AGC’s handling of complaints against SMRT Feedback raises questions of a possible “fix-up job” in Li Shengwu’s charge for contempt of court

The authorities have recently closed investigations into Facebook page SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh for a now-deleted seditious post in May without naming its administrators or issuing warnings against it, around two months since police reports were made regarding the post.

In the offending post dated 21 May, the page expressed support for the late Singaporean statesman Lee Kuan Yew’s views on being wary of placing Malay-Muslim Singaporeans in sensitive positions such as in the Air Force and Navy.

The Straits Times reported the founding prime minister as saying in Sep 1999:

If, for instance, you put in a Malay officer who’s very religious and who has family ties in Malaysia in charge of a machine gun unit, that’s a very tricky business. We’ve got to know his background … I’m saying these things because they are real, and if I don’t think that, and I think even if today the Prime Minister doesn’t think carefully about this, we could have a tragedy.

Putting a Muslim Singaporean “in a sensitive position where he has to deal with Israeli tech”, which “he knows is the same tech that is used to lay siege on Palestine”, said SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh (SMRT Feedback), would put him in a difficult predicament.

“Lee Kuan Yew wasn’t racist. He just didn’t want our Muslim countrymen to be put in a position where they have to decide between country and god. The best position is not having to decide at all,” SMRT Feedback added.

Soon after the post was published, several police reports were filed against the page over the post including one by lawyer Syazana Yahya.

In a Facebook post of her own on 23 May, Ms Syazana said that the offending post is seditious, as it “casts aspersions on a Singaporean Muslim’s loyalty to its nation”.

“It falsely suggests that when a Muslim person is in a war with a religious element, he/she will turn his/her back on Singapore,” she said.

Countering such an assertion, Ms Syazana stressed that a Muslim’s “primary obligation in Islam is towards his family and country”.

“However, a non-Muslim reading this post (who may not understand Islam) will likely believe this post to be true. That a Singaporean Muslim’s loyalty is questionable in times of war. That Singaporean Muslims are predisposed to be traitors.

“This is a blatant attempt to promote feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will by non-Muslims against Muslims. It is surely an offence under s 298A, Penal Code,” she said.

Following backlash and news of police reports being filed, SMRT Feedback had issued an apology to the Muslim community in Singapore in a follow-up post the next day after the offending post was removed.

The ‘satirical’ Facebook page said that its earlier post was not meant to “question the loyalty of Muslims in Singapore but to reaffirm a Muslim’s commitment to his religion”.

The next day, Ms Syazana said that apologies have never absolved individuals of liability, as demonstrated in previous cases involving police reports made against high-profile figures who spoke up against discrimination against minorities in Singapore.

TOC notes that the police only contacted Ms Syazana after we ran our last story on the subject, titled “Why are authorities so silent over police report filed against SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh’s seditious post?”, on 31 May, a week after the police report was filed. The police then conducted an interview with the lawyer.

The lawyer eventually received a letter from the police, informing her in a letter dated 29 June that they have decided not to take further action on her report, noting that “all investigations and enquiries into the matter would cease and the case will be closed”.

The decision was made in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), currently headed by Attorney General (A-G) Lucien Wong.

In a move that may have confounded matters further, the AGC referenced the police’s statement when approached by TODAY for its stance on the issue — essentially declining to elaborate on its views on the case.

To date, the identity of the administrators and/or page owner of SMRT Feedback remains unknown — an outcome that puzzles members of the public who have been following the saga, particularly in light of how AGC had handled similar past cases such as The Real Singapore and “sharonliew86“.

The secrecy surrounding their identities appears to be more questionable when taking into account its possible role in the contempt of court charge and conviction against Harvard economics professor Li Shengwu over a private Facebook post.

On 29 July last year, the High Court found Dr Li guilty of contempt of court for the Facebook post made in 2017.

Using precedent in case law as a guideline, the judge, however, rejected the A-G’s submission to have Dr Li sentenced to two weeks’ jail in default of the fine.

While Dr Li paid off the S$15,000 fine, he stressed that doing so was not an admission of guilt.

The contempt of court charges against Dr Li arose after his post — which was only made accessible to his connections on the social media site — was first leaked to the public by a relatively unknown blog and subsequently made viral through the SMRT Feedback Facebook page.

