The Online Citizen editor Terry Xu charged for defaming Cabinet of Singapore members

Photos: The Online Citizen Sg; Sonny Liew Facebook page
Photos: The Online Citizen Sg; Sonny Liew Facebook page

The editor of The Online Citizen has been handed the charge sheet for his alleged offense of defaming members of the Cabinet of Singapore through an article that was published on the socio-political website.

While Terry Xu will face his charge in state court tomorrow morning, the authorities have already handed him the document that officially accuses him of committing an offense under Section 500 of the Penal Code. Said section states that whoever defames another shall be punished with up to two years in prison and/or a fine.

Xu refused to sign the document. “Terry refused to sign the charge sheet as there was nothing to indicate the signature was meant to acknowledge the charge and not an admission of guilt,” TOC wrote on Facebook.

According to TOC, the man who wrote the article itself has also been charged under the same offense. On Sept 4, TOC had published an open letter by a Willy Sum, who wrote that there is corruption “at the highest echelons” of the ruling government, accusing them of tampering the Constitution since the death of Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in 2015.

Local activist and journalist Kirsten Han tweeted that Sum has been arrested under the Computer Misuse Act and is currently being detained by the police. This, even after he was interrogated by the authorities last month as part of police investigations into criminal defamation.

The case

The Online Citizen front page.
The Online Citizen front page.

In a letter submitted to TOC, Sum had taken issue with a Facebook post by People’s Action Party Member of Parliament (MP) Seah Kian Peng, who accused a group of Singaporean activists of having a questionable agenda when they had a meeting with Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Sum’s strongly worded letter was published on TOC on Sept 4, and it was only on Sept 18 that the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) sent an order to Xu to take down the article. According to Han, IMDA’s letter noted that the content in the article is “prohibited as it is objectionable on grounds of public interest”.

TOC complied with the notice, but that didn’t stop IMDA from filing a police report against the publication on Oct 4.

On Nov 20, police raided Xu’s house and seized all his electronic equipment as part of investigations into criminal defamation. Sum received the same treatment too. Both men underwent interrogation at the Cantonment Police Complex the following day.

On his part, Xu clarified that the article he approved for publishing was stated as a letter from the public.

“Our stance is that the member of public can adopt a position that the government is corrupted based on his or her personal opinion.”

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