Malaysia-based human rights organisation Lawyers For Liberty (LFL) has filed an originating summons in the Kuala Lumpur High Court against Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam for the Correction Direction issued against the organisation under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
LFL advisor N Surendran told reporters at the lobby of the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex on Fri (24 Jan) that the Correction Direction “is an attempt to reach out their tentacles and impose their own oppressive fake news act on Malaysians issuing statements in Malaysia”.
“The reason we’ve brought this suit is that — for us — this is an attempt by Singapore to encroach upon, to stifle, or to crack down on freedom of speech in our country,” he said.
“Remember our own fake news act? The new government has already repealed it. But they’re now trying to impose their fake news act on us, so that’s why we’ve filed it.
Mr Surendran added that LFL is seeking a declaration from the court that Mr Shanmugam cannot take any action via POFMA on the organisation.
Commenting on the Ministry for Communications and Information (MCI)’s direction to the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to block LFL’s website in Singapore, Mr Surendran said: “Of course we find this very disappointing.”
“[B]efore we even revealed the details … We had written to them and offered to give evidence to them privately so that something can be done about this method of execution,” he clarified.
Mr Surendran elaborated that the human rights organisation had even previously issued public statements indicating its willingness to “cooperate with the Singapore authorities to put an end to this practice”, but that such attempts were purportedly ignored by the authorities.
“They ignored and they did not respond to our attempts, which is why we felt compelled — and had no choice — but to go public with the [allegations regarding] the method of execution [in Changi Prison],” he added.
Mr Surendran also alleged that the Singapore Government “appears to be more interested in silencing us and keeping the lid on the truth about the method of execution in Changi Prison” than “getting to the truth of what is happening and taking action”.
“If the higher-ups were not aware of this, then they should take action against anyone who’s doing this and put a stop to it.
“We do not know what is the state of their knowledge, but blocking the website is part and parcel of what they’ve been trying to do, which is merely to silence us,” he claimed.
When asked if LFL is willing to bring the Singapore Prison Services (SPS) officer to testify in the lawsuit against Mr Shanmugam, Mr Surendran said that the prison is willing to testify “even in a Singapore court or any appropriate forum, as long as the Singapore Government gives the assurance that he will be treated as a whistleblower”.
He added that LFL’s decision to keep the prison officer’s identity secret was the “correct decision” to make, as had his identity been revealed to the public, he would also be facing the same actions brought against LFL.
Mr Surendran also claimed that another SPS officer — one who is currently serving — has come forward since LFL went public with its allegations.
“Our sources are impeccable, and we have every reason to believe that there is truth to these allegations,” he added.
WATCH: Lawyers For Liberty’s press conference at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex on 24 Jan on taking legal action against Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister regarding POFMA Correction Direction
S’pore Govt “seeking to enforce what our Government has repudiated”: M’sian advocate and solicitor Gurdial Singh Nijar
Malaysian advocate and solicitor Gurdial Singh Nijar — one of the counsels representing LFL in the lawsuit — told reporters at the press conference that the lawsuit filed against the Singapore Home Affairs Minister is “very unusual”, due to the similarly unusual nature of the Singapore Government’s purported attempts to extend its laws extraterritorially to Malaysian citizens.
“We have sued the [Singapore] Minister for Home Affairs … This case raises some very interesting, novel questions. The question is — generally speaking — sovereign states and their ministers have immunity from being sued in the courts of another country.
“But in this case, what they are seeking to do has very serious consequences for our clients … If the [Correction] Direction given by the Minister for Home Affairs of Singapore is not done [or complied with], then they are liable to be charged in the Singapore courts and be exposed to a very hefty fine as well as a five-year imprisonment term,” he said.
Dr Singh Nijar also noted that under the reciprocal arrangement between Malaysia and Singapore, a Malaysian can be extradited to Singapore to be charged if a Warrant of Arrest is produced by the Singapore Court, pursuant to Section 121 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Singapore.
While Singapore has sovereign rights, Dr Singh Nijar said that the court has to consider if there is a public policy that overrides their claim to sovereignty in cases where the “fundamental human rights” of Malaysian citizens are at stake.
The POFMA order directed by Mr Shanmugam against LFL, according to Dr Singh Nijar, also raises questions concerning the potential violation of principles in international law such as sovereignty and the comity of nations.
“[Y]ou do not extend your laws to citizens of another country … If you are going to extend them extraterritorially to citizens of another country, what it means is that you are applying your laws to the citizens of this country, preventing them from exercising the fundamental rights that are given under our Constitution to the citizens of this country,” he said.
“The Singapore Government is seeking to enforce what our Government has repudiated”, added Dr Singh Nijar, in reference to the repeal of the Anti Fake News Act by the Malaysian Parliament last month.
“They [the Singapore Government] may claim immunity, but we are hoping that the Minister [Mr Shanmugam] will be gracious enough — if he has the principles of the rule of law in mind — to waive any such claims to immunity [and] to have this matter adjudicated outside of the Singapore courts in a neutral country,” he said.
