Judge denies SDP application for POFMA case to be heard in open court

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan (left) and Minister of Manpower and Second Minister of Home Affairs Josephine Teo. (PHOTOS: Yahoo News Singapore, Parliament screengrab)
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’s (SDP) application to have its case against Manpower Minister Josephine Teo heard in open court, over the invocation of a controversial anti-fake news law, has been denied.

The SDP had filed the case against Teo for three correction directives issued against it under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulations Act (POFMA), in the first legal challenge to a POFMA directive.

Following a hearing in chambers before Justice Ang Cheng Hock on Thursday (16 January), Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair told reporters at the High Court that Justice Ang did not see any "special reason" to have the hearing in open court.

Asked how he felt about the decision, SDP chief Chee Soon Juan said, "It's very disappointing, but we are where we are. We have to go back in right now for our case."

The hearing for the SDP's application was not open to members of the public and media. The SDP's case against Teo is currently being heard in chambers.

Background to the case

The POFMA 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 POFMA.

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 MOM, pertaining to the party’s allegation of a rising trend of local PMET (professionals, managers, executives, and technicians) unemployment.

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

The SDP complied with the request to add a correction note to each of the Facebook posts and the article, which read in part, “This post contains a false statement of fact. There is no rising trend of local PMET retrenchment. Local PMET employment has in fact increased consistently and continues to do so today.”

But on 2 January, the SDP called for Teo to retract the directives and issue an “immediate, unambiguous and public apology” over the matter.

The party applied to MOM 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, calling POFMA “an unfair weapon of the ruling party” and the issue of foreign PMETs a “controversial policy”.

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