Holding onto my hat

Holding onto my hat

Friday, July 21, 2017

Is Li Shengwu above the Law?


A few short hours before the time appointed for a man to meet his violent death, someone who cared about the man wrote a poignant poem, 'Our Five Stars Dim Tonight', out of the intensity of the moment.

Ever since the invention of writing, poems have been a creative art form to convey the complexity of human emotions and experience using figurative language, imagery, diction and rhyme. In this case, the poem was a way for the poet to share his feelings of sorrow, misgiving and bereavement as he watched the clock tick against the man's life.

To my shock, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) ran after the poet, saying that his poem was in contempt of court. I was dismayed by the AGC's action. It is a poem after all, not a political exposition! But the AGC gave no artistic licence to the poet.

Upon being confronted by the AGC, the poet withdrew his poem from the public domain and issued a public apology for it. (5 Jun)  The Straits Times duly published his apology so that we all know. [1]

On 15 July, one Li Shengwu (LSW) audaciously stated in a post on his Facebook account: "Keep in mind, of course, that the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system".


Isn't LSW by that statement disparaging the judiciary by alleging that the Singapore Courts are bias? If so, then his statement is in contempt of court.

Will the AGC come running after him, as they have done with others for referencing our courts in a manner deemed by the AGC to be illegal?

On 17 July, the AGC said in a brief statement that it is aware of LSW's post and is looking into the matter. [2]

On hearing this, LSW appeared to be rather defiant, judging from the comments published in his Facebook account:  "I'm surprised that the Singapore government is so petty. Would they also like to trawl my private Facebook feed for seditious vacation photos?" (17 July) and "of course my uncle's dogs are watching my posts. How else would they know when to bark?" (18 July)

Anyway, let's see what the AGC does or does not do with LSW.

If the AGC does come after LSW for his statement, then it would confirm that our Government will police the boundaries to free speech diligently and vigorously, and without regard to whatever relationship the alleged transgressor bears to any political leader. In which case, we may perhaps expect to see LSW recant his audacity and issue a repentant public apology to avert the unpleasantness of prosecution, thus joining the humble ranks of those who had to make public apologies for over-stepping the boundaries of free speech.

But it will be interesting if the AGC does not come after LSW at all, for then it would mean that AGC does not think that saying "the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system" is not in contempt of court.  In which case, I would thank LSW for uncovering a piece of free speech which we have hitherto assumed to be out-of-bounds.

Then again, if the AGC does not come after LSW for his statement, it could also mean that this young nephew of our Prime Minister enjoys a greater measure of free speech than the rest of us - which can't be possible. For that would be a clear case of the AGC practicing double standards.

AGC will not be biased because our Prime Minister has already explained to us in Parliament (4 July) that there is no conflict of interest in appointing his former personal lawyer and his former PAP MP to the positions of Attorney-General and Deputy Attorney-General, respectively. [3]

So we really should guard our minds from being too critical and cynical. We should not allow ourselves to contemplate the unthinkable, that LSW is above the law simply because he is a member of the Lee Family.

If the AGC does not take LSW to take him to task for his statement, then we know that if it is OK for LSW to say "the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system", it is OK for us to say that too.

Everyone in Singapore is equal before the law, right?

- Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss

NOTES:
[1] 'Lawyer apologises for making statements in contempt of court', Straits Times, 5 Jun 2017
[2] 'AGC looking into Li Shengwu's Facebook post on court system', Straits Times, 17 Jul 2017
[3] 'Lucien Wong, Hri Kumar strengthen AGC: PM', Straits Times, 5 Jul 2017