Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Blogger Faces Contempt of Court Action

Update 24 Oct 2014: Alex Au’s articles ‘risked undermining confidence in judiciary’
Justice Belinda Ang reserved judgment on the case

The two articles published last year by blogger Alex Au Wai Pang — which were at the centre of a court hearing today (Oct 21) to determine whether he was in contempt of court — were not fair criticism and posed a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) argued.

The AGC also charged that the articles are baseless attacks against the authority of the court and have crossed the legal line.

But Au’s lawyers Peter Low and Choo Zheng Xi contended that his actions were in good faith, to encourage debate and discussion on issues of public importance. They added that the AGC’s case relied heavily on innuendo, insinuation and imputation — which do not make a contempt charge.

related: Alex Au vs AGC – a matter of liability or good faith?

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Statement in response to AGC Statement re Alex Au
We refer to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) statement dated 5 December 2013 which was made in response to our statement issued 29 November 2013

We assure the AGC that the 170 persons who “purportedly” signed the statement did in fact do so.

It is regrettable that the AGC’s statement appears to predetermine that Mr Alex Au’s blog post did indeed scandalise the judiciary. Respectfully, we would like to point out that the AGC is not immune to errors of judgement. This is evidenced by Justice Belinda Ang’s decision to deny its application to bring action against Mr Au for another blog post dated 12 October 2013.

 It is also regrettable that the AGC’s statement repeated an earlier instance where a blog post of Mr Au’s (18 June 2012) was deemed to have scandalised the court. This is not relevant to the current case.

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AGC Singapore responds to statement supporting Alex Au

The Attorney General’s Chambers in Singapore on Thursday responded to a statement of support for blogger Alex Au signed by 170 academics, activists and artists that raised concerns over freedom of expression after the AGC took legal action against Mr Au over a blog posting. (Image: journalism.sg)

The AGC stressed that the court hearing to determine whether the article is in contempt of court will be open to the public, and Alex Au will have every opportunity to rebut the charge against him, said reports

The AGC statement argued that ”The constitutional right to free speech and expression is not an absolute right, but is subject to limits which are expressly provided for in the constitution.

“As important as the right to free speech and expression is, the Constitution recognises that our society as a whole must be safeguarded against statements without basis which injure the reputation of persons or lower confidence in the administration of justice.”

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Nearly 170 academics, civil activists & artists pen statement supporting Alex Au

Blogger Alex Au is now facing legal action for contempt of court, after the High Court granted permission to government lawyers to act on one of two flagged articles. The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) must file an application for an order of committal within 14 days, and papers will be served on Mr Au thereafter. - ST FILE PHOTO: FRANCIS ONG

This comes after the Attorney General's Chambers was given permission on Wednesday to take legal action against Mr Au for contempt of court, for an Oct 5 blog post in which Mr Au allegedly accused the Supreme Court of deliberately manipulating hearing dates.

Mr Au's supporters said in a statement posted online on Friday, that it is important to uphold public confidence in the judiciary. "However, this cannot mean that our judges should not be subject to scrutiny. The AGC's action, rather than enhancing confidence in the judiciary, might weaken public confidence. It also implies that the public is not allowed to form opinions on judicial processes."

The supporters, which include human rights group Maruah president Braema Mathi, actor Lim Kay Siu and former Singapore Democratic Party member Dr Vincent Wijeysingha, added that "if Mr Au had erred, his claims should be rebutted in public. This would enable Singaporeans to make up their own minds".

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Some express concerns over AGC being granted to act against blogger

File photo: Blogger Alex Au. (Photo: yawningbread.wordpress.com)

Some 170 individuals have issued a statement to express concerns over the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) being granted leave to take action against blogger Alex Au.

They include former Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong, Maruah president Braema Mathi, actor Lim Kay Siu, and film-maker Ken Kwek.

In a statement issued Friday, they said they agree that it is important to uphold public confidence in the judiciary, but that cannot mean that judges should not be subject to scrutiny.

related: Contempt of court: Blogger to face legal action

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AGC granted permission by High Court to act against blogger for contempt of court

Blogger Alex Au is now facing legal action for contempt of court, after the High Court granted permission to government lawyers to act on one of two flagged articles. The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) must file an application for an order of committal within 14 days, and papers will be served on Mr Au thereafter. A pre-trial conference may then be arranged to set a hearing date in due course.

