Singapore: First convictions under ‘contempt of court’ law confirms fears over muzzling critics

Responding to the convictions of activist Jolovan Wham and opposition politician John Tan by the High Court on charges of "scandalising the judiciary", Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International's Singapore Researcher said:

“Jolovan Wham and John Tan criticised the Singapore courts for not being sufficiently independent. Such criticism falls squarely within their rights to freedom of expression and should not be criminalised. This first prosecution under the Administration of Justice Act is exactly the type of politically motivated use of the law which observers warned against.

This is exactly the type of politically motivated use of the law which observers warned against.
Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Singapore Researcher at Amnesty International

“This is a very concerning escalation in authorities’ crackdown on freedom of expression and other human rights – even by this government’s standards. These convictions should be quashed immediately.”

Background

On 11 May 2018, the Attorney-General’s Chambers of Singapore (AGC) charged Jolovan Wham and John Tan with “scandalising the judiciary”. Wham, a human rights activist, was charged for his Facebook post on 27 April 2018 stating that “Malaysia’s judges are more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications.” Tan, a senior member of opposition party – the Singapore Democratic Party – faced the same charge for stating on his Facebook page that Wham’s prosecution “only confirms that what he said is true.”

The charges are the first of their kind under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, which came into effect in October 2017. Amnesty International previously expressed concern that the Act would be used to arrest, prosecute and punish people for peacefully criticising the courts or the administration of justice in Singapore, under the guise of protecting the judicial system.

A separate hearing for sentencing will be scheduled. The Act imposes fines of up to SGD100,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.