SDP Vice-chairman, John Tan

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) vice-chairman John Tan Liang Joo is appealing to the public for donations to help him defray the legal costs he incurred as a result of his appeal against his contempt of court conviction.

Mr Tan was charged for “scandalising the judiciary” for a Facebook post two years ago, which he said he wrote to show support to social worker and activist Jolovan Wham who was charged for the same offence for the latter’s comments in a separate Facebook post.

Mr Wham in his Facebook post on 27 April 2018 made the claim that Malaysia’s judiciary appears to be more independent than its Singapore counterpart in cases with political implications.

The remark was made in response to to independent Malaysian online media platform Malaysiakini’s act of filing a constitutional challenge against the nation’s anti-fake news laws on the grounds that such laws infringe the right to freedom of expression.

In addition, Mr Wham read several Malaysian cases and a book by the late former Solicitor-General-turned-exile Francis Seow titled “Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary”.

Mr Tan said in a Facebook post earlier this week that he was fined $5,000 “and by implication, barred from standing for elections for 5 years”, hence why he did not contest in this year’s general election.

“I filed another appeal to ask the court to clarify that the $5,000 fine should not affect my ability to contest in an election. The court, however, refused to do so,” he said.

“I appealed against the judgment but the appellate court upheld the decision,” Mr Tan wrote.

Mr Tan disclosed that he has incurred legal costs up to S$37,434.10 to date in spite of the pro bono services of his legal counsels.

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam and his team represented Mr Tan in his “scandalising of judiciary” case while lawyer M Ravi acted for him in his “eligibility to contest” case, according to Mr Tan.

He went on to appeal to the members of the public to “chip in” in helping defray his legal cost so that he can “fight another day for free speech and social justice in Singapore”.

Members of the public who wish to make donations can contribute via PayNow @ 83012546, PayPal, or bank transfer to DBS bank account 017-3-091844.

In the post that led Mr Tan to be charged, he wrote: “By charging Jolovan for scandalising the judiciary, the AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers) only confirms what he said to be true.”

Due to their posts, both of them were slapped with a fine of S$5000 became the first individuals to be convicted under new laws governing instances of contempt of court in Singapore, particularly the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act 2016, which came into effect on 1 Oct 2017.

In addition to the fine, Mr Wham and Mr Tan were ordered by Justice Woo Bih Li to pay S$2997.82 and S$1966.39 respectively in legal costs and disbursements to the AGC.

At the same time, under the Singapore Constitution, political candidates who are convicted of any offence would be disqualified from running to become Members of Parliament in the general election if they are fined a sum of over S$2,000 or imprisoned for more than a year.

As such, in order to not lose his chance of standing in the next General Election, Mr Tan had earlier said that he would rather be given a jail sentence than to pay a fine of S$5000.

In response to Mr Tan’s request, Deputy Chief Prosecutor (DCP) Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir, representing the Attorney-General, pointed out that the court should not be the place where accused individuals can request for a certain course to be meted out based on their political desires.

Under the new laws dealing with contempt of court, actions that fall under the territory of contempt include the following:

  • Disobeying court orders;
  • Sub judice and scandalising the court.

While such conduct have already been prohibited under existing laws prior to the enactment of the new laws, the standard in risk assessment is lowered from “real risk” to simply “risk” in determining whether an action counts as scandalising the court.

The new legislation was passed by the Parliament as a result of a debate in August 2016 despite strong objection from The Workers’ Party.

WP, the sole opposition party in the House at the time, rejected the proposal to enact new contempt of court laws on the basis that the new laws will potentially suppress freedom of speech in Singapore.

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