Singapore Blogger Bends Under Threat of Huge Fine, Jail Term
|Our Correspondent||Mar 20, 2017|
UPDATE: Han Hui Hui, a 24-year-old Singapore dissident, has buckled under to a threat of a S$600,000 fine and jp to 18 years in prison for "scandalizing" the Singapore courts and removed a series of blogs and a Facebook entry from the Internet and apologized to the court for posting them.
Singapore still takes no stick about its courts. She claimed she was mistreated in custody on while awaiting a court hearing for helping to organize a protest rally in Hong Lim Park, the only place where it is legal to exercise free speech without a permit in the island republic, and for organizing a demonstration without approval.
The charges stem from the YouTube video and five Facebook posts she put on her blog between Jan 21 and Feb 25 about her dealings with the authorities, who allege she falsified her charges of mistreatment, and that they have CCTV camera footage to prove it and have charged her with “scandalizing” the Singapore courts.
“I have been advised not to publish the six charges,” Han said in an email. The Singapore government, she said, “is out to politically persecute me by using character assassination against me through the mainstream media.” She has refused to take down the blogs.
“Ms Han could have raised the issues at any time while she was in custody,” the home affairs ministry said in a statement. “Instead, she chose to publish the fabricated, false and misleading accounts on social media.”
In June 2016, Han was fined S$3,100 (US$2,209) for, among other things, heckling the then-Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck during a rally. She charged on her blog that the fine was imposed by District Court Judge Chay Yuen Fatt to disqualify her from standing in future parliamentary elections. A fine of more than S$2,000 leads to disqualification. She refused to pay it and was sent to jail for five weeks.
Certainly, if Han’s version of events is true, the Singaporean authorities appear to have thought they had a dangerous criminal on their hands rather than a political activist who won only 10 percent of the vote as an independent candidate in the 2015 general election.
She maintains that she was searched four times, put in a cell and shackled before being led into the courtroom, that prior to her hearing she and her co-defendants were held in a room where the temperature was 18C, where all the police were wearing jackets where she wasn’t given a mattress or a blanket, that her socks were taken away from her and that she was made to sit on the cold concrete floor.
No privacy screen was used in any of the searches, which were humiliating, one of which nearly caused her to fall, she said. Male police officers looked at her from outside while she was being searched, and “smirked while I was being searched.”
She alleged on her blog that the police officer in charge shouted at her, told her she was not supposed to talk, ordered her to sit in a “mediating position,” and that she wasn’t allowed to stretch. Ultimately, she said, she was put in solitary confinement. In the cell, she said, water was available from a pipe 1.7 meters high which would out at the touch of a button, requiring the cell inhabitant to tilt her head upwards and stick out her tongue to, in the words of the police, “lap up the sky juice.”
When she asked for toilet paper, she said, “they refused to give me any toiletries, the officers laughed and shouted at me to use my hands. They will never show the CCTV of me being in lock-up, not only at Singapore’s High Court but especially at Singapore’s State Court because the condition was totally inhumane.”
The Singapore government tends to react with outrage when anybody questions the impartiality of the country’s court system or the ruling Lee family’s version of events. Among news organizations the Lees have sued for defamation are the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, Asiaweek, the Financial Times and many others. They have never lost a case in a Singapore court, nor won one in any other country. Charges of contempt of court against news organizations questioning judges’ impartiality have been equally successful.
While Han’s concern that she could be fined S$600,000 and spent 17 years in jail might seem unfounded for what might seem a relatively minor transgression, there is plenty of precedent. Roy Ngerng, with whom Han ran as an independent in the 2015 election, is an example.
In 2014, Ngerng, now 36, intimated in his “Heart Truths” blog that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had misused funds from the central provident fund. Ngerng lost his job, was sued for civil libel and was hit with court costs of S$70,000 and S$180,000 for insulting the prime minister.
Ngerng estimated it would take him until he was 57 years old to pay off the bills although he sought to crowdfund payments and has succeeded to some extent. According to Reuters, he still owes the prime minister S$107,000. Another blogger, Alex Au, was fined S$8,000 for scandalizing the court in another matter. His appeal was denied as well.