Singapore—M Ravi, the lawyer for the defendants from The Online Citizen (TOC) facing a defamation suit, made a second application on Wednesday, December 11, to refer the case to the High Court, arguing that the charge brought against his client is unconstitutional.
This second application is scheduled to be heard on January 2, 2020.
According to Mr Ravi, prosecuting writer Daniel Augustin De Costa and TOC editor Terry Xu Yuanchen is an infringement on their right to equality before the law.
He cites Article 12 of the Constitution, which guarantees that every individual is equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.
Mr Ravi’s argument is that at around the same period that Mr De Costa wrote an article published on TOC for which he and Mr Xu have been charged with defamation, there were similar statements that had also been published, giving the example of a a joint statement made by Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s sister and brother, respectively.
Yahoo Singapore quotes Mr Ravi as saying that these publications “made similar or worse imputations that were directed squarely at the Prime Minister, a member of the Cabinet.”
The lawyer said in his application, ”The necessary corollary is that the law should be enforced equally. If the statements of the Lee siblings are not prosecuted, (De Costa) should similarly not be prosecuted, a fortiori when the statements of the Lee siblings were more direct, and the allegations more severe.”
He added, “The prosecution of only Mr De Costa and Mr Xu Yuanchen, and not the Lee siblings is an infringement upon the right to equality before the law enshrined in Article 12(1).”
His argument is that in the equal enforcement of the law, if the sister and brother of Prime Minister Lee are not prosecuted, then neither should Messrs Xu and de Costa be prosecuted.
The article that Mr da Costa had written was published on September 4, 2018, and is no longer on the TOC site. The two men were charged with criminal defamation in relation to this article in December 2018.
In the article, the author wrote “we have seen multiple policy and foreign screw-ups, tampering of the Constitution, corruption at the highest echelons and apparent lack of respect from foreign powers ever since the demise of founding father Lee Kuan Yew”.
The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) filed a police report that said the article contained allegations of corruption against certain individuals.
In addition, the writer is also facing one charge of unauthorised access to computer material, having reportedly submitted an article to TOC by using an email account that he had no authorization to access. For this, he had used the name “Willy Sum.”
Should the defendants be convicted of criminal defamation, they could be jailed for two years and be made to pay a fine. As for the charge of unauthorised access to computer material, if he is convicted, Mr de Costa could be fined as much as S$5,000 and be jailed for as long as two years.
Mr Ravi recently filed an application asking the High Court to look examine if the the criminal defamation law can apply to a governmental body, which was denied by District Judge Christopher Tan on November 27. The judge stated that he found no merit in that application.
Mr Ravi had claimed that the charge leveled against his clients were unconstitutional as these were an infringement on Article 9 (personal freedom) and Article 14 (freedom of speech, assembly and association). -/TISG