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17 Mar 06
One of Singapore’s few opposition politicians, Chee Soon Juan, has been sentenced to one day in jail and fined for contempt of court after questioning the integrity of the judicial system.
It is the first time a Singapore court has jailed anyone for an offense known as “scandalizing the court”.
Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party, would be given a longer jail term of seven days if he did not pay the fine of 6,000 Singapore dollars (3,700 US) by 5:00 pm (0900 GMT), Justice Lai Siu Chiu of the High Court said.
“This is probably one of the worst cases that has come before the court for scandalizing the judiciary,” Lai told him.
The attorney general lodged the contempt application with the High Court after a February 10 hearing at which Chee was declared bankrupt.
That declaration followed his failure to pay 500,000 Singapore dollars (307,000 US) in damages to the city-state’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew and another former prime minister, Goh Chok Tong.
Lee, Goh and other members of the People’s Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965, have a history of taking legal action against their political opponents and media critics. They argue they do so to protect their reputations.
Chee’s lawyer M. Ravi, told reporters outside court that he doubted Chee has the money to pay the contempt fine, meaning he would spend the additional week in jail.
Chee, 43, was also ordered to pay legal costs.
Justice Lai convicted Chee for contempt of court on Thursday for comments against Singapore’s judicial system at an earlier hearing.
The contempt proceedings stemmed for a three-page statement which Chee read during his bankruptcy hearing last month, and circulated in public.
Singapore’s second solicitor general Lee Seiu Kin quoted Chee as saying in his statement that the Singapore judiciary “is, sadly, not independent especially when it comes to dealing with opposition politicians.”
Lee described Chee’s statement as a “scurrilous attack on the integrity, independence and fairness of the Singapore judiciary”. He said the statement contained “untruths, half-truths and baseless allegations.”
Chee’s statement referred to cases of other opposition politicians including that of J.B. Jeyaretnam “who has suffered the most under this legal tyranny.”
Jeyaretnam, 80, was the first opposition member of parliament to break the PAP’s hold on seats, but has been left bankrupt after his own legal battles with the ruling party.
Chee’s statement, as cited by Lee, also contained comments by Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, the New York City Bar Association and a former Singapore solicitor general, Francis Seow — all of whom questioned the integrity of the judicial system.
Singapore’s judicial system has been praised by foreign investors for its efficiency in processing cases but criticised by human rights groups for, among other things, maintaining the practice of capital punishment by hanging.