Singapore to start contempt proceedings against Wall Street Journal editor

Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders deplores high court judge Tay Yong Kwang’s decision to give the attorney-general a green light to start contempt of court proceedings against Melanie Kirkpatrick, the deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, in connection with two editorials and an op-ed piece about the Singaporean judiciary published in the newspaper’s Asia edition in June and July 2008.

“We urge the high court to reverse this decision in order not to jeopardise the freedom of foreign journalists to express their views about the situation in Singapore,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The government’s harassment of the Wall Street Journal indicates a chronic inability to tolerate criticism and is very harmful to the country’s image.”

The high court decision was reported last weekend by the Straits Times, which quoted court documents as saying the articles “contained passages that scandalise the Singapore judiciary.”

The high court already found the Wall Street Journal in contempt of court last November in connection with the same articles, fining it 25,000 Singapore dollars (16,250 US dollars). Attorney general Walter Woon said at the time that the articles questioned the judiciary’s independence

The Singaporean government has in the past obtained damages from Bloomberg, The Economist and The International Herald Tribune.

Singapore to Charge a WSJ Editor With Contempt
The Wall Street Journal

Singapore’s attorney general has applied to the country’s courts to begin contempt proceedings against a senior editor of The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page.

The application relates to two editorials and a letter to the editor that ran in The Wall Street Journal Asia in June and July that the attorney general has said were guilty of “scandalizing the court” by impugning the integrity, impartiality and independence of Singapore’s courts.

In an earlier decision related to the published items, Singapore’s High Court in November levied a fine of 25,000 Singapore dollars, or about US$16,000, against Dow Jones Publishing Co. (Asia), a subsidiary of News Corp.’s Dow Jones & Co. unit and publisher of The Wall Street Journal‘s Asian edition. The fine was the highest amount ever levied for such a case in Singapore.

The judge ruled that the published items “contained insinuations of bias, lack of impartiality and lack of independence” on the part of Singapore’s judiciary.

The latest contempt proceedings name Melanie Kirkpatrick, a New York-based deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page, a Dow Jones representative said. “The attorney general has commenced legal proceedings,” the representative said. Dow Jones declined to comment further.

The first of the editorials, titled “Democracy in Singapore,” concerned comments made in a Singapore court as damages were being assessed against Chee Soon Juan, head of the Singapore Democratic Party, and his sister and colleague, Chee Siok Chin. In 2006, the two lost a defamation suit brought by Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, over an article the Chees published in their party newsletter that the court held implied corruption on the part of the government.

The Singapore attorney general also complained about a letter to the editor written by Mr. Chee and a Journal editorial that cited a report by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute on “human rights, democracy and the rule of law” in Singapore.

Another Dow Jones publication, the Far Eastern Economic Review, in September was held to have defamed the elder Mr. Lee and his son, the prime minister, in relation to an article concerning Mr. Chee. The defendants have appealed that decision.

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