Singapore court convicts dissident blogger for contempt

A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this February 28, 2013 illustration file picture. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files

Singapore's High Court on Thursday convicted a prominent dissident blogger of contempt of court for "scandalising" the judiciary in an online commentary, an offence punishable by jail time.

Alex Au, 61, was found guilty of insulting the judiciary in an October 5, 2013 post that insinuated that hearing dates on a constitutional challenge to a law criminalising gay sex between men had been rigged.

"I am satisfied that the Attorney-General has established beyond reasonable doubt that (the article) as a whole poses or would pose a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore," Justice Belinda Ang said in a written judgement.

"I therefore find the respondent guilty of scandalising contempt in respect of that article," she said.

Ang said sections of the article had suggested that "as the Chief Justice wanted to hear one case, the Supreme Court deliberately delayed the determination of another case so that the outcome of the first case would likely have an influence on the outcome of the second case".

The judge added that the article had also suggested that two senior justices had acted "in a way that was contrary to the fundamental principles of judicial independence".

Ang however ruled that a second article flagged by prosecutors, in which the blogger had said "my confidence in the Singapore judiciary is as limp as a flag on a windless day", did not contravene the law.

A sentence is expected to be handed down at a later date.

Contempt of court carries a possible jail sentence, a fine or both. There is no maximum penalty specified under the law.

Au's lawyer Peter Low told AFP he was "disappointed" by the ruling.

Au, well-known in Singapore for his commentaries critical of the long-ruling People's Action Party (PAP), is also a leading gay-rights activist who has called for the repeal of Section 377A of the penal code, which criminalises sex between men.

First introduced by British colonial administrators in 1938, the law is not actively enforced by authorities.

But the government says it has to remain on the books because most Singaporeans are conservative and do not accept homosexuality.

Singapore's highest court, the Court of Appeal, in October upheld rulings by lower courts that it was up to parliament to repeal the Section 377A.

The Singapore government has taken a strong stand against attacks on the judiciary, saying they undermine public confidence in the institution.

In 2010, British author Alan Shadrake was given a six-week jail term for publishing a book critical of the administration of the death penalty, which was ruled an insult to the judiciary.

Governed by the PAP since 1959, Singapore prides itself in its stability, low levels of corruption and high standard of living.

But freedom of speech advocates have routinely accused the government of using the judiciary to stifle dissent and sideline political opponents.