The Attorney General’s Chambers in Singapore says I am guilty of contempt of court. It has informed the media of its finding and sent me a letter of warning. At issue are two video clips I posted on my blog earlier this year. In the clips, former SMRT drivers Liu Xiang Ying and He Jun Ling say they were assaulted whilst in police custody. He and Liu were part of a group of four men charged with instigating Singapore’s first “illegal” strike in 26 years. I had interviewed them as part of my research for a film on labour issues.
Prior to speaking to the drivers, I had had no intention of releasing any information until after my documentary was finished. I changed my mind shortly after completing the interviews. He and Liu had made some serious allegations and I felt it was important for authorities to investigate the matter and get to the truth.
I uploaded the clips onto the Internet on the evening of 28 January 2013. What transpired next is documented here.
On 20 April 2013, I learnt through an article on Channel News Asia that the AGC was considering taking action against me.
On 13 June 2013, my lawyers informed me about the letter of warning. In it, the AGC said my act of publishing the two videos “amounted to contempt of court by creating a real risk of prejudice to the Criminal Proceedings which were then-pending (also known as sub judice contempt). The publication of the allegations made by He and Liu gave rise to a real risk that parties connected with the criminal proceedings, namely the witnesses, co-accused persons, and He and Liu themselves, would be improperly influenced in the giving of evidence on the admissibility of any confessions made by He and Liu. The publication also gave rise to a real risk that the judge hearing the trial in relation to the Criminal Proceedings would also be improperly influenced in reaching relevant findings of fact. “
Respectfully, I disagree with the AGC.
First, I fail to see how He and Liu’s allegations could in any way influence any co-accused person or witnesses into altering their testimonies. After all, anyone who takes the stand in Court is bound by oath to speak the truth. It is immaterial whether or not they had heard or were aware of He and Liu’s allegations.
Second, Singapore doesn’t have a jury system. Neither do we have lay judges. Highly qualified, highly esteemed professionals preside over our Courts. I have faith they are not so easily swayed.
Third, I made no judgement as to the veracity of He and Liu’s claims. All I said was that their allegations were serious and should be investigated. If the two men were speaking the truth, the perpetrators should be exposed. If not, He and Liu deserved to be punished for telling lies. Either way, it was important for authorities to get to the bottom of the matter and restore faith in a key public institution.
Ultimately, the Ministry of Home Affairs declared that He and Liu’s allegations were “baseless”. However, neither man was punished. Both were instead allowed to go home.
I think it is important to highlight that the AGC was informed about my interviews and about He and Liu’s allegations prior to the posting of my videos. I sent an email on the 27th of January explaining what I had been told and asking for comment. If publication of the clips amounted, in the AGC’s opinion, to sub judice contempt, they could have written then to tell me to refrain from making the material available to the general public. However, they never replied or acknowledged my email.
Still, I note the AGC’s letter and appreciate that considerable thought has been put into the decision to warn rather than prosecute me. I take this as an indication that the chapter is now closed.
My work however, continues. The Internal Affairs Office has returned the hard drive containing my interviews with He, Liu and other former SMRT drivers, as well as research into various issues surrounding last year’s strike. Given that all four men accused of inciting the industrial action have finished serving their sentences and are now back in China, any article or video I publish in relation to their case cannot, in any way, be construed as sub judice. I hope to revisit the story soon.
I am grateful to everyone who has written, blogged about my case or messaged me during this time. Thank you for your concern and support. One of the primary roles of a journalist or documentary filmmaker is to seek the truth. I promise to keep doing so.