Following Attorney General’s Chambers’ move to file its application for proceedings against late Lee Kuan Yew’s grandson, Li Shengwu for Contempt of Court on Friday (4 August), Li published a letter which he had sent to AGC on 4 August 2017. The letter include Mr Li’s defence against AGC’s claims against him, stating that it had taken his post completely out of context.
The post by Li wrote, “Since the AGC has seen fit to publish their correspondence with me, I thought it would be helpful to fill in the part that they mysteriously omitted.”
The letter which was shared by Li, was not part of the documents which was shared by AGC in its press statement on Friday.
Below is the letter from Li to AGC in full.
I refer to the letter dated 21 July 2017 from Attorney-General’s Chambers, and to AGC’s extended deadline for my response by 5pm today.
AGC takes issue with a private posting I made on Facebook on 15 July 2017 and accuses me of the offence of contempt of court because of what I said in my private post.
The context of my post is everything. AGC has taken my post completely out of context.
What I said in my private post comprises 2 sentences. My focus was on the first sentence. The second sentence is in parenthesis.
AGC’s letter, however, quotes and takes issue only with the second sentence, omitting the parenthesis.
I set out in context what I said. The second sentence is in italics but I have inserted the parenthesis as it appears in my private post:
“If you have been watching the latest political crisis in Singapore from a distance but would like a summary, this is a good one. (Keep in mind, of course, that the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system. This constrains what the international media can usually report …)
In my private post, I shared the article by Wall Street Journal: “Singapore, a Model of Orderly Rule, Is Jolted by a Bitter Family Feud” which summarized the political crisis I had referred to. I also provided a link to a New York Times editorial on the constraints to reporting by the international media.
Viewed in context, my private posting of 15 July is not a contempt of court.
AGC, refers to the second sentence of my private post and the link to the New York Times editorial, out of context, to assert that “The clear meaning of (my private post), in referring to ‘a pliant court system’, is that the Singapore Judiciary acts on the direction of the Singapore government, is not independent, and has ruled and will continue to rule in favour of the Singapore government in any proceedings, regardless of the merits of the cases.”
AGC appears to have read an entire paragraph from a single word. AGC has misunderstood me.
No one who publicized my private post had approached me for any clarification as to what I meant. However, I would like to make a clarification to resolve AGC’s misunderstanding.
In saying that Singapore has a “pliant” court system, and in providing a link to an editorial in the New York Times in April 2010 (my providing a link to an editorial does not imply that I endorse all its contents), I am not saying or imputing that the Singapore judiciary acts on the direction of the Singapore government, or that it is not independent, or that it will continue to rule in favour of the Singapore government in any proceedings regardless of the merits. A “pliant” object is flexible, supple, or adaptable. This is in contrast to a “compliant” object that is easily influenced or yielding. A “court system” encompasses the AGC, prosecutors, and the general legal environment.
By analogy, to say for instance that Singapore’s medical system is inefficient does not have to mean that its hospitals are incompetent or that its doctors are lazy. The Singapore court system operates on a different set of legal rules with respect to press freedom, compared to countries such as the United States, and has more flexibility to find the press liable for defamation. When Singapore government leaders sue a journalist for defamation, the government has a more favourable position in Singapore than in those other countries.
If my private post is read in context, it is evident that it is not intended to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice. The first sentence of my private post
makes clear that its focus was the coverage by the Wall Street Journal of a political crisis in Singapore. The second sentence in parenthesis cautions how the Singapore government’s litigation against the international media acts as a censorship to the coverage of the international media.
Any criticism is of the Singapore government’s aggressive use of legal rules such as defamation laws which has constrained reporting by the international press.
What I said in my private post in context does not pose any real risk of undermining
public confidence in the administration of justice.
However, I have already amended my private post to clarify my meaning.
AGC’s letter also omits the significant fact that my 15 July post is a private posting for my Facebook friends only.
Under Facebook’s terms of service, it is only when I publish content or information using Facebook’s “Public” setting, that everyone, including people off of Facebook, is allowed to access and use that information, and associate it with me. However, I did not use the Public setting for my post on 15 July. It was a private posting and no one is allowed to use or reproduce my post without my approval.
I have used Facebook for about a decade or so. I had never before had my private postings used or reproduced without my approval.
I would not have given my approval to any request to use or reproduce my 15 July private post.
However, on 15 July at 4.50pm, an anonymous Facebook user posted for public viewing an unauthorized screenshot of my private post. This user is not on my Facebook “friends” list. I do not know how this user obtained the screenshot of my private post. The unauthorized screenshot showed the symbol that my post was private and for “friends” only.
This unauthorized screenshot of my private post, and/or content from my private post, was thereafter further republished and made public without my approval by others. In the morning of 17 July, mainstream media ZaoBao, Straits Times, Business Times, Channelnewsasia and The New Paper all published online articles and Facebook postings relating to my private post.
I was not approached by any of the media or anyone for verification or clarification.
Instead, the mainstream media articles capitalized as newsworthy comments made on 16 July by Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat that he was “disappointed with” my actions and on 17 July by AGC that it was looking into my post, making my private post public news and widely circulated.
I saw the mainstream media articles and in response, on 17 July at 12.42pm I made a Facebook posting on Public setting to express my surprise that my 15 July posting had been enough to trigger a response from AGC in Singapore. I clarified that the 15 July post “was shared on ‘Friends only’ privacy settings (20 likes at the time of this writing).” I also clarified that it had been inaccurately reported that the post was “uploaded on Saturday and was later taken down” when it had never been taken down.
AGC’s letter further incorrectly asserts that it was forseeable that my private post would be republished widely in Singapore.
I am not responsible for the widespread and unauthorized publication and republication in Singapore of my private post.
I never expected that a screenshot of my private post would be leaked or the contents of my private post republished without my approval.
It was also not forseeable that thereafter my private post would warrant articles by mainstream media or that mainstream media would put my private post to Senior Minister Chee for his comments or that AGC would release a comment to mainstream media that AGC is “looking into it” or that mainstream media would publish reports capitalizing on Senior Minister Chee’s comments or the AGC’s comments.
I would have expected that mainstream media would verify with me and seek clarification of what was clearly a private posting before they carried their stories, and before they put my private post to Senior Minister Chee and AGC.
My 15 July post is confined to a private Facebook post. As AGC’s concern appears to be the public reproduction of my private post, perhaps AGC should require the mainstream media and other parties who made my private post public to delete and remove their unauthorized publications and republications. My post will remain private and has been amended to remove any misunderstanding, but not taken down.