Justice Belinda Ang on Wednesday ruled that the AGC can proceed on an Oct 5 blog post entitled '377 Wheels Come Off Supreme Court's Best-Laid Plans' posted on Mr Au's Yawning Bread blog. But she did not find sufficient basis for the AGC to act against Mr Au on a second post - 'Church Sacks Employee And Sues Government - On One Ground Right, On Another Ground Wrong' - which was published online on Oct 12.

Both blog posts had dealt with alleged discrimination against homosexuals here. In the former, Mr Au had accused the Supreme Court of "deliberately manipulating hearing dates", said AGC. In the latter, he had expressed doubt that the judiciary was capable of making independent judgments.

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Singapore Blogger Au Faces Contempt of Court Action

Singapore blogger Alex Au Wai Pang faces possible contempt of court action for writing and posting articles that the Attorney General’s Chambers said “scandalize” the country’s judiciary.

An Oct. 5 article insinuates there was a plan to manipulate hearing dates on a challenge to the constitutionality of Singapore’s ban on homosexual sex, according to papers filed by the attorney general’s office in the Singapore High Court.

Au is also in contempt by publishing a second article where he alleged the court made an “erroneous” decision in an employment complaint where a gay man claimed he was unfairly treated, the attorney general’s office said in its court filings. Au intends to contest the contempt accusations, his lawyer Choo Zhengxi said today after a hearing on whether the government’s lawyers can proceed with their case.

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Official Statement In Support of Blogger Alex Au re AGC Action

After the AG’s Chambers was given permission on Wednesday to take action against blogger Alex Au for contempt of court, the following statement was issued. I am pleased to say that  nearly 170 people signed it, including academics and civil activists. Sadly there are only a few politicians included in the signatories, John L Tan and Teo Soh Lung of the SDP, Osman Sulaiman and myself from the RP. Like everyone else I would like to see Mr. Au’s claims rebutted in public. We need to uphold public confidence in the judiciary and that means the public must be allowed to form their own opinions on judicial processes

This is part of a larger picture in which the Law Society had its independence removed by Lee Kuan Yew along with the right of appeal to the Privy Council after my father’s conviction in the Singapore courts was overturned by a Privy Council judgement. We also lost trial by jury. In 2012 the UK Law Commission recommended abolition of the offence of scandalizing the judiciary saying, “You might commit the offence if you do or publish anything that ridicules the judiciary “.

But what ridicules the judiciary more, removing the Law Society ‘s independence and abolishing the right to trial by jury, a fundamental right of the English legal system since Magna Carta in 1215, or subjecting the judiciary to some degree of public scrutiny.  You might find it helpful to read my letter to the Wall Street Journal in support of Alex Au in which I mentioned that defamation suits in the Singapore courts are used to silence critics of the regime.

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Statement on AGC Action against Alex Au

We are deeply concerned that the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) has been granted leave to take action against Singaporean blogger, Mr Alex Au, for “scandalising the judiciary” in his blog post, “377 Wheels Come Off Supreme Court’s Best Laid Plans

The right of free expression is enshrined in Article 14 of our Constitution. We believe that robust public debate is necessary for national progress. The AGC’s action, however, reflects an overzealous desire to police public opinion. This cannot be healthy for a mature, first world nation. If Mr Au had erred, then his claims should be rebutted in public. This would enable Singaporeans to make up their own minds.

We agree that it is important to uphold public confidence in the judiciary. However, this cannot mean that our judges should not be subject to scrutiny. The AGC’s action, rather than enhancing confidence in the judiciary, might weaken public confidence. It also implies that the public is not allowed to form opinions on judicial processes.


SINGAPOREANS DISAPPOINTED WITH AGC OVER DECISION TO TAKE ACTION AGAINST ALEX AU


Related:
Rachel Zeng's blog: Statement on AGC Action against Alex Au
http://yawningbread.wordpress.com-wheels-come-off-supreme-courts-best-laid-plans
http://lawcommission.justice.gov.uk/news/2140.htm
http://lawcommission.justice.gov.uk/docs/lc335_scandalising_the_court.pdf
http://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/dam/mfa/images/media_center/special_events/upr
http://www.asean.org/asean-statement-communiques/item/asean-human-rights


Yawning Bread in contempt again? Why blogger Alex Au deserves a break

Alex Au is once again facing the threat of contempt of court charges over his Yawning Bread blog. The High Court will today hear the Attorney-General’s Chambers case for taking action against him.

