SDP files case in High Court against Manpower Minister Josephine Teo over POFMA orders

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan (left) and Minister of Manpower and Second Minister of Home Affairs Josephine Teo. (PHOTOS: Yahoo News Singapore, Parliament screengrab)

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has filed a case against Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo in the High Court over three orders that she had issued against the opposition party under a controversial anti-fake news law.

The move by the SDP to file the Originating Summons marks the first ever legal challenge against the government under the Protection Against Online Falsehoods and Manipulations Act (POFMA). 

In a statement on Wednesday (8 January), the SDP said it has set out its case in a detailed submission to Teo, including statistical analyses of the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) own data and the use of different sets of data by MOM, explaining why she is wrong to issue the orders.

“Ms Teo arrogantly dismissed our application saying that it ‘does not provide sufficient grounds for the cancellation of the CDs’ and refused, or was unable, to back-up her allegations in her rejection of our submissions.

“We are therefore left with no choice but to pursue the matter in the High Court. We look forward to Ms Teo explaining her decision on the witness stand.”

The court has set 16 January for the hearing starting at 10 am, said the SDP, adding that it will not be engaging a lawyer and will argue the matter itself.

On Monday, Teo rejected an application by the party to cancel three correction directions (CDs) issued to it under POFMA.

The directives were issued by MOM to the SDP on 14 December, regarding two Facebook posts and an online article by the party titled, “SDP Population Policy: Hire S’poreans First, Retrench S’poreans last”.

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, which “contains a false statement of fact”, said 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, MOM added.

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

In its latest statement, the SDP said “Ms Teo's order is an abuse of the law” and an important reason for its legal action against her.

“If her POFMA order succeeds, then the last holdout where important national issues are openly and robustly debated on the Internet in Singapore would be irreparably closed. 

“The employment of Ministerial decree to accuse the opposition of stating falsehoods when the statements are in fact true cannot be condoned,” the SDP added.

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