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Judge dismisses applications by defence lawyer in The Online Citizen-linked defamation case

Judge dismisses applications by defence lawyer in The Online Citizen-linked defamation case

Terry Xu (left) and Daniel De Costa at the State Courts on Dec 13, 2018. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: A judge on Monday (Jan 20) dismissed two applications by defence lawyer M Ravi in a criminal defamation case linked to alternative news site The Online Citizen.

His client, 36-year-old Daniel De Costa Augustin, is accused of illegally logging into another man's email account and submitting an article to TOC, alleging corruption in Singapore's Cabinet.

He was charged in November alongside TOC editor Terry Xu Yuanchen for criminal defamation, and received a second charge for his computer crime.

The first application was to refer a question of "prosecutorial discretion and equal treatment before the law" over the case to the High Court, and the second was for disclosure of De Costa's long statements to the police.

The question of law Mr Ravi sought to present to the High Court addresses whether the prosecution of De Costa contravenes section 12 in Singapore's constitution, which states that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.

In pushing for this, Mr Ravi argued that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's siblings - Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling - have not been prosecuted for their comments.

Mr Ravi appended quotes from a joint statement by the two Lee siblings that make several allegations against the Prime Minister.

"If the Lee siblings were not prosecuted, Mr De Costa should similarly not be prosecuted," said Mr Ravi.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Mohamed Faizal, Ho Lian-Yi and Sheryl Yeo urged the court to dismiss this application, calling it frivolous and vexatious and possessing "absolutely no merit".

Noting that this was the third such question of law De Costa wanted to place before the High Court, the prosecution said the application was "motivated by ulterior motives", and said De Costa "should not be permitted to abuse court processes to delay and frustrate proceedings any further".

District Judge Christopher Tan said there are two established steps in deciding whether or not to refer a case to the High Court.

The first deals with whether the question to be raised is a question of law relating to the interpretation or effect of the constitutional provision, while the second ponders whether it is a proper case for referral to the High Court.

Judge Tan said that while Mr Ravi's proposed question might satisfy the first step, it did not pass the second as it was not a new question of law.

He also dismissed Mr Ravi's application for disclosure of De Costa's long statements, as the trial has not started and the statements might still be used in the hearings.

This is not the first time Mr Ravi is making applications before the trial has begun.

Mr Ravi had tried and failed in November to refer the case to the High Court for a question of law regarding a citizen's right to criticise the Government and whether the Cabinet can be defamed.

Parties will return to court for a pre-trial conference on Feb 17, with the judge reminding Mr Ravi to make any necessary applications before the actual hearing dates were taken.

Source: CNA/ll


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