Kangaroo case postponed

Singapore Democrats

High Court Judge Judith Prakash postponed the contempt hearing today to 24 Nov. The three respondents, Mr John Tan, Mr Shafi’ie and Mr Isrizal, had asked the court for an adjournment because the AG’s Chambers (AGC) had served documents on the three at short notice.

In addition, Mr Tan and Mr Shafi’ie are currently engaged in an ongoing trial at the Sub-court for illegal assembly and procession. Officials from the AGC walked into the courtroom at the Subordinate Courts last Friday afternoon and served four thick bundles of documents on the two defendants and expected them to respond in court after only one-and-a-half working days.

Judge Prakash allowed the adjournment and set 24 and 25 November 2008 as the new hearing dates.

The Attorney General has accused the three men for contempt of court because they were wearing T-shirts with the picture of a kangaroo in judge’s gown within the Supreme Court vicinity during the defamation suit hearing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Lee Hsien Loong vs. Dr Chee Soon Juan, Ms Chee Siok Chin and the Singapore Democratic Party. Mr Shafi’ie was represented by Lawyer Mr Chia Ti Lik.

In another development we reported yesterday that Mr John Tan was suspended by James Cook University where he was teaching Psychology. We reproduce here the letter that Mr Tan had written to the CEO of the university, Dr Dale Anderson:


Dear Dr Dale Anderson,

I want to register my deep disappointment with the way James Cook University handled my suspension over the recent news about my impending legal problem with the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC), and a supposed feedback from a student. I am also disappointed with your response thus far to the students (28 in total from my last count) who wrote in support of me.

During our recent meeting on 21 October 2008, you showed me an email from a supposed student who signed off as Collin Lim. In it, he pointed out my political activities and my association with Dr. Chee Soon Juan, a well known Singaporean dissident and secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party? You also noted to me that he had copied his email to Singapore’s Minister of Education Ng Eng Hen.

In our meeting, you had expressed doubt that Collin Lim was a student of JCU. Notwithstanding, even if he was a bona fide student, it is unthinkable that a lecturer was suspended because of the feedback of a single student despite 28 opposing voices.

The Dean Mr. Noel Richards and Associate Dean Dr. Denise Dillon had handed me my suspension letter earlier that morning. In that meeting, Noel mentioned that in Australia, lecturers do not bring politics into the classroom. Perhaps he was indirectly accusing me of bringing politics to the classroom. I offer no apologies for the appropriate use of political examples as illustrations when I teach social psychology or any other topic. But no one can accuse me of politicizing the classroom, a fact clearly attested by the 28 students.

On the contrary, by suspending me on the basis of Collin Lim’s email, is JCU not politicizing the classroom since the gist of Collin’s complaint is my association with Dr Chee. Your expression of concern that the complaint was copied to Dr. Ng Eng Hen is instructive.

When I pointed out that you are working for a university owned by a free country, your response was that “half of the school is owned by Singapore” and that your position is directly “under the control of that half”.

I am accused of donning a T-shirt depicting the picture of a kangaroo in a judge’s gown. I expressed my opinion as a Singaporean over a Singaporean matter. What does this have to do with JCU? I have not committed a crime that has brought disrepute to the university. In fact one would have thought that a university would respect my right to freedom of expression.

Moreover, even before the AGC served me the charges, JCU had already meted out its sentence on me. This was done unilaterally without my input whatsoever. The letter of suspension was already printed and signed prior to my meeting with the deans. Given such a hasty and unilateral action based solely on an email copied to Ng Eng Hen when the case has not even begun leads one to only one conclusion: that JCU acted under political pressure over my suspension.

Chief among the reasons given by Noel for my suspension is “to protect the reputation of the school.” Would the reputation of the school not be enhanced if it listens to 28 of its students rather than to one? Would the reputation of the school not be enhanced if it separates academics from politics, and refuses to allow itself to get embroiled in political dispute? Would the reputation of the school not be enhanced if it stands up for the bullied rather than with the bully—albeit the bully in this case is the Government of Singapore

You and your colleagues come from a nation where the freedom of expression is valued, sometimes taken for granted. Here in Singapore we face bankruptcy, endure fines and imprisonment just to make ourselves heard.

Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” As such, in my struggle for a freer society, it would have been reasonable had I asked you for help and support. Yet, I did not ask for that. All I am asking for, from you and your colleagues, is that you do not add to my struggle.

Clearly, the matter has nothing to do with my competence or performance as an academic. This is established by the 28 letters, and further confirmed by Noel and Denise in our meeting. It involved, however, the freedom of opinion that any university should respect and uphold. In fact, JCU should encourage and be proud of the diversity of opinion.

I therefore beseech you to restore my contract and standing with the university. In your consideration, may I also ask that you to take into account my good standing and the goodwill I have built over almost four years as an associate lecturer with JCU and its students?

John Tan
28 Oct 2008

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