US-based Li Shengwu, nephew of Lee Hsien Loong, fined for contempt over Facebook comments

World | 29 Jul 2020 4:53 pm

Li Shengwu, the grandson of the late Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew and who is also the son of Lee Hsien Yang, has been found guitly of contempt of court and fined S$15,000.

If he does not pay the fine within two weeks, he will have to serve a week's jail in default, said Justice Kannan Ramesh in his verdict today, Channel News Asia reports.

The judge also ordered Li to pay S$8,500 for costs of proceedings and another S$8,070 for disbursements such as filing fees, photocopying charges, service of documents on Li in the US and database fees.

The Attorney-General's representatives, who had pressed for the fine, noted that Li had been notified of the hearing but did not turn up.

Li, a Singapore citizen, is an assistant professor of economics at Harvard University and lives in the United States.

The Attorney-General had sought an order of committal for common-law contempt of court, under the inherent jurisdiction of the court, against Li over a post on his Facebook page, said Justice Ramesh.

The post was made in 2017 by Li, the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

It included a link to a New York Times editorial titled Censored In Singapore, and a description saying: "Keep in mind, of course, that the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system."

The Attorney-General's representatives had contended the post scandalised the judiciary by creating a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore.

Justice Ramesh found that the Attorney-General had proven the three elements required to show contempt of court: That Li intended to publish the post, that the post posed a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice, and that the post did not constitute fair criticism.

The first point was not in dispute, as  Li had accepted that he published the post. On the second point, Justice Ramesh found the post impugns the impartiality of the judiciary.

He noted that  Li had described the court system as "pliant,'' a term described in the dictionary as "easily bent or inclined to any particular cause".

He said he had difficulty accepting Li's assertion that he had used the term "pliant court system" to refer to Singapore's defamation jurisprudence.

Justice Ramesh said the post was "controversial and inflammatory,'' with the timing of the post "important.''

"There was significant public interest in the Oxley Road dispute," he said, adding that "allegations of nepotism" had been made. 

Li had also made himself out to be someone with inside knowledge, saying in a comment on Facebook that Singapore news was "heavily controlled by the Government,'' and that he was "in a position to know.''

The post was not fair criticism as it had to be supported by some basis to be more than just an unsupported attack of the courts.

In sentencing Li to a fine of S$15,000, Justice Ramesh compared the case to previous such cases. He turned down the Attorney-General's submission to impose two weeks' jail in default of the fine, drawing reference to similar contempt cases where only a week's jail in default was given.

Li initially took part in the proceedings, with lawyers representing him, but they discharged themselves in February this year, days after Li said on Facebook that he would no longer participate in the proceedings.

Saying that Li was "unapologetic,'' Justice Ramesh took note of  Li's refusal to provide his Facebook friends list and his refusal to answer questions on whether any of his Facebook friends were from the media. 

In a Facebook post today, Li said he disagreed with the judgment but did not say whether he would pay the fine.

Lawyers previously told CNA that a warrant of arrest may be issued if Li is found guilty of contempt, and he can be placed under arrest if he returns to Singapore.


 

 

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