The high profile and shall I say “popcorn inducing” trial between blogger Leong Sze Hian (Leong) and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) has taken place. I say “popcorn inducing” not because this trial should in any way be considered entertainment but because the issues that it addresses plus the circumstances in which it comes about concerns many public interest issues. In that vein, it would be fair to say that Singaporeans would be keeping a keen ear on the trial and its outcome.
As readers will recall, this whole legal drama came about because PM Lee threw down the gauntlet and took action to pursue a defamation suit again Leong over an article that Leong shared on his Facebook (FB) page without comment or opinion – a “blank share” so to speak. The offensive article published by The States Times Review was not written by Leong. Nor did Leong have any participation in the writing of the article.
A senior member of Singapore’s Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) led government suing a private individual is not unique.
In Singapore’s short history as an independent country,this is by far not the first defamation suit taken by members of the PAP government against private citizens. So while people may be quietly disapproving of such seemingly heavy handed actions, they are probably not surprised.
What was however surprising was Leong returning salvo with a counter suit arguing that PM Lee’s suit against him was an abuse of the process of court, as it was not “a real and substantial” one.
Needless to say, this turn of events has made this lawsuit one that is the subject of much public curiosity. One would imagine that this would be any journalist’s dream. In Singapore however, the mainstream media has been rather muted with much coverage tending to give PM Lee’s version of events. and PM Lee’s arguments. The dearth of opinion pieces on this is jarring, lending credence to the belief that the PAP government is untouchable where the mainstream media is concerned.
The Singapore courts have long been sensitive of anything that could be seen to affect its impartiality. Most notably it has on various incidences, taken individuals to task for the offence of Sub judice. This means that it is an offence for an individual to intentionally publish any matter that:
- Prejudges a pending issue in a court proceeding, where such prejudgment prejudices or interferes with the course of any pending court proceeding (or poses a real risk to or interference with the same); or
- Otherwise does so.
Would the articles presenting arguments found in PM Lee’s affidavit that are published by the MSM, not be considered Sub judice as well*- given that it can interfere with how PM Lee and Leong are perceived where this is concerned?
The judgment is after all still reserved.
*TOC has written to the Attorney General’s Chambers for their comment on whether the publications are subjudice and will include them, should they choose to reply like they did for Li Shengwu’s case of alleged contempt of court.