Under the new contempt of court laws that became effective in October 2017, civil rights activist Jolovan Wham and senior opposition politician John Tan Liang Joo have been found guilty of criticizing the judiciary.
Earlier this year, the two men separately put up posts on Facebook that seemed to question judicial independence in the nation. This led the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to apply to the High Court on May 11 to pursue charges of contempt of court against them.
Jolovan Wham, a social worker connected with the Community Action Network, wrote in a Facebook post on April 27, “Malaysia’s judges are more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications,” in the context of Malaysian news site Malaysiakini filing a constitutional challenge against fake news laws in the country, as a violation of freedom of expression.
Shortly after he put up the post, the AGC began to file contempt of court charges against Mr. Wham.
And on May 6, Mr. Tan in turn posted this: “By charging Jolovan for scandalizing the judiciary, the AGC only confirms what he said was true.”
In 2015, Mr. Tan had been one of the candidates of SDP for Marsiling-Yew Tee group representation constituency. He has also been the SDP’s vice-chairman and assistant secretary-general.
The AGC released a statement on Tuesday, October 9, wherein they claimed that the post of Mr. Wham “wrongfully alleged that the Singapore courts lack integrity and are not impartial in the discharge of judicial duties in cases where the Government of Singapore or political office holders are litigants, deciding such cases in favour of the Government of Singapore or political office holders regardless of their merits.”
Concerning Mr. Tan, the statement read, “Mr. Tan’s Facebook post wrongfully asserted that Wham’s Facebook post is true.”
The AGC further alleged that Messrs. Wham and Tan “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 two men are the first people to have been convicted under the new laws governing contempt of court. These laws define the following as contempt of court: disobeying court orders, interfering with proceedings, sub judice and scandalizing the court. While these acts had already been declared illegal in the past, the phrase “real risk” was replaced with “risk” concerning the offense of scandalizing the court.
After November 7, Messrs. Wham and Tan will receive sentencing.