SDP applies to have POFMA case against Josephine Teo heard in open court

The SDP logo (left) and Minister of Manpower and Second Minister of Home Affairs Josephine Teo. (PHOTOS: SDP/Facebook, Parliament screengrab)

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), which filed a case against Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo in the High Court for three correction directives issued against it under a controversial anti-fake news law, will apply to have the case heard in open court.

The case – scheduled for Thursday at 10am – is to be heard in chambers, which is not open to members of the public and media, before Justice Ang Cheng Hock.

The party, which is unrepresented, said on Monday in a press statement, “Given that the matter has drawn widespread and intense public interest, the SDP is of the view that the case be open to the public.”

The directives were issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to the SDP last month, regarding two Facebook posts and an online article by the party titled, “SDP Population Policy: Hire S’poreans First, Retrench S’poreans last”, under the Protection against Online Falsehoods and Manipulations (POFMA) law.

The posts on SDP’s Facebook page, dated 30 November and 2 December last year, had contained links to the article, published on 8 June last year, which “contains a false statement of fact”, said the MOM, pertaining to the party’s allegation of a rising trend of local PMET (professionals, managers, executives, and technicians) retrenchments.

A “misleading graphic” depicting plunging local PMET employment was also attached to the 2 December sponsored post, it added.

The SDP had complied with the request to add a correction note to each of the Facebook posts and the article, but on 2 January called for Teo to retract the directives and issue an “immediate, unambiguous and public apology” over the matter.

The party applied to the ministry to have the corrections cancelled the next day, but Teo rejected its applications three days later. On 8 January, the SDP announced that it had filed a court challenge against Teo.

“Not only has the matter of POFMA been strongly criticised by the opposition, civil society, and the general public as an unfair weapon of the ruling party, the issue of foreign PMETs flooding Singapore is also a controversial policy that has gripped the attention of Singaporeans,” said the party in its Monday statement.

“Given that these two issues will be hotly debated and decided by Singaporeans in the looming GE, the SDP will appeal to the judge to make the hearing open to the public.”

Recent POFMA-related incidents

The incident marks the third time the law has been invoked since it was enacted in October last year.

The first was on 25 November, when the POFMA office issued a correction notice to opposition party Progress Singapore Party’s member Brad Bowyer, regarding his Facebook post on investments by Temasek Holdings.

The second came three days later when a correction notice was issued against sociopolitical website States Times Review over a Facebook post that falsely claimed several individuals have been arrested over a recent post about Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam.

But Alex Tan – who runs the site and is based overseas – refused, saying he is an Australian citizen and would not comply with requests from a "foreign government".

Social media giant Facebook was then ordered by the POFMA office to put up a correction notice at the bottom of the States Times Review’s social media post.

Last week in Parliament, Minister of Communications and Information S Iswaran had called it “a coincidence” that the first few cases brought under the law were against political figures and parties.

“I would say that that is a convergence, some might say an unfortunate convergence or coincidence," he said.

“But whatever the case may be, that is the situation today but it does not mean that is going to be the situation going forward.”

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