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AGC goes after civil activist and opposition politician for contempt of court

SINGAPORE — The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) is pursuing contempt of court proceedings against a civil activist and a senior member of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) for allegations about the independence of judges in Singapore.

AGC goes after civil activist and opposition politician for contempt of court

Jolovan Wham speaking at the Speakers Corner during an earlier event on the Malaysian elections.

SINGAPORE — The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) is pursuing contempt of court proceedings against a civil activist and a senior member of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) for allegations about the independence of judges in Singapore.

Civil activist Jolovan Wham Kwok Han alleged in a Facebook post last month that Malaysia's judges were more independent than Singapore's, for cases with political implications.

On Sunday (May 6), opposition politician John Tan Liang Joo posted on Facebook that the AGC’s prosecution of Mr Wham confirmed the truth of what Mr Wham had said.

Their posts have "impugned the impartiality and integrity of Singapore's judicial system and posed a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined", the AGC asserted in two statements on Friday (May 11).

Both men have been notified of the proceedings and served the necessary documents, it said.

Mr Wham is a social worker with the Community Action Network, while Mr Tan was one of the SDP’s candidates for Marsiling-Yew Tee group representation constituency in the 2015 General Election. He has held positions including that of vice-chairman and assistant secretary-general in the party.

Mr Tan has been jailed for contempt of court before: In 2008, he was one of three men who got into trouble for showing up at the High Court wearing T-shirts that depicted a kangaroo dressed in a judge’s robes. He was sentenced to 15 days behind bars while the other two were each sentenced to a week’s jail.

Mr Wham said in a Facebook post on Thursday he had received a letter from the AGC confirming that the High Court has given leave for the proceedings to go ahead.

Mr Wham said he had made his remarks on April 27 in response to news that Malaysian site Malaysiakini had filed a constitutional challenge to declare Malaysia's fake news laws to be a violation of the right to freedom of expression.

He made the comment based on several Malaysian cases he had read, as well as a book by the late former Solicitor-General-turned-exile Francis Seow, he said.

Mr Wham added: "I did not accuse our judges of corruption, nor did I say they had no integrity and independence at all. I only made a comparison with Malaysia. Regardless of whether one agrees with my assessment, surely this is reasonable comment?"

The cases against both men are the first to be brought under new contempt laws that took effect last October under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act 2016.

A separate ongoing contempt case involves Mr Li Shengwu, nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, but his alleged act of contempt took place before the new law came into force. Last July, Mr Li wrote in a Facebook post, to be shared with "friends only", that the Singapore Government was "litigious" and has a "pliant court system".

The new law gives the High Court or Court of Appeal powers to impose a fine of up to S$100,000, and/or a jail term of up to three years for contempt of court. There was previously no cap stipulated for penalties imposed by the High Court and Court of Appeal for contempt.

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