Singapore’s High Court has ruled the Wall Street Journal Asia in contempt of court for publishing two editorials and a letter to the editor that the government says damaged the reputation of the country’s judicial system.
The court also has fined the newspaper $25,000.
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 the government, which if left unpunished, could undermine the country’s rule of law.
The letter to the editor was written by Chee Soon Juan, head of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party.
The newspaper’s lawyer, Philip Jeyaretnam, was not immediately available for comment. The Wall Street Journal is published by Dow Jones & Co, a part of News Corp.
Singapore’s leaders have sued journalists and political opponents several times in past years for alleged defamation. They have won lawsuits and damages against Bloomberg, the Economist and the International Herald Tribune.
Wall Street Journal Asia Publisher Fined In Singapore
The publisher of the Wall Street Journal Asia was found in contempt of court Tuesday and ordered to pay more than $16,000 in damages for questioning Singapore’s judicial integrity.
The judgment against Dow Jones Publishing Company (Asia) Inc. is the latest court ruling against critics of the Singapore government.
High Court Justice Tay Yong Kwang found the publisher in contempt for two editorials: “Democracy in Singapore,” published on June 26 this year, and ” Judging Singapore’s Judiciary,” which appeared on July 15.
He said that a letter that the business daily published in July by Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, or SDP, was also in contempt, and fined the newspaper a total of SGD25,000 ($16,490).
“In my opinion, all three publications, individually as well as collectively, contained insinuations of bias, lack of impartiality and lack of independence and implied that the judiciary is subservient to Mr Lee and/or the PAP and is a tool for silencing political dissent,” the judge wrote.
He was referring to Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, and the People’s Action Party, or PAP, which has ruled the city-state since 1959.
Tay noted that the editorials and the letter appeared within a relatively short period of less than three weeks while a defamation case involving Chee and Lee continued, and while charges against an American blogger, Gopalan Nair, were also before Singapore’s courts.
“The three publications…are in contempt of court because the allegations by way of insinuations clearly possess the inherent tendency to interfere with the administration of justice,” the judge wrote.
“A judiciary which is not impartial and independent is as good as salt that has lost its flavor.”
Last month, a Singapore judge ordered the SDP party, Chee – who is bankrupt – and his sister, to pay $610,000 in damages for defaming Lee and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In September, the blogger Nair was sentenced to three months’ jail for accusing a Singapore judge of “prostituting herself.” He made the comment in a blog about the case involving Chee and the Lees.
Tay said there were aggravating factors, including the fact that Dow Jones had been found in contempt on two earlier occasions in Singapore.
The publisher also failed to apologize, and maintained that the publications weren’t in contempt, he said.
Defense counsel Philip Jeyaretnam declined to comment on the case, referring inquiries to Dow Jones.
A spokesman for the publisher said only that they were reviewing the court’s decision. In a statement issued during the hearing, Dow Jones said it was defending its “right to report and comment on matters of international interest, including matters concerning Singapore.”
Singapore’s leaders have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from defamation suits filed against critics and foreign publications.
International human rights groups have accused the country’s leaders of using courts to stifle dissent, but the leaders argue that suing for defamation is necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded attacks.