Singapore—On Thursday (Feb 26) the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) was given leave to appeal the ruling handed down by the High Court earlier this month concerning Correction Directions issued against it under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
SDP can now get ready to put forward its case at the Court of Appeal, which is the country’s highest court.
On February 5, Justice Ang Cheng Hock dismissed SDP’s appeal to set aside the Correction Directions the party had been issued, the first challenge set against Singapore’s law combating online falsehoods, which was passed last year.
According to Channel NewsAsia (CNA), SDP’s Secretary-General, Chee Soon Juan, said that following a short hearing in chambers, SDP was allowed to appeal the judge’s ruling at a hearing that has yet to be scheduled.
Dr Chee also told CNA when asked that it appears the party may need to hire lawyers for the appeal, but that SDP is not quite there yet.
When asked by CNA on his opinion on the party’s chances in the appeal, Dr Chee merely said, “I couldn’t tell you.”
Along with SDP Vice-Chairman John Tan, Dr Chee represented the party in the chamber hearings for the POFMA challenge in January.
Background of the Case
On Dec 2, 2019, SDP published a sponsored Facebook post with a graphic showing plunging local PMET employment. This post and an earlier social media post published on Nov 30 was linked to an article on the SDP website which asserted that its Singaporeans First policy proposal came “amidst a rising proportion of Singaporean PMETs getting retrenched”.
Refuting the statement that local PMET retrenchment was rising, the Ministry of Manpower said the number of retrenched local PMETs and the number of local PMETs retrenched as a share of all local PMET employees had declined since 2015. It also said that the graphic the SDP published was wrong and that the ministry’s Comprehensive Labour Force Survey showed that local PMET employment had risen steadily since 2015.
On Dec 16, while the SDP complied with the POFMA Correction Directions and posted correction notices on its article and earlier Facebook posts, it said that the conclusions that Manpower Minister Josephine Teo had come to were “disputable”.
On Jan 3, the SDP applied to the ministry to have the corrections cancelled, which Mrs Teo rejected.
The SDP then filed its court challenge on Jan 8.
Justice Ang said in his judgment on Feb 5 that the party had not challenged the accuracy of the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) statistics, but instead “sought to critique it on other grounds” that he did not find convincing.
In court, arguing on behalf of the A-G, Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair and State Counsel Fu Qijing and Amanda Sum pointed to data from 2015 to 2018 to show that the number of local professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) employed has been steadily increasing.
In response, the SDP, represented by Secretary-General Dr Chee Soon Juan, accused the A-G of “cherry-picking” its statistics, and instead used numbers from 2010 to 2018 to show a statistical increase in retrenched local PMETs. —/TISG