AGC seeks fine for activist Jolovan Wham, jail term for SDP's John Tan in contempt case

Wan Ting Koh
·Reporter
Theirs is the first case to be dealt with under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, which came into effect in October 2017.
Civil society activist Jolovan Wham (left) and Singapore Democratic Party vice-chairman John Tan. (PHOTOS: Facebook / Jolovan Wham, Facebook / John L Tan)

The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) is seeking a fine and jail term respectively in its case against civil activist Jolovan Wham and opposition politician John Tan.

At the Supreme Court on Wednesday (20 March), the AGC’s state counsel Senthilkumaran Sabapathy sought a $10,000 to $15,000 fine for Wham and a 15-day jail term for Tan, who is the vice-chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party. Both defendants had earlier been found guilty of contempt of court by scandalising the judiciary in separate Facebook posts.

Theirs is the first case to be dealt with under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, which came into effect in October 2017.

Meanwhile, the pair’s lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam asked for a fine of $4,000 to $6,000 for Wham and seven days’ jail for Tan, as a fine of more than $2,000 “may have implications on whether (Tan) who is a politician can participate in the next election”.

Under Singapore’s Constitution, an individual who is convicted of an offence in a Singapore court and fined of more than $2,000 or sentenced to a jail term of more than a year, would be disqualified from being a member of Parliament.

Neither party was sentenced on Wednesday as Justice Woo Bih Li reserved judgement on the case.

Offending posts not removed

Wham, 39, had made a Facebook post on 27 April last year stating that Malaysia’s judges were more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications. Wham had posted a link to an article entitled “Malaysiakini mounts constitutional challenge against Anti-Fake News Act” when he made the comment.

On 6 May last year, Tan posted on Facebook that “by charging Jolovan for scandalising the judiciary, the AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers) only confirms what he said was true”.

In court on Wednesday, Senthilkumaran said that neither Tan nor Wham had removed their offending Facebook posts as of Wednesday morning. He described their actions as “displaying an utter lack of regard for authority of courts in general, and blatant disrespect for the finding of the court that they are in contempt of court”.

The state counsel also noted that Wham’s post had been published online for a total of 10 months and 21 days, while Tan’s post has been online for 10 months and 14 days.

However, Justice Woo pointed out that the length of time the posts had been online did not matter as the bottom line was that Wham and Tan had refused to take down the posts.

Senthilkumaran said that neither Tan nor Wham had apologised and had not displayed any intention to do so, showing a lack of remorse.

He also pointed out that Tan had a previous brush with the law in 2008 when he was found guilty of contempt of court after he wore a shirt with a kangaroo dressed in judge’s robes to the Supreme Court. Tan had also posted online a photo of himself and others wearing the same shirt while standing at the Supreme Court’s entrance. Tan was jailed 15 days for the offence.

“In our submissions, it does not make sense to receive a more lenient sentence despite him being a repeat offender,” said Senthilkumaran.

The AGC is also asking Wham and Tan to remove the offending posts and its republications in whole or part. It will also request that Tan and Wham publish an apology notice, and for the notice to remain online for the same length the offending posts were.

No intention of scandalising judiciary: lawyer

Thuraisingam urged the court to consider that neither of his clients had the intention of scandalising the judiciary.

He said that Tan had meant to criticise the Attorney-General while Wham was simply trying to make the point that there may be a better outcome for one judiciary as compared with another in a certain type of case.

Referring to Thuraisingam’s concerns over Tan’s political career, Justice Woo asked, “But if he were concerned then shouldn’t he have taken certain steps when he knew already that certain proceedings are being commenced against him?”

With regard to the offending Facebook posts, Thuraisingam said Tan would be taking down his on Wednesday, while Wham would not be removing the post until his appeal is heard.

In finding both guilty of contempt of court in October last year, Justice Woo said that from the point of view of an average person, Wham’s post posed a risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice.

He also noted that Tan’s criticism of the Attorney-General for taking action against Wham represented an additional attack on Singapore’s court system.

For contempt of court, Wham and Tan could be jailed up to three years or fined up to $100,000.

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Activist Jolovan Wham, SDP’s John Tan guilty of contempt of court