Singapore — The chief editor of The Online Citizen (TOC) website Terry Xu and one of its writers went to trial on Monday (Oct 26) for alleging corruption in the Singapore Cabinet.
Xu, 38, is contesting one charge of defaming members of the Cabinet by publishing the defamatory article on Sept 4, 2018.
The start of the trial heard from a witness in the case — Mr Sim Wee Lee, who is also known as Willy. It is alleged that his account was used by the other accused, Daniel De Costa, 37, to send the defamatory material.
Mr Sim said that he initially allowed De Costa to use his Yahoo email account to help him send emails to settle his bankruptcy and housing matters as he was not good with computers.
According to a channelnewsasia.com report, he said De Costa was the only other person who had access to his Gmail and Facebook account passwords.
Mr Sim noted that when he was in prison in January 2017 over an unrelated case, his Yahoo account password was changed by someone other than himself, without his permission. He also said that De Costa sent several emails without his permission. He noted that most of those emails were critical of Government officers.
In late 2018, the police knocked on Mr Sim’s door, to his surprise, saying they sought him for defamatory issues. While they were checking his home, they found some drugs. He was sentenced to eight months in jail for drug possession in February 2019.
He said: “As for Daniel’s action, I do not know whether he intentionally or unintentionally brought harm to me, but I choose to forgive him.”
The trial is being led by Deputy Public Prosecutors Mohamed Faizal, Senthilkumaran Sabapathy and Sheryl Yeo. It resumes on Tuesday, with the defence set to cross-examine Mr Sim.
Xu is represented by Remy Choo and Priscilla Chia, while De Costa is defended by Mr M Ravi.
Events leading up to the trial
In October 2019, the Info-communications and Media Development Authority (IMDA) made a police report against TOC and a writer named “Willy Sum” after the website published an article purportedly by the writer titled “The Take Away from Seah Kian Ping’s Facebook Post”.
The article was sent in to TOC under the name “Willy Sum” but Xu’s co-accused Daniel De Costa Augustin is said to be the real writer of the piece, which alleged “corruption at the highest echelons”.
De Costa was charged in November alongside Xu with criminal defamation, and was slapped with a second charge for his computer crime.
The article drew the Government’s attention for making allegations of corruption against certain individuals. The Attorney-General’s Chambers subsequently allowed the police to investigate the matter. The police obtained a court warrant to search the homes of Xu and De Costa.
In presenting his arguments to the court, Mr Ravi brought up Article 12 of the Singapore Constitution, which states that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.
He argued that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s siblings — Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling — have not been prosecuted for their comments and added: “If the Lee siblings were not prosecuted, Mr De Costa should similarly not be prosecuted.”
Leading up to Xu’s defamation suit against him on Sept 1, 2019 , the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) issued a letter to the editor of TOC, demanding an apology and that it remove an article and a Facebook post repeating allegations made by Dr Lee during the Lee family feud in 2017.
The letter put forth PM Lee’s request that TOC immediately remove the article and Facebook post by Sept 4, and publish a “full and unconditional apology” along with an undertaking that it would not publish similar allegations in the future. The letter warned that “PM Lee will have no choice but to hand the matter over to his lawyers to sue to enforce his full rights in law” if TOC did not comply.
On Sept 4, Xu responded and said that he would not comply with the demands set out in PM Lee’s letter. The next day (Sept 5), PM Lee’s lawyers served Xu with a writ of summons and a statement of claim at his place of residence, initiating a defamation case against him.
If found guilty of criminal defamation, Xu and De Costa can be jailed for up to two years, fined or both. De Costa can be fined up to S$5,000 and jailed a maximum of two years if convicted of his computer crime. /TISG
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