The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Thursday (1 October) that the Malaysia High Court had thrown out a legal suit filed by the Malaysian human rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) against Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam. The High Court’s decision was made last month.
In January this year, LFL filed a motion in the Kuala Lumpur High Court against Mr Shanmugam after it received a correction direction by the POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) Office.
The civil suit, which was filed on 24 January, wanted to seek a declaration from the High Court stating that the Home Affairs Minister cannot take action against LFL in Malaysia under POFMA.
The correction direction was issued to LFL under the instruction of Mr Shanmugam on 22 January for the group’s allegations on the judicial execution methods employed in Changi Prison.
LFL advisor N Surendran told reporters at the lobby of the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex on 24 January 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.
Calling the group’s legal suit “baseless”, MHA said on Thursday that LFL did not serve its court papers on Mr Shanmugam.
“Instead, the papers subsequently expired and, for reasons which LFL did not make known, LFL discontinued its applications to renew the papers, and to serve them on the minister in Singapore,” said the Ministry in a press statement.
As such, MHA added that LFL’s action was later struck out by the High Court of Malaysia on 21 September.
“LFL’s conduct in commencing its legal action, publicising the same, and then failing to prosecute the matter, leading to its striking out by the High Court of Malaysia, is consistent with how LFL has conducted itself so far.
“LFL made sensational allegations against the Singapore Prison Service, and the treatment of prisoners, and promised to put forward evidence. But nothing was put forward to substantiate its wild and completely untrue allegations,” MHA explained.
It continued, “LFL’s legal action was baseless, and that is shown by the fact it has now decided not to continue the legal action”.
On 16 January, LFL released a statement alleging “brutal” and “unlawful” process of execution by hanging in Changi Prison.
Citing an unnamed former Singapore Prison Services (SPS) officer’s account, Mr Surendran said that the former officer and other prison officers were “instructed to carry out the following brutal procedure whenever the rope breaks during a hanging, which happens from time to time”.
Following this statement, the MHA refuted the claims, calling them “untrue, baseless and preposterous”. It explained that the rope used for executions has never been broken before and the prison officers have not gotten any training to carry of such brutal execution method as claimed by LFL.
Subsequently, Mr Shanmugam instructed the POFMA office to issue a Correction Direction under the Act to LFL, which it did not comply to.
MHA had also issued correction directions against other media outlets such as TOC and Yahoo! Singapore, and to journalist Kristen Han, for publishing and sharing articles and/or Facebook posts containing “falsehoods” about allegations made by LFL.
If that’s not all, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said that its minister directed the Inforcomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to block LFL’s website.
In its statement, MCI said the access blocking orders will make sure that the falsehoods on LFL’s website cannot be communicated in Singapore without the facts placed beside them. It went on to note that the orders will only be withdrawn if the organisation complies with the correction direction.
“It seems to me, unfortunately, the Singapore government is more interested in silencing us and keeping the lid on the truth about the method of execution in Changi Prison, rather than getting the truth of what is happening and take action,” said Mr Surendran.
He added, “Blocking the website…is merely to silence us”.
Following that, LFL filed a motion in the Kuala Lumpur High Court against Mr Shanmugam for issuing the correction direction to the organisation.