Friday, September 12, 2008

Wall St Journal Asia sued

Sue-Ann Chi
The Straits Times

THE Singapore Government is taking the Wall Street Journal Asia (WSJA) newspapers and its editors to court, accusing them of contempt of court.

It alleges that three articles the WSJA had published in June and July 'impugn the impartiality, integrity and independence of the Singapore Judiciary'.

This statement was posted on the website of the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) yesterday when it got approval from the High Court to start legal proceedings.

Two of the articles are the newspaper's editorials, while the third is a letter by Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan.

Those who will face the charge of contempt of court are: Dow Jones Publishing (Asia), which owns and publishes WSJA; Mr Daniel Hertzberg, editor, international of WSJA; and WSJA managing editor Christine Glancey.

When contacted last night, a Dow Jones spokesman, speaking for all of them, declined to comment.

All three articles allege the Singapore Judiciary is not independent, the AGC said in its online statement.

'It is further insinuated that the Singapore Judiciary is biased and lacks integrity. These allegations and insinuations in these items are unwarranted,' it added.

One of the editorials examined the lack of democracy in Singapore and included an account of the exchange in court between Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and SDP chief Chee Soon Juan.

The hearing in May was to assess defamation damages Dr Chee, his sister and the SDP had to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and MM Lee.

The other editorial was on the Singapore Judiciary, following a report by the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute in July. The 72-page report alleges executive interference in the Judiciary.

In its online statement, the AGC also said: 'This case is not about freedom of expression. It is about the rule of law.'

The courts, it added, play a vital role in good governance. Hence, an 'unwarranted attack' against the Judiciary is an 'assault on the rule of law in Singapore'.

'It is a fundamental principle of the administration of justice and rule of law that disappointed litigants or persons with a particular philosophy or agenda should not undermine the authority of the courts.

'This is completely against the public interest. Words or actions that undermine the authority of the court or judges amount to contempt of court,' it said.

The AGC also pointed out that the articles were published at a time when the Far Eastern Economic Review, a sister publication of the WSJA, is being sued for defamation by PM Lee and MM Lee.

It could not be confirmed yesterday whether Dow Jones had received notice of the legal suit.

Getting the High Court's approval to start contempt proceedings is the first of a two-stage process.

Once the nod is given, as it was yesterday at a closed-door session, the Attorney-General will take the next step.

The other parties will be officially notified of the lawsuit and a hearing date will be set for both sides to present their arguments in open court.


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