Front Line Defenders condemns fining of Jolovam Wham for contempt of court

by Front Line Defenders

On 29 April 2019, the High Court of Singapore fined human rights defender Jolovan Wham 5000 SGD (about 3280 EUR) for contempt of court. If he refuses to pay the fine, he will be jailed for one week. He is also required to pay an additional 5000 SGD in legal costs to the Prosecutor and 2997.82 SGD (about 1965 EUR) in disbursements to the Attorney General’s Chambers. Jolovan Wham plans to appeal the sentence.

Jolovan Wham is a human rights defender who has spoken out on a range of issues including the abolition of the death penalty, workers’ rights, and LGBTI rights. He has worked with other members of civil society to highlight issues related to freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of assembly.

On 9 October 2018, the High Court convicted Jolovan Wham of “scandalising the court” over a Facebook post he published on 27 April 2018, which comprised a link to an article on a constitutional challenge against the Anti-Fake News Act in Malaysia. On the post Jolovan Wham had commented that “Malaysian judges are more independent than Singapore’s in cases with political implications”. The court found that the post called into question the integrity and impartiality of the Singaporean courts and risked undermining public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore. This was the first conviction to be made under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act 2016 since it came into effect in October 2017. The Act is widely considered to be a threat to freedom of expression and assembly if used by authorities to criminalise free expression and peaceful assembly, as it has been used in this case.

Jolovan Wham’s sentencing had originally been scheduled for 7 November 2018, but was postponed. During a hearing of the case on 20 March 2019, the prosecution called for the human rights defender to be fined between 10,000-15,000 SGD and in default, a two to three week jail term. The sentence handed out on 29 April 2019 was determined on the basis that the human rights defender had not shown remorse for his actions and had not issued an apology for his post or removed it from his Facebook profile.

This sentencing of Jolovan Wham is part of an intensifying pattern of judicial harassment that he has faced since September 2017. On 29 November 2017, the human rights defender was charged on seven counts under the Public Order Act for exercising his right to freedom of peaceful assembly by organising a public discussion, a vigil, and a silent protest. On 21 February 2019, he received a sentence of 16 days in prison after defaulting on a 3,200 SGD (2,096 EUR) fine, following his conviction for one of the above charges. On 2 March 2019, he was investigated by the police over an individual act of solidarity which the authorities deliberately mischaracterised as an “illegal assembly”.

Front Line Defenders condemns the unjust punishment of Jolovan Wham as it believes that the human rights defender is being prosecuted solely as a result of his legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights. Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Singapore to overturn the sentence handed out to him and to ensure that human rights defenders in the country can exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly without fear of reprisal and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.