SDP takes POFMA battle to court, files summons against Manpower Minister Josephine Teo

Following the Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo’s rejection of the Singapore Democratic Party’s application to cancel the correction orders she issued to the party under the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), SDP is taking the matter to Court.

Adhering to its promise to do so, the SDP had filed an originating summons against the Minister in the High Court.

In a statement on their website yesterday (8 Jan), the party noted that hearing is set to commence on 16 January at 10am. They also said that they will not be engaging a lawyer but instead will argue the matter themselves.

The statement added that the SDP has set out its case in a detailed submission to the ministry, including statistical analyses of the ministry’s own data, explaining why Ms Teo was wrong to issue the orders in the first place.

The party also indicated that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had, in their corrections, cited different sets of data and had accused the SDP of making statements that they did not actually make in order to support its case.

The statement went on, “Ms Teo arrogantly dismissed our application saying that it ‘does not provide sufficient grounds for the cancellation of the CDs’ and refused, or was unable, to back-up her allegations in her rejection of our submissions.”

As such, SDP says it is “left with no choice” but to pursue the matter in High Court.

The party also emphasised that another reason it is taking legal action is because “Ms Teo’s order is an abuse of the law”.

The party explained that if the correction directions issued by Ms Teo are upheld, then “the last holdout where important national issues are openly and robustly debated on the Internet in Singapore would be irreparably closed”.

“The employment of Ministerial decree to accuse the opposition of stating falsehoods when the statements are in fact true cannot be condoned,” cautioned the party.

It noted that the application of facts and logical reason to persuade the public in a political debate should not be sacrificed for the “whims and opinions” of ministers.

“By her action, Ms Teo has plunged a dagger into the heart Singapore’s political system already plagued by anti-democratic rules that keep the PAP entrenched in power,” said SDP.

“The PAP must not be allowed to be the accuser, prosecutor and judge on any political matter, let alone one like the foreign-worker issue which has been the source of much frustration and anger among Singaporeans.”

SDP went on to say that if the ruling party gets away with using POFMA “in such a slipshod and partisan manner”, every critic will then be at its mercy.

The party explained that while it would rather focus on its election campaign, it has decided after lengthy deliberation to undertake this legal action.

The party says, “…as difficult as it may be, we must stand up for our fellow Singaporeans and fight for what little space we have left in Singapore to uphold our democratic freedoms.”

While the party is certain that the court of public opinion is on its side, they must also attempt to succeed in the court of law.

“This is not just the fight of the SDP but of every opposition party, every organisation and, indeed, every Singaporean who values our Pledge “to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality.”

What’s happened so far?

On 14 December, the MOM issued three correction directions to the SDP for three postings it made online regarding employment trends in Singapore. The ministry alleged that the statements made by the party were false.

MOM directed that the party carry a correction notice on each of the two Facebook post and one article on its website contains false statement of facts and a misleading graphic.

While SDP complied with the request and added the correction notice to all three posts, the party later refuted the ministry’s claims. The party penned a detailed statement on its website about the issues it has with the directives, pointing out that their posts were, in fact, true and correct based on data published by MOM itself.

The party then submitted an application to Ms Teo to cancel the correction directions – as provided for in POFMA – but the application was rejected on the grounds that the party did not provide sufficient grounds for the cancellation. There was no explanation given on how the SDP’s application was lacking.

In response (6 Jan), the SDP said on its website that MOM’s rejection and reasons given “is not a rational answer”, with the party contending that it has submitted a “detailed account – including analysing MOM’s own statistics – of the reasons for the statements in our posts.”

In that response, the party also included the full document which they had submitted to MOM, showing their reason for the application to cancel the correction directions.

The party also hit back at Ms Teo for not being able to give an explanation for rejecting SDP’s application despite having the time to do so.

“Minister Josephine Teo, despite having the entire Ministry and its officials at her disposal with two full working days and an entire weekend to refute our specific arguments, has refused or been unable to do so. This is telling,” it wrote.

It added, “Replying that the ‘Minister has therefore decided to refuse your Application’ is not an answer, it is a cop-out.”

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