Singapore’s Attorney-General Chambers (AGC) put up a hilarious defence in court yesterday claiming that the Singapore government was harassed regardless if they feel emotionally or psychologically affected.
Through the AGC, the Singapore government is appealing against an appeal decision made by the High Court that rule the government out as a claimant under the new Protection Against Harassment Act (POHA). In Jan 2015, social media website The Online Citizen published a report claiming the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) plagiarised the concept of a mobile medical station from the founder, Dr Ting Choon Meng. The Singapore government was quick to invoked the new POHA law and won in a district court, but the decision was tabled over in the High Court.
AGC’s state prosecutor claimed that “allowing the Government to invoke Section 15 of POHA does not impinge on free speech in any way”, but TOC’s defence lawyer said that the Government — a well-resourced entity which cannot be said to be vulnerable to cyber-bullying or antisocial behaviour, cannot feel harassed in any way.
The newly-enacted POHA was initially designed and created by the Singapore government to sue critics, who are especially vocal on the internet. The scheme however backfired when the Singapore court refuse to put the government as a legal claimant under the new law as “the government is not a person”.
In the dictatorship under Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, government critics are usually silenced through the use of the Sedition Act, defamation lawsuits and media censorship laws. The POHA was introduced to “plug the gaps” that will allow any criticism goes unpunished. The TOC-Mindef lawsuit is a landmark case and will determine whether the government will invoke further lawsuits under the POHA to censor the internet.