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Singapore High Court fines Wall Street Journal Asia for comments on judiciary

Singapore's High Court has found the Wall Street Journal Asia in contempt of court for a commentary it published about the city-state in June and July. The court fined Dow Jones Publishing Co (Asia), a subsidiary of News Corp's Dow Jones & Co unit and publisher of the Wall Street Journal's Asian edition, 25,000 Singapore dollars (US$16,573)—the highest amount ever levied for such a case in Singapore.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang ruled Tuesday against the newspaper and two of its editors, three weeks after Attorney-General Walter Woon argued the editorials published in June and July questioned the judiciary's independence from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the ruling People's Action Party, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Not meting out punishment in this case would undermine the country's rule of law, the court said.

The letter to the editor was written by Chee Soon Juan, head of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party. The editorials and the letter "contained insinuations of bias, lack of impartiality and lack of independence and implied that the judiciary is subservient to Lee and/or the PAP and is a tool for silencing political dissent," Tay wrote in the ruling. "There can be no doubt that allegations of the nature mentioned above would immediately cast doubts on the judiciary in Singapore and undermine public confidence."

Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has condemned the ruling. "Even if the fine is not colossal, the ruling very clearly shows that Singapore’s judges have no intention of letting the foreign media express themselves freely about the country’s judicial system, which is lacking in independence," it said.

"Another Dow Jones publication, the Far Eastern Economic Review, has also been prosecuted in Singapore," RSF added. "The way this company is being hounded by the government and judicial system—which takes its orders from Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong—is utterly deplorable. We urge the Singaporean authorities to stop prosecuting foreign news media."

A Dow Jones spokesman told RSF, "Dow Jones is extremely disappointed with the ruling of the high court and strongly disagrees with the court’s analysis that the editorials and letter to the editor constitute contempt of court. Also, contrary to what the attorney general has alleged, the Wall Street Journal Asia has not engaged in a ’campaign’ of any sort against the Singapore judiciary. We will in the future continue to defend the right of the Wall Street Journal Asia to report and comment on matters of international importance, including matters concerning Singapore."

The prosecution was brought by the attorney general, who said the editorials and the letter, published in June and July of this year, "impugned the integrity, impartiality and independence of the Singapore judiciary."

Denying any illegal intent on the part of the newspaper, its lawyer, Philip Jeyaretnam, said it had simply wanted to inform a readership that knew the difference between information and criticism. The letter was written by Chee Soon Juan, one of the leading members of the Singaporean opposition. It was an article about Chee that led the prime minister and his father, Lee Kuan Yew, to sue the Far Eastern Economic Review. The high court ruled at the end of September that the magazine had libelled the Lees ordered it to pay damages. The size of the damages award has not been released.

Date posted: November 26, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 282