Citing the Reynolds principle, in which media practitioners reporting certain allegations are entitled to not be sued for defamation, provided that they have done “due diligence” in their reporting — even if the allegations are not accurate — Dr Singh Nijar said that the application of POFMA in the immediate case may have a “very serious impact” on press freedom and the ability to “carry out your journalistic vocation”.
Responding to a question from a media representative regarding what would happen if Mr Surendran or LFL director Melissa Sasidaran were to enter Singapore, Dr Singh Nijar clarified that it “is a separate issue”, and that the core issue is regarding where the communication of the statements were made.
“The press releases that were made by LFL were actually not made in Singapore … But of course, on the Internet, you are entitled to access it from whichever place you want.
“[Mr] Shanmugam — the Honourable Minister — has accessed the Internet, and now he claims that it is a communication in Singapore,” he said. “This is a matter of dispute that will arise in the subsequent case if they charge him for that matter.”
Dr Singh Nijar reiterated that as a “preliminary issue”, Singapore cannot apply its laws “to a citizen of another country based on your perception and your laws”.
“For example, our Prime Minister has come out with the draft of the Water Agreement. He has given his version of the agreement, what it is about and so on … In the Singapore Parliament, they have contested the validity of those facts,” he said.
Highlighting that POFMA did not exist at the time, Dr Singh Nijar questioned if the Singapore Government is asserting that the Malaysian Ministers have “propagated false facts” and are subject to Correction Directions under the Act.
Replying to a question regarding how LFL’s legal notice against Mr Shanmugam would be served, Dr Singh Nijar said that given that it involves “a convoluted process” which entails the Minister either accepting the notice through lawyers or through the Singapore Embassy.
“Once it is served, it is then on them to enter appearance, and then they can decide how to approach this, whether they are prepared to have this adjudicated here, or they want to claim sovereign immunity,” he said. “Then the court will decide — in these circumstances — whether they can claim sovereign immunity or not.”
LFL statement on alleged judicial execution method in Changi Prison “baseless” and “preposterous”: MHA
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Wed (22 Jan) slammed LFL for its allegations on the purported judicial execution methods in Changi Prison, branding them “untrue, baseless and preposterous”.
MHA in its statement stressed that all executions by the state “are conducted in the presence of the Superintendent of the Prison and a medical doctor, among others”.
The Ministry added that Singapore law also requires a Coroner — a Judicial Officer of the State Courts — to establish an inquiry within 24 hours of the execution to ensure that “the execution was carried out duly and properly”.
“For the record, the rope used for judicial executions has never broken before, and prison officers certainly do not receive any “special training to carry out the brutal execution method” as alleged.
“Any acts such as those described in the LFL statement would have been thoroughly investigated and dealt with,” MHA added.
The Ministry also charged that the “scurrilous allegations of misconduct” are the latest in “a series of sensational and untrue stories” previously published by the human rights organisation.
“LFL has been publishing various falsehoods to seek attention in hopes of getting Malaysian prisoners, who have been convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to death in Singapore, off the death penalty,” charged MHA.
The allegations concerning the “brutal” and “unlawful” process of execution by hanging in Changi Prison first surfaced in a statement by LFL on its website last Thu (16 Jan).
Citing an unnamed former SPS officer’s account, Mr Surendran said that the former officer and other prison officers were instructed to carry out a brutal procedure “whenever the rope breaks during a hanging, which happens from time to time”.
Mr Surendran said that LFL were told that “prison officers were given special training to carry out the above brutal execution method”.
“This execution method is unlawful as the mode of execution prescribed by law is hanging by the neck, and not execution by brutal kicking of the neck,” he stressed.
The information on the alleged hanging method, said Mr Surendran, is also especially pertinent to the organisation, as there are a number of “Malaysians are on death row in Changi prison, mainly being convicted drug mules”.
“Every death row prisoner in Changi, including the Malaysians, are in danger of suffering this excruciating death, should the rope break during the hanging,” he said.
Touching on why LFL was “compelled” to disclose the above details of the hanging process, Mr Surendran claimed that the organisation had written to the Singapore authorities and were prepared to hand over the evidence they had of the methods used to execute prisoners, but were met with “deafening silence”.
“Significantly, they have also not denied our allegation of brutality in carrying out hangings, which has been widely reported,” he alleged, adding that the organisation’s disclosure may result in “ensuing public scrutiny” that “will bring to an end these methods”.
Mr Surendran noted that the purported former SPS officer “is prepared to come forward and testify at the appropriate forum”.
In its statement on Wed, MHA also revealed that Mr Shanmugam has instructed the POFMA Office to issue a Correction Direction against LFL, as well as other media outlets including TOC, for publishing the allegations regarding the judicial execution methods.
TOC submitted an appeal to the Home Affairs Minister against the Correction Direction the same day, based on the grounds that our report does not affirm the authenticity of the claims made by LFL, and that we did not receive any response from MHA after submitting a query regarding the claims made by the human rights organisation.