The fact that the privacy settings of Li Shengwu’s Facebook post is restricted to “friends only” does not seem to matter to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) which has argued that the privacy settings of the late Lee Kuan Yew’s grandson’s post does not entitle him to claim privacy.
The AGC is taking issue with a private Facebook post the 32-year-old had made on 15 July this year, saying “the Singapore Government is very litigious and has a pliant court system”.
The AGC claimed that Shengwu’s post was in contempt of court and that it undermined the judicial system here.
Filing written submissions in the High Court, the AGC further clarified its arguments for initiating legal proceedings against the 32-year-old. It argued:
1. It should be taken that Shengwu was fully aware that his post could be broadcast to be a larger audience given the fact that he uploaded the post on Facebook.
2. While there is no proof that Shengwu posted the message while he was in Singapore, the AGC claims “it is irrelevant whether the material was posted outside Singapore. Since it can be accessed in Singapore, its publication occurs in Singapore.”
3. The AGC also pointed to the fact that Shengwu amended his post to clarify the meaning of “pliant court system” after the he had uploaded the original comment. The AGC claimed that this showed he was aware his comments may be open to being misunderstood.
Interestingly, it appears that Shengwu only amended his post after pressure from the AGC.
The AGC further claimed that a US firm tried 11 times on seven different occasions between 2-14 Oct to personally serve Shengwu – who resides in the US – papers, to no avail.
Shengwu’s lawyers sought more time this week to address the “novel grounds” under which the AGC served Shengwu papers out of jurisdiction.
Interestingly, the AGC also argued that it is not necessary to prove Shengwu intended to undermine public confidence. It claimed that the case should proceed as long as it can be proven that he intentionally published the post.
It also branded this intentional act “indisputable”.
The case so far
Shengwu attracted the attention of the AGC on 15 July after posting a private “friends-only” Facebook post, criticising Singapore’s government and judiciary.
Linking a Wall Street Journal article that offered a thorough analysis of the public Oxley Rd feud, Shengwu had said in his own words: “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.”
He then linked a New York Times article on censorship and the use of defamation laws by both Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong to censor the foreign press.
In responding to media queries about Shengwu’s private post, an AGC spokesperson had said then, “AGC is aware of the post and is looking into the matter.”
Shengwu’s post followed the explosive Oxley Road dispute, in which his father Lee Hsien Yang and paternal aunt Dr Lee Wei Ling had been embroiled in a public feud against their elder brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The PM’s younger siblings alleged that the PM was abusing his power to preserve their family home against their father’s willed desire to demolish the house, in June and July this year.
They also accused the PM of convened a secret committee to make a decision on the house and claimed that state organs were being used against them.
PM Lee addressed the allegations against him in a Parliamentary debate where he declared that he has been cleared of all charges. He added that he does not intend to sue his siblings.
Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang reinforced their allegations, following this, but offered a ceasefire on releasing further evidence in favor of settling the matter in private, on the condition that they nor their father’s will be attacked or misrepresented.
Dr Lee Wei Ling has come out in support of her nephew when Shengwu’s post caught the eye of the AGC. Sharing his post on her Facebook page, she wondered whether government staff are used to monitor her family’s private musings and suggested that this case could be an example of how Singapore may be governed by a “big brother” system:
I am surprised that AGC takes such negative reaction to a private post. Is there a government servant whose duty is to follow the Facebook activity of all people related to Hsien Yang and I, including our private musings. Also, what Shengwu posted is a common topic amongst Singaporeans who are well informed. Is this not an example of ” big Brother government”. Perhaps it is a case of “if the hat fits, take it.”
Shortly thereafter, the AGC filed an application in the High Court for leave to commence committal proceedings against Shengwu for “contempt of court in connection with the publication of a Facebook post.”
32-year-old Shengwu – who is a junior fellow at Harvard University in the USA and is expected to become a associate professor at the University next year – has asserted that he has no intention to disrupt his “happy” and “fulfilling” life in the US by returning to Singapore to face the legal proceedings initiated by the AGC.