SINGAPORE — Civil activist Jolovan Wham and opposition politician John Tan were each fined $5,000 on Monday (29 April) on contempt of court charges.
The fine imposed by a High Court judge means that Tan, vice-chairman of opposition party Singapore Democratic Party, would not be able to stand for election to be a Member of Parliament (MP).
Under Singapore’s Constitution, a person who is convicted of an offence in a Singapore court and fined at least $2,000 or sentenced to at least one year’s jail, would be disqualified from being an MP.
Tan’s disqualification will be in effect for five years unless it is removed by the President at any point in time.
Both Tan and Wham are appealing their sentence and conviction, their lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam told the court.
Wham 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. He 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”.
While Tan removed his post after an earlier hearing on his sentence, Wham has not.
Sentencing the pair on Monday, Justice Woo Bih Li said that the court was not bound to sentence Tan to jail just because both the defence and the Attorney-General submitted that a jail term was appropriate.
Thuraisingam had earlier asked for a jail term of seven days’ for Tan as a fine of more than $2,000 would have disqualified him from standing for election to become an MP. The AG had sought a 15-day jail term for Tan.
Justice Woo said that it was Tan’s own fault that he was in the current situation.
It was up to any person with political aspirations to ensure he does not run afoul of the law, the judge said, noting that it was not Tan’s first brush with the law. Tan was jailed for 15 days for a previous conviction of contempt of court in 2008.
The judge pointed out that Tan could have removed his post earlier but had only done so after his sentencing was heard in court.
The decision for Tan to finally remove the post was “an eleventh-hour manoeuvre to try and persuade the court to accede to his request not to impose a fine… it was not a reflection of genuine remorse,” said Justice Woo.
Had Tan taken action earlier, he might have avoided continuation of proceedings against him, or he would have been in a better position to seek a fine of less than $2,000.
“Tan is responsible for the situation he finds himself in. Consequently, the personal consequences for Tan… are irrelevant to sentencing,” said the judge.
He added that the custodial threshold had not been crossed in Tan’s case and that the sentence imposed should be similar to Wham’s case.
As for Wham, the judge said that there should not be a general approach for the court to order an offender to publish a notice of apology or remove an offending post even if the offender does not do so voluntarily.
To order Wham to post an apology when he is clearly insincere would have been meaningless, the judge said. He noted that Wham’s post would have since “receded into the background” as it was made on 27 April last year.
“Furthermore, if (an offender) refused to publish a notice to apologise as ordered by the court, he might further be liable for an act of contempt of court, and more time and resources may have to be spent to commence proceedings against him again. This may result in a disproportionate use of such time and resources as compared with the original offence,” said Justice Woo.
Wham’s refusal to apologise and to remove his post were already taken into account for his sentencing, the judge added.
Previously, Thuraisingam asked for a fine of $4,000 to $6,000 for Wham while the AG sought a $10,000 to $15,000 fine.