Court of Appeal to hear POFMA appeals for the first time

Court of Appeal to hear POFMA appeals for the first time

The Court of Appeal is hearing appeals stemming from the Prevention from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) for the first time this morning (17 Sept).

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and The Online Citizen (TOC) are appealing against the High Court judgements passed on their previous appeals of POFMA correction directions this year.

The appeals are being heard at a joint hearing by a five-judge panel comprising of Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang Boon Leong, Judith Prakash, Tay Yong Kwang and Steven Chong.

SDP is represented by lawyer Suresh Nair from PK Wong & Nair LLC and TOC is represented by lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam.

Background on SDP’s appeal

Last year on 14 December, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) issued three correction directions under POFMA against SDP over two Facebook posts and an article related to employment trends in Singapore posted by the opposition party.

SDP then complied with the request under POFMA to carry a correction notice that includes a link to the government’s Factually site on each of the Facebook posts and the article.

On 3 January, SDP submitted its application to cancel the three correction directions, but MOM minister Josephine Teo refused and claimed that the application does not provide sufficient grounds for cancellation.

In response to MOM’s rejection, SDP indicated that the answer given “is not a rational answer” and added, “SDP had submitted a detailed account – including analyzing MOM’s own statistics – of the reasons for the statements in our posts.” SDP then pursued the matter in Court and filed an originating summons against the MOM in the High Court. The hearing commenced on 16 January.

However, on 5 February, the High Court dismissed SDP’s challenge and ruled that the government has to prove a statement is false after it has been issued a correction under POFMA.  

Justice Ang Cheng Hock ruled that the statements made by SDP were “false in the face of statistical evidence against them”, thus SDP cannot remove the correction notices it was required to add to the online posts.

Background on TOC’s appeal

On 19 February, the High Court dismissed TOC’s appeal against the Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s Correction Direction issued under the POFMA which was made pertaining to an article published on TOC regarding Malaysian-based human rights organisation Lawyers For Liberty’s (LFL) allegations on the judicial execution methods employed in Changi Prison.

The correction direction was made pertaining to an article published on TOC regarding Malaysian-based human rights organisation Lawyers For Liberty’s (LFL) recent allegations on the judicial execution methods employed in Changi Prison.

The question in TOC’s appeal revolves around whether POFMA does and should only apply to the originators of statements classified as falsehoods under the Act, and whether the re-publication of such statements with no affirmation of whether the statements are factual can fall under the ambit of offences under POFMA.

TOC argued that the article on LFL’s allegations, dated 16 Jan, was “an even-handed reporting of information” provided by LFL’s advisor N Surendran, who narrated the account of an unnamed former Singapore Prison Services (SPS) officer regarding instructions he allegedly received prior to carrying out executions in Changi Prison.

Citing Section 2(2)(a) of POFMA, TOC submitted that a reasonable person seeing or reading the Subject Statement — namely the allegations made by Mr Surendran — within the context of the 16 Jan article would inevitably recognise that the article was, quite blatantly and unequivocally, reporting on hearsay.

TOC has emphasised throughout the article that the allegations by LFL are nothing more than allegations based on a third party, with no verification from the Ministry of Home Affairs after TOC had submitted a query regarding LFL’s claims.

Justice Belinda Ang in her written judgement, said that Sections 5(a) and 11(4) of POFMA target not only “tale-makers” but “tale-bearers” as well. This means that no weight is given to a person’s honest, innocent or ignorant dissemination of false information, said the judge.

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