AGC asking for S$20,000 fine in contempt of court charge against Terry Xu for republishing letter by a former PR

AGC asking for S$20,000 fine in contempt of court charge against Terry Xu for republishing letter by a former PR

by Teo Soh Lung

SINGAPORE — At this morning’s hearing before Justice Hoo Sheau Peng in the High Court, Public Prosecutor Kristy Tan and her colleagues claimed that Terry Xu who was the editor-in-chief of The Online Citizen (TOC) committed contempt of court when he reposted an open letter addressed to Singapore’s Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and written by Julie O’Connor.

TOC was shut down by Information Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) in September last year over the failure to declare its funding after it refused to submit particulars of its subscribers to IMDA.

O’Connor who was a former Singapore Permanent Resident first published her letter in her blog before sharing it on her social media platforms.

Ms Tan told the court that her letter scandalised Singapore’s judiciary and by republishing it, Xu had committed contempt of court.

Parts of O’Connor’s letter which were allegedly contemptuous were read out, including a quote by Jonathan Pollard, a US-based lawyer which O’Connor said brought to her mind Singapore and her fight against a system which she believed is “riddled with inequity due to cronyism.”

O’Connor’s letter was a response to the speech delivered by the Chief Justice at the Opening of the Legal Year 2021.

The Chief Justice spoke about the efficiency and progress of the Singapore judicial system in adapting to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He made special mention of Parti Liyani’s case whose convictions for thefts were overturned by the High Court upon appeal. He said that judges are not infallible but the appeal process worked well.

In her letter, O’Connor commented on his omission of not mentioning the case of Li Suet Fern and Li Shengwu who in her opinion were “persecuted”.

PP Tan submitted that she had impugned the “integrity, propriety or impartiality” of the court and Terry Xu is therefore liable for contempt.

Mr Lim Tean who represented Xu submitted that O’Connor’s criticisms were directed at the AGC and not the judiciary. He referred to the part of the letter pertaining to the two cases

“Neither you nor the Attorney-General made any mention of either of these two cases. This omission led to many to question if it was because Li Shengwu and Lee Suet Fern were not prosecuted but persecuted due to a family feud between the Prime Minister and his siblings.”

Mr Lim said the judicial system comprises the judiciary, the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) and the Bar. Arguing that the statement clearly referred to the AGC which has the discretion to prosecute or not to prosecute.

He said the fact that the AGC did not immediately demand that Xu remove the post when it was published showed that it was its view that it was not contemptuous.

The Public Prosecutor had said that they needed to ascertain that Xu was the publisher and that he had been cagey on this issue when he was questioned by the police on 9 March 2021.

However, Mr Lim pointed out to the Court that in Xu’s statement to the police on that day, he had admitted that he was the person who published the article.

Only when the police were unable to find any collaboration between Xu and O’Connor did they proceed to issue him with a letter on 14 June 2021 demanding that he apologise and take down the article.

Mr Lim pointed out that Xu had refused because he saw through AGC’s gameplan and knew that this was a face-saving move by the Public Prosecutor.

AGC’s own action belied its allegation that the article was contemptuous and posed a risk that the public confidence in the judiciary would be undermined, said Mr Lim.

He further noted that Jonathan Pollard’s quote was a general statement and does not refer to Singapore.

PP Tan, however, disagreed. She said that O’Connor’s remark following the quote was that it brought to her mind Singapore and her experience with regard to the judiciary.

Both the prosecutor and defence counsel then went on to address the court on the penalty to be imposed should Xu be found guilty of contempt.

The public prosecutor is asking for a fine of $20,000 to be paid within 2 weeks or 10 days imprisonment in default as well as orders to cease and desist republication of the letter which till today is available online.

Citing precedents of Jolovan Wham, Alex Au and John Tan who were fined between $5,000 to $8000, Mr Lim suggested a fine of $3,000 or 4 days imprisonment since Xu was not the author of the letter.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s nephew, Li Shengwu was previously fined $15,000 for a private Facebook post that he made.

The case is adjourned for further affidavits to be filed with regard to the said prosecutor’s request for the removal of O’Connor’s letter from the new entity, The Online Citizen Asia which is based in Taiwan and a “cease and desist order”.

The next hearing is expected to resume on 21 January next year.

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