Blogger accused of painting ‘distorted picture’ of judiciary

Blogger accused of painting ‘distorted picture’ of judiciary
Blogger Alex Au (centre) with lawyers Peter Low (left) and Choo Zheng Xi.

Gay rights activist Alex Au had made it seem that there is a "systemic bias" in Singapore's judiciary against cases involving homosexuality.

This was the argument made by Senior State Counsel Tai Wei Shyong yesterday as he urged the High Court to hold Au in contempt of court for two articles he posted on his blog, Yawning Bread, a week apart last year.

Acting for the Attorney-General (AG), he said Au's articles weaved conjecture with fact to "paint a distorted picture" which posed a real risk of undermining public confidence in the judiciary.

But Au's lawyers, Mr Peter Low and Mr Choo Zheng Xi, accused the AG of being "trigger-happy" in taking their client to court on "imputation, innuendo and insinuation". After hearing both sides, Justice Belinda Ang said she will give her decision at a later date.

The first article, published on Oct 5 last year, referred to two separate constitutional challenges against Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men. The first challenge was by Mr Tan Eng Hong in 2010 after he was caught with another man in a toilet. The other, by gay couple Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee, was filed three months after Mr Tan was allowed to proceed in 2012.

In his article, Au wrote that "strange calendaring" allowed the couple's case to be heard first - and reach the Court of Appeal earlier - even though Mr Tan's challenge was launched first.

Au claimed that Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon wanted to be on the three-judge Court of Appeal panel to hear the constitutional challenge against S377A. However, he could not do this in the earlier case owing to a conflict of interest, Au wrote, as Mr Menon was the AG when Mr Tan's criminal case was before the courts.

Yesterday, Mr Tai alleged that this article insinuated that there was a sinister plan by the Supreme Court to manipulate hearing dates so that CJ Menon could hear the gay couple's appeal.

But Mr Choo argued that all Au said was that CJ Menon was interested in hearing the case because it was important. Nowhere did Au suggest that this was improper or that CJ Menon was partial or had a vested interest in the outcome.

The second article referred to legal proceedings brought by a former employee of department store Robinsons, who claimed he was harassed into resigning because he is gay. Au, 61, wrote in his blog that he did not have high hopes for the case as his confidence in the judiciary was "as limp as a flag on a windless day".

Mr Tai said Au was implying that the judiciary was biased against homosexuality issues and that the courts decide cases based on extraneous considerations.

But Mr Low argued that while Au's language may be colourful, the article was fair criticism and so did not amount to contempt. If Au is found to be in contempt of court, he could be fined, jailed or both.

This article was first published on Oct 22, 2014.
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