Singapore—Almost a year to the day that he put up a Facebook post saying that Singapore’s courts are not as independent as Malaysia’s when it comes to cases that have political implications, activist Jolovan Wham has been fined S$5,000 for contempt of court.
But the activist maintains that he has done nothing wrong and that he has nothing to apologise for.
On Monday, April 29, Mr Wham was given a S$5,000 fine by the High Court, along with opposition politician John Tan. Due to this, Mr Tan, who is the vice-chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party, will not be able to contest in the next General Election.
Both men have appealed the conviction. The Japan Times reports Mr Wham as saying, “It’s not over yet.”
On April 27 last year, Mr Wham put up a Facebook post commenting about the independence of Singapore’s judges compared to Malaysia’s, he also put up a link to an article entitled “Malaysiakini mounts constitutional challenge against Anti-Fake News Act.” Some days later, on May 6, Mr Tan commented on Facebook, “by charging Jolovan for scandalising the judiciary, the AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers) only confirms what he said was true”.
However, while Mr Tan has taken his post down, Mr Wham has kept his post up on his Facebook account.
Eugene Thuraisingam, who is the lawyer for both men, had previously asked for a 7-day jail sentence for Mr Tan, because under the law if he receives a fine greater than S$2,000, it would mean he would not be able to run in the next election.
However, the judge in the case, Woo Bih Li, said that the predicament Mr Tan has found himself in is his own fault and that he should have been careful to not break the law, especially since he desires to contest in the next election. Moreover, Mr Tan also has a previous contempt of court charge in 2008.
Regarding Mr Tan taking down his post, Judge Woo called it “an eleventh-hour manoeuvre to try and persuade the court to accede to his request not to impose a fine… it was not a reflection of genuine remorse. Tan is responsible for the situation he finds himself in.
Consequently, the personal consequences for Tan… are irrelevant to sentencing.”
The Judge also said that ordering Mr Wham to post an apology would be meaningless when he has shown no remorse for it. Judge Woo even said that if Mr Wham were ordered to apologise and refuses to do so, prosecuting him for this refusal would be a waste of time and public resources.
Yahoo Singapore reports the judge as saying, “Furthermore, if he refused to publish a notice to apologise as ordered by the court, he might further be liable for an act of contempt of court, and more time and resources may have to be spent to commence proceedings against him again. This may result in a disproportionate use of such time and resources as compared with the original offence.”
On the same day that he was sentenced and fined, Mr Wham put up two posts on Facebook.
In the first post he wrote, “5k fine, 5k costs to the prosecutor and S$2,297.82 disbursements (this is for their photocopy costs, postage, court fees, filing fees) for scandalising the judiciary.”
In the second post, he added a link to an article about his and Mr Tan’s sentencing from Yahoo Singapore.
‘To order Wham to post an apology when he is clearly insincere would have been meaningless,” said the judge.”That’s right,” he said
It may have been better to remove the post and apologise so that the fine is lower. But my criticism is reasonable and not without merit. I didn’t say our judges are corrupt, or that our judiciary lacked total independence.
The independence of a judiciary, like indices which measure education, well being, cost of living, etc is always comparative and subjective.
The prosecution’s purpose of insisting on an apology and a takedown order is to shame me into submission and reinforce a culture of compliance.
But if you’ve done nothing wrong, what is there to apologise for? Is it a common practice for the prosecutor to mandate sex offenders, thieves, and cheats to apologise to their victims?”
He ended the post with the hashtag#neveronbendedknees, which is the title of the book of Chee Soon Juan, the head of Singapore Democratic Party.