Mr Eugene Thuraisingam (Photo by Ariffin Sha)

Criminal and Human Rights Lawyer Fined $6,000 for a Poem on Death Penalty that “Scandalised the Judicary”

By Ariffin Sha

Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, a prominent criminal and human rights lawyer, was found guilty of contempt of court and fined $6,000 by Justice See Kee Oon in the High Court earlier today for a poem he penned. The poem, which concerned the “cruel and unjust law” (i.e. Misuse of Drugs Act) that led to the hanging of Mr Thuraisingam’s client, Ridzuan, was published on his Facebook page a few hours before Ridzuan’s execution at 6am on 19 May 2017.

Our five stars dim tonight.
Our son will be no more.
Killed at the hands of strangers.
At the orders of those who do not care.

Our five stars dim tonight.
For a cruel and unjust law.
The fate of a life, in the hands of one.
Who himself doesn’t really care.

Our five stars dim tonight.
With our million dollar men turned blind.
Pretending not to see.
Ministers, Judges and Lawyers. 
Same as the accumulators of wealth.
Hiding in the dimness, like rats scavenging for scraps.
When does the new car come?

Our five stars dim tonight.
For a law that makes no sense.
A law that is cruel and unjust. 
Just as its makers, executors stand.
Jeffrey has died. Ridzuan is next.
Killed not in our names, but by the decree of one.

Fear not my friend, we tread through this darkness.
The sons of this soil have spoken.
Regardless of race. Regardless of language. Regardless of religion.
As our lungs shout as one, the stars will shine again!

The people have spoken.

The underlined parts were found to be in contempt of court. In the AGC’s opinion, the excerpt, when read by the average reasonable man, would be interpreted to mean that judges have subordinated their judicial duty to financial greed. The defence revealed that on 29 May, the AGC requested the Law Society to refer Mr Thuraisingam to a Disciplinary Tribunal. The Law Society who then informed Mr Thuraisingam that the AGC found his poem to be in contempt.

Mr Thuraisingam was neither informed personally by the AGC of their finding nor asked to “purge” his poem. However, he accepted that his poem was in contempt of court. On his own accord, he posted the following apology on his Facebook Page on 5 July 2017.

As both the AGC and Mr Thuraisingam had agreed that the poem was in contempt, the trial in the High Court focused on the issue of sentencing.

The AGC argued that as Mr Thuraisingam was an officer of the court and Ridzuan’s lawyer, his words would carry more weight than the words of a layperson. They argued that his position as a lawyer was an aggravating factor in sentencing. They submitted that the Judge fine Eugene no less than $10,000.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (left) presenting the Lasco Award to Mr Eugene Thuraisingam (right) at the Tri-Court Volunteers Appreciation Dinner.


Senior Counsel (‘SC’) Ang Cheng Hock, who represented Mr Thuraisingam, rebutted the AGC by highlighting Mr Thuraisingam’s long and unblemished record before the Courts and his public service. Mr Thuraisingam has provided pro-bono legal services to Singaporeans for more than 16 years under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (‘CLAS’), taking on 9 cases in the past year alone. He has also volunteered with the Legal Assistance for Capital Offences (‘LASCO’), a scheme that, in Mr Thuraisingam’s own words, is the closest to his heart.

Over the past 5 years, he has handled more than 15 cases where his clients faced the death penalty. Ridzuan, whom the poem was about, was also one of Mr Thuraisingam’s clients. Mr Ang SC underscored the fact that his client has been awarded with the LASCO Award in 2016 for his tireless work o and the Silver Medal by the Law Society of Singapore’s Pro-Bono Services Office in appreciation for his dedication to CLAS.

Mr Thuraisingam had also acted on a pro-bono basis for several cases of public interest, including, but not limted to, Lee Hsien Loong v Roy Ngerng (Defamation), Attorney General v Ting Choon Meng and TheOnlineCitizen (Harassment) and the case of Dinesh Raman (Death in Custody). He made the case that Mr Thuraisingam’s role as an officer of the Court should not be an aggravating factor.

Although acknowledging that there was contempt, Mr Ang SC submitted that his client’s intention was not to scandalize the judiciary but to criticize the unfair law (i.e. Granting the DPP the sole power to decide whether drug couriers should be given the death penalty) that led to Ridzuan’s hanging. He also reasoned that his client was in not in the right frame of mind when making the post.

Ridzuan and his accomplice, Abdul Halim, were charged under the Misuse of Drugs Act and faced the death penalty. Mohd Jamil was granted a certificate of co-operation by the Deputy Public Prosecutor (‘DPP’) and had his sentence commuted to one of life imprisonment. Ridzuan, however, was not granted the certificate of co-operation. A few weeks prior to Ridzuan’s hanging, another one of Mr Thuraisingam’s clients, Jeefrey bin Jamil, was also hung. Mr Thuraisingam walked away from his last meeting with Ridzuan, with anguish that he couldn’t do anything more for him.

“One of the most heart wrenching things that I have ever had to do in my 16 years of practice is to walk away from my clients at my final meeting with them after explaining that there is nothing more than can be done in Court to save lives.

I was extremely upset on the night of Ridzuan’s execution. I was demoralized that there was nothing further I could do for him as his lawyer. He was young and there was so much more that he could have done with his life. Yet, because of mistakes committed in the folly of his youth, he was set to be executed.

I was not in the right frame of mind when I published the Facebook post.” – Mr Thuraisingam in his affidavit.

All these things took a emotional toll on Mr Thuraisingam, thus leading to the carlessness of his posting, explained Mr Ang SC.

Mr Ang SC submitted that the Court should take into account Mr Thuraisingam’s significant contributions to the legal fraternity and his emotional state of mind when deciding on the severity of the sentence.

Justice See Kee Oon, who presided over the hearing in High Court earlier today, stated that the emotional state of mind that Mr Thuraisingam was in cannot be disregarded. However, he did find that he harboured ill intentions  in penning the poem. He disagreed with the Prosecution that a fine of $10,000 was just and ordered a fine of $6,000 to be imposed on Mr Thuraisingam. He stated that he saw no reason why Mr Thuraisingam should be punished more severely than Mr Alex Au Waipang, who was fined $8,000 for contempt of court in 2014 after vehemently contesting the charge and showing no remorse for the contemptuous statements.

As for the issue of Costs, the AGC argued that it should be set at $12,000 but the judge ruled that it would be set at $6,000 with reasonable disbursements. Justice See Kee Oon’s grounds of decision in will be released in due course. Following that, a Law Society Disciplinary Tribunal hearing will be convened for Mr Thuraisingam.

Mr Suang Wijaya (Left) and Mr Eugene Thuraisingam (Right)

In a statement on Facebook, Mr Thuraisingam expressed his appreciation for the support of his family and friends and apologized again for his actions.

“Liza (his wife) and I would like to thank all our family and friends for their thoughts and support during this trying time.
I was overwhelmed by the emotions of losing a very young client to the gallows for drug trafficking after a long hard battle in Court and I lashed out very wrongly at some people who I respect a lot and should never have criticised.
I am sorry for letting down so many people who would have expected more from me. It will not happen again!
Thank you all once again for your kind wishes and understanding.” – Mr Eugene Thuraisingam