Non-prosecution of Lee siblings makes TOC defamation case unconstitutional: lawyer

Amir Hussain
Senior Reporter
Daniel Augustin De Costa, 36, (wearing a tie) was charged with one count of criminal defamation and another count of unauthorised access to computer material last year. (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — A lawyer for a man accused of defaming members of Cabinet is making a second application for the matter to be referred to the High Court on the grounds of the charge being unconstitutional.

This time, lawyer M. Ravi argues that the prosecution of his client Daniel Augustin De Costa, 36, along with the editor of socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC), Terry Xu Yuanchen, 37, infringes on their right to equality before the law.

Article 12 of the Constitution guarantees that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.

At the time of De Costa and Xu’s alleged offences, other publications, such as a joint statement made by Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, “made similar or worse imputations that were directed squarely at the Prime Minister, a member of the Cabinet”, said Ravi, who was referring to the younger sister and younger brother respectively of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“The prosecution of only Mr De Costa and Mr Xu Yuanchen, and not the Lee siblings is an infringement upon the right to equality before the law enshrined in Article 12(1).”

Saying that the law should be enforced equally, the lawyer added that if the Lee siblings are not prosecuted, then De Costa and Xu should similarly not be prosecuted.

Ravi’s application to the State Courts on Wednesday (11 December) comes two weeks after his previous bid was thrown out.

On 27 November, District Judge Christopher Tan said he found no merit to the first application, in which Ravi wanted the High Court to look at whether the the criminal defamation law can apply to a governmental body.

Ravi had argued, among other things, that the charge was unconstitutional for infringing on Article 9 which deals with personal liberty, and Article 14 which covers freedom of speech, assembly and association.

The judge is expected to hear the second application on 2 January. The date had been set aside for the trial to begin.

Background of the case

In December last year, Xu and De Costa were both charged with criminal defamation in relation to an article allegedly written by De Costa and published on TOC.

De Costa was also charged with one count of unauthorised access to computer material. He allegedly submitted an article to TOC using the name “Willy Sum”, using an email account which he had purportedly accessed without authorisation.

The article, published on 4 September last year, has since been taken down.

On 5 October last year, the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) made a police report stating that the article alleged corruption against some persons.

The article stated that “we have seen multiple policy and foreign screw-ups, tampering of the Constitution, corruption at the highest echelons and apparent lack of respect from foreign powers ever since the demise of founding father Lee Kuan Yew”.

The maximum punishment for criminal defamation is up to two years’ jail and a fine. For unauthorised access to computer material, the maximum penalty is up to two years’ jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

Related stories:

Bid to refer TOC defamation case to High Court thrown out

TOC editor Xu and writer De Costa charged with criminal defamation

The Online Citizen editor and another person to be charged with defamation