SINGAPORE: Activist Jolovan Wham and opposition politician John Tan were on Monday (Apr 29) fined S$5,000 each for contempt of court.
Both men were found guilty of the offence in October last year. In April 2018, Wham published a Facebook post alleging that Malaysia's judges were more independent than Singapore's in cases with political implications.
The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) initiated a contempt of court case against him. Less than a month later, Tan, a Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) politician, said on Facebook that the AGC's actions confirmed the truth of Wham's comment.
The prosecution, in its sentencing submissions last month, had asked the court to order the men to apologise and take down the posts. Wham did neither.
Justice Woo Bih Li on Monday delivered his decision on the sentences, after he reserved judgment in a sentencing hearing last month.
The judge said that Wham’s failure to take down the Facebook post and refusal to apologise were taken into account in sentencing. However, to order Wham to apologise is “meaningless” as it would be “clearly insincere”, he added.
The prosecution had also called for Wham to be fined between S$10,000 and S$15,000 and in default, jailed for two to three weeks. It also wanted Tan to be sentenced to at least 15 days in jail. Tan submitted that he should be jailed for three days.
In asking for a custodial sentence for Tan, the prosecution pointed to his previous conviction in 2008. He was convicted of contempt of court for turning up at a defamation hearing in a T-shirt with a kangaroo dressed in a judge’s gown.
Tan indicated that he wanted a custodial sentence so as not to affect his eligibility to contest in future elections. Under the law, if a politician is fined S$2,000 and above, he or she would not be able to stand for election. The threshold when it comes to a jail term is one year.
READ: Jolovan Wham fined for organising public assembly without permit, chooses to go to jail instead
However, Justice Woo rejected a custodial sentence for Tan. He noted that the court does not have to impose such a sentence even if both the prosecution and defence asked for it.
Justice Woo said that the quantum for the fine in the law – which has been in the Constitution since Singapore’s independence – may not have been revised for inflation, and the fine may previously have been considered more favourable to a one-year jail term. The opposite perception may be true now, he added.
"Tan is responsible for the situation that he finds himself in," he said, adding that political consequences are not relevant to sentencing.
He added that Tan’s taking down of the post after a sentencing hearing in March was not a reflection of remorse.
“It was an 11th-hour manoeuvre to try and persuade the court to accede to his request not to impose a fine,” Justice Woo said.
Wham and Tan will be jailed one week if they are unable to pay the fine. Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, who represents both men, told the High Court that he intends to appeal against the conviction and sentencing.