Au was accused of contempt last year. He apologised and promised not to do it again. The authorities probably see the latest cases as proof that he is a reckless netizen who hasn't learnt his lesson. I look at it differently. If Au – one of Singapore's most conscientious and civic-minded bloggers – cannot avoid the contempt minefield, then perhaps the problem is actually with the law. Is it getting in the way of intelligent critique of important issues?

The rejoinder would probably be that there are ways to comment without scandalising the court. In theory, perhaps. But again, I would have to ask, if even Alex Au cannot find a safe path, perhaps the terrain is just too treacherous? Au is a meticulous and gifted writer. If he is charged with contempt, there would be a significant chilling effect on other citizens who do not consider themselves anywhere near as polished in their use of words.

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Alex Au doing a Dr Chee?

When people like Dr Chee and Au take on the state are they not accepting that the PAP govt isn’t that bad?

Let me quote Orwell when he criticked Gandhi and his civil disobedience methods: The important point here is not so much that the British treated him forbearingly as that he was always able to command publicity. As can be seen from the phrase quoted above, he believed in “arousing the world”, which is only possible if the world gets a chance to hear what you are doing. It is difficult to see how Gandhi’s methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again.

Without a free press and the right of assembly, it is impossible not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being, or even to make your intentions known to your adversary. Is there a Gandhi in Russia at this moment? And if there is, what is he accomplishing? The Russian masses could only practise civil disobedience if the same idea happened to occur to all of them simultaneously, and even then, to judge by the history of the Ukraine famine, it would make no difference.

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Taking the online offline

Alex Au - Things you say online can also get you charged for contempt of court – don’t play play.  Alex Au is facing possible contempt of court action by the Attorney-General’s Chambers for two blog posts that he wrote on his blog, namely: “Church Sacks Employee And Sues Government – On One Ground Right, On Another Ground Wrong” (Oct 12, 2013) and “377 Wheels Come Off Supreme Court’s Best-Laid Plans” (Oct 5, 2013)

This is not the first time blogger Alex Au of Yawningbread.com has been charged for his blog posts.  Prior to this charge, he was asked to remove his post about about the Woffles Wu case in July 2012 which alleged that the courts were biased. He was also served letters of demand for separate posts on Law Minister K Shanmugam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. This time, however, the AGC is getting serious

High Court judge Justice Belinda Ang ruled on Wednesday that the AGC may proceed with charging Alex Au for his “377 Wheels” article but not the “Church Sacks Employee” one, saying that the prosecution had “failed to make out a prima facie case” on the latter post. On the same day, Alex Au posted on Facebook about the dismissal and added that his lawyers were, curiously, not allowed to speak in the hearing where the AGC attempted to press Contempt of Court charges against him. The AGC has 14 days to file an order of committal, then Alex Au is going to get his summon.

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SENIOR LAWYER YEOH LIAN CHUAN ON THE CASE AGAINST BLOGGER ALEX AU

For those who think that the offence of scandalising the Court is defunct across modern countries, this is not the case.

Its true that the UK have recently abolished the offence, but it remains *very* much alive in other major common law countries such as Australia, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

The Courts in Singapore have also (correctly in my view) changed the test from the "inherent tendency" test to the "real risk" test.

source: Facebook

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What has Alex Au got to do with jobs and incomes?

Leong Sze Hian - I refer to the article “Supporters of blogger Alex Au issue statement” (Straits Times, Nov 30).

Inhibiting the right of free expression - It states that “The right of free expression is enshrined in… our Constitution… The AGC’s action reflects an overzealous desire to police public opinion.

His supporters said that if the 61-year-old blogger had erred, his claims should be rebutted in public.

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Is Cyber City Burning?

Heavy artillery was lobbed from the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC). On Wednesday, the High Court gave AGC permission to summon a blogger to court for alleged contempt in one of his postings in October.

The AGC action may just torpedo Singapore’s commitment to the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, adopted on 18 November 2012. Article 23 clearly states, “Every person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information, whether orally, in writing or through any other medium of that person’s choice."

Watcha gonna do? Sue the AGC?

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Online Govt Critics: Shrinking Margin of Safety

If I am not wrong, the Alex Au's case of being hauled to court over his remarks about the judiciary only gathered 170 signed supporters. Even ten times the number of supporters would not be enough for the government to pause and reconsider. You need a public push back at least equal to the Population White Paper to do that.

