Singapore’s Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) have sent out letters demanding apologies from several websites after criticism was made of the court’s decision to sentence Yuan Zhenghua to 25 months in jail.
In 2012, Yuan hijacked a taxi at Changi Airport and crashed it, killing an airport worker. He was given his sentence on Monday.
Comments then appeared on websites and Facebook pages questioning the sentence. Many felt that it was too lenient. Others claimed that the courts had been soft on Yuan because he was a Chinese national, and that a Singaporean would have received a harsher sentence.
“These and similar comments pose a real risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined,” a spokesman of the AGC told AFP.
It’s unclear how many websites received the AGC’s letter, but Facebook page ‘EDMW Loves Singapore’ posted an apology and has taken down all offending posts and comments. The Real Singapore later wrote a post on their website, refusing to apologise for Facebook comments made. Their post also included the letter from the AGC, which demanded that all posts and comments be removed, that reproduction and republishing be stopped, and an apology containing the names of administrators be published on a prominent page. If the administrators do not comply within two days, action will be taken against them.
It’s a strange move from the AGC that has many implications on free speech in Singapore. Are people not allowed to comment on or criticise court decisions? How much discussion is allowed? Or will any sort of disagreement be considered contempt of court?
The AGC sent the letters over concerns of losing public trust and confidence, yet it is unlikely that such an action will gain the judiciary or the state prosecution more trust. Such a move will likely only give the impression of the state trying to create a chilling effect online, deterring Singaporeans from speaking up and questioning decisions.
After all, one can’t threaten others into trusting them.