, to answer a question about a private company in Singapore being in possession of a military grade spyware and is actively using the spyware, an act which clearly violates the Computer Misuse Act, it replied saying that AGC is the legal adviser to the government and cannot provide legal advice to members of the public.
Note that AGC took four emails of media queries and over a month to eventually give the above response on the matter. In comparison, AGC didn’t even take one working day to come up with a response to the query in regards to Li’s private Facebook post. Was it really so urgent that AGC had to provide a response in such a prompt manner?
Perhaps 2014 is too long ago to be considered as the current stance of the AGC, but take the more recent case of Singapore Democratic Party seeking AGC’s action to look into the allegations made by Dr Lee Weiling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang against the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 7 July 2017.
Given that PM Lee had to go all the way to Parliament to try and clear the doubts of public in regards to the allegation instead of suing his two siblings, did AGC issue any press statement to the media agencies to state that they will be looking into SDP’s letter to them or that they have disregarded the matter as PM Lee has undoubtedly cleared himself in Parliament through his self-declaration?
Or did they choose to pretend that they did not receive the letter and let it die a silent death? If so, why didn’t they choose to adopt this stance in Li’s case?
Perhaps I should write in to AGC and ask for their comment on SDP’s letter and see whether if they would issue a press statement as they did with Li’s facebook post.