To me time is the greatest revealer of people's intentions. Many smart people are more than able to disguise their true motives but all lies eventually show up in inconsistencies. What the government and readers need to do is simply to wait but always to have enough fire extinguishers on stand by. Everyone who is out to influence the public does well to remember Lincoln admonition: You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

Really, we just need to make it safe to wait. The public cannot afford to care if critics have their margin of safety. People should stand by their words or just shut up; safety in consonance with accountability.

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Alex Au: Yawning (Yearning) for Attention

Popular blogger, Alex Au Waipang who blogs at Yawning Bread is once again facing contempt of court charges over an article he wrote on October 5th. Previously he had also faced possible contempt charges over an article regarding the lenient sentenced meted out to renowned surgeon Woffles Wu. He alleged then that the court had in essence given such a sentence because Dr Wu was well-connected and rich. However before the charges could be heard in court, Mr Au accepted the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) offer of an apology and retraction of the offending article. The dropping of charges would obviously require an undertaking by him not to repeat further acts

In fact the AGC had intended to prosecute Mr Au over 2 articles he made in October: http://news.xin.msn.com/en/singapore/contempt-of-court-blogger-alex-au-to-face-legal-action
However the Judge hearing the 'ex-parte' application by the AGC only granted permission for the first article and threw out the second. Before I touch on the article itself, let me just draw your attention to an entry Mr Au made on his blog in regards to this action by the AGC:
http://yawningbread.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/agc-versus-me-the-2013-round/#more-10588

In this entry, Mr Au alleges that the AGC acted sneakily by pursuing the application without informing him or his lawyers. It was only when Bloomberg contacted him by email, did he get wind of it. Anyway his lawyers turned up in court and was only given a 'watching brief' - meaning they could observe but take no active part. The AGC it seems was represented by the Dy Chief Public Prosecutor, whom Mr Au understands to be the 3rd highest ranking officer at the department. Obviously Mr Au makes reference to this by inferring some 'political' significance of his appearance. Perhaps Mr Au feels that he's an important figure that requires such an officer to make the application, well at least that's what can be inferred by his remarks. But as any lawyer will tell you, it makes no difference who's presenting the argument. For all we know, perhaps it was the Dy Chief's turn on the roster to appear in the High Court. Normally the AGC will assign a senior prosecutor to oversee in cases in the High Court. Current District Judge Jennifer Marie used to hold this position.


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Alex Au's Cell Block Tango: "He had it coming"

As you may know, the Attorney-General's Chambers has initiated contempt of court proceedings against the blogger Alex Au. In addition, there is a statement calling the AGC to drop its case against the author of Yawning Bread, signed by prominent activists, online news journalists, academics, artists -- and other assorted poseurs.

Fair disclosure: I was approached to sign this. On a strictly professional level, I offered my services to edit an early draft of the text. On a personal level, I have not signed this statement and do not intend to

I do not believe Alex Au's case warrants a campaign against the AGC. Nor should it galvanise Au's supporters to make hysterical, unseemly, and unhelpful comments about an "Operation Coldweb" that are sure to damage the integrity of the judicial process in the eyes of the public.

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Alex Au’s at it again
Is Alex Au doing a Dr Chee? 
No I’m not referring to the allegations of contempt by the AG against him yet again. That’s par for the course, and not really news anymore; anymore than that he is a gay rights activist and internet tua kee

No, I referring to being so subtle so as to be misunderstood yet again by other netizens (self excluded). Remember, I defended him against charges by his fellow tua kee bloggers and lesser lights, and PAP stooges like an ex-NMP that he was advocating violence against the state?

This time a figure no less than the hubbie of ST’s editor misunderstood his latest mischief: If Au – one of Singapore’s most conscientious and civic-minded bloggers – cannot avoid the contempt minefield, then perhaps the problem is actually with the law. Is it getting in the way of intelligent critique of important issues?

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AGC versus me, the 2013 round

This is a diary of the case in which the Attorney-General’s Chambers accused me of “scandalising the judiciary”, to make it easier for friends to follow what’s going on.

As with court cases, the technical details can sometimes be hard to grasp; I will try to make it digestible here.

Since this has a diary format, from time to time, I will be adding to this, unlike other essays on this site which generally are finished by publication date.

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