Thank you for highlighting the chilling effect the use of defamation laws has on freedom of expression in Singapore (“Singapore Blog Flap Heats Up,” World News: Asia, Mar. 2-4).
As The Wall Street Journal is aware, my father, Reform Party founder Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, was sued numerous times for defamation, culminating in being bankrupted over a few words in an article published in the Workers’ Party newspaper that he did not write and in a language (Tamil) whose written form he did not understand. This resulted in him losing his seat in Parliament and not being able to stand again before he died, which was of course the key objective. Since then it has been clear that defamation suits, which in Singapore are tried by a judge not a jury and in political cases have typically resulted in much higher damages than in non-political cases, are too useful a tool for the ruling party to give up.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been quick to use the defamation tool himself in the past, having sued a number of international publications, including your newspaper. He has also sued numerous individuals, including my father. In the 2011 election Mr. Lee said that “in the heat of an election campaign…you will find unwise speeches being made, which is why sometimes, after elections, sometimes, after elections,you’ve got court cases to deal with.”something to the effect that the courts were there to deal with defamatory statements made in the heat of the election.
On the other hand, people are learning how to sidestep the restrictions. For example, in the Reform Party’s statement on the budget, I avoided the minefield of the PM’s wife’s appointment as head of Temasek but still questioned why senior management kept their jobs after the losses sustained in 2008.
Also encouraging is the way people came forward to donate money to pay off Democratic Party Secretary General Chee Soon Juan’s fine and keep him out of jail during the election. This gives some small hope that the tactics the People’s Action Party leaders employed in the past will no longer work.
The Reform Party
Source: Wall Street Journal