On 21 July 2017, AGC sent a warning letter to Dr Li claiming that he made “false and baseless allegations” about the Singapore judiciary’s purported lack of independence.

The warning letter also requested him to “purge the contempt” by deleting the post from his Facebook page and other platforms, and asked him to “issue and post prominently” on his Facebook page a written apology and undertaking drafted by the AGC.

By 4 August 2018, the AGC filed an application in the High Court to commence committal proceedings against him for contempt of court, which was allowed by Justice Kannan.

In October that year, AGC then “ambushed” Dr Li with “court papers in public” whilst he was delivering a lecture in “Scott Kominers’ brilliant market design class” at Harvard University in United States.

In a 66-page judgement released in April 2019, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by Dr Li to contest the court order which enabled the AGC to serve papers on him in the United States for contempt of court.

Dr Li, the eldest son of Progress Singapore Party’s Lee Hsien Yang and the grandson of Lee Kuan Yew, had made a private Facebook post on 15 July 2017 with a link to an article by The Wall Street Journal. He wrote:

If you’ve been watching the latest political crisis in Singapore from a distance, but would like a summary, this is a good one. (Keep in mind, of course, that the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system. This constrains what the international media can usually report. – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/opinion/04pubed.html)

TOC previously reported that the AGC had issued a statement to media outlets in Singapore on 17 July 2017, claiming to be in response to queries from the media about his post.

Channel NewsAsia, as it was known then, reported the AGC as saying at the time that “it is aware of the post and is looking into the matter”.

SMRT Feedback was the first to have published Dr Li’s Facebook post, just hours after he had made the friends-only Facebook post, with the caption:

“Why are you harping on this issue again? Even worse, scandalizing the courts. If the SG govt is very litigious, you and I will be sitting in Changi Prison right now talking face to face.”

At the time, the only known source of the Facebook post was from “SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh”, which meant that media outlets would have to verify the matter with Dr Li before writing to the AGC for comments.

But even if Dr Li confirmed that he did make the comment, it can be said that there was no clear news angle to the story, as he had merely shared a post from WSJ saying that it is a good summary.

Further, media outlets do not overthink or assume the context of comments, so it would be far-fetched to say that some media outlets will write to ask AGC for their remarks on a private Facebook post.

What we found, however, is that news outlet Observer Plus — run by SMRT Feedback  — had then reported that Dr Li’s “comment is tantamount to contempt of court, more specifically, the offence of scandalizing the court in Singapore”.

Thus, it is likely that the so-called media query referred to by the AGC had come from Observer Plus.

Without this, there would be no grounds for the AGC to pursue the matter in the first place or for it to publicise the matter to the Singapore media outlets in the first place.

It is noteworthy that AGC did not clarify which media outlet sent the query on Dr Li’s FB post nor has there been any local media claiming credit for the query.

Furthermore, TOC understands that the bulk of the content in the 1,300-over pages of court papers filed by the AGC largely revolves around the comments in relation to media reports stemming from AGC’s public statement.

As Dr Li pointed out in a public statement, AGC “itself sparked widespread publication and republication of” his post.

Without news reports on the private Facebook post and the solicited comments as a result of the reports, there would, arguably, be nothing much for AGC to submit in their court papers for Dr Li’s charge.

One might then say that the recent turn of events may have, thus, placed matters pertaining to Dr Li’s charge in a rather suspicious context.

If SMRT Feedback is an entity that appears to be “protected” by the AGC, based on the authorities’ move to not name those behind the page as it did in the past, would it be out of the imagination to say that those behind the Facebook page are, in any way or degree, affiliated with the AGC or even the Singapore government?

Let us also remember how SMRT Feedback’s website, Observer Plus was promoted by CNA — a state-funded media outlet — out of the blue, along with the infamous Critical Spectator.

And if such speculation is true, would that not suggest the charging of Dr Li — if our prior assumptions about the leak were correct — what some would term a “fix-up job” by the AGC?

For just US$7.50 a month, sign up as a subscriber on Patreon (and enjoy ads-free experience on our site) to support our mission to transform TOC into an alternative mainstream press in Singapore.
Subscribe
Notify of