Singapore’s attorney-general has threatened contempt of court action against MalaysiaNow and two others over a report on a racial discrimination lawsuit by a group of Malay death row inmates, prompting a strong response from rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL).
LFL and Singapore lawyer M Ravi were also named by the AG in a letter to the prominent human rights advocate yesterday.
“It is difficult to understand this disproportionate and heavy-handed response from the Singapore government over a mere news article on the filing of a lawsuit,” said LFL adviser N Surendran in a statement.
“Clearly the Singapore government is extremely fearful of any public discussion of racially discriminatory practices in the city-state.”
MalaysiaNow reported on Aug 31 that 17 prisoners sentenced to death for various drug offences were seeking a court declaration that the Singapore government had acted with discrimination and bias in their prosecution due to their Malay ethnicity.
The prisoners named Singapore’s AG as the defendant, accusing him of breaching a constitutional guarantee on equal treatment under the law.
One of the prisoners, Rahmat Karimon, is a Malaysian citizen who is represented by LFL.
In their joint affidavit spanning some 100 pages, they said that their investigations, trials and convictions under the Misuse of Drugs Act had been arbitrary and based on the “irrelevant factor” of their ethnicity.
Surendran said this was not the first time Singapore had threatened criminal sanctions or legal action against Malaysian entities exercising freedom of speech within Malaysia.
He recalled a similar threat by the Singapore government against LFL for publishing details of brutality in hangings in Changi prison.
“Singapore’s repeated attempts to reach across the causeway and silence critics here, shows disregard for Malaysia’s sovereignty and utter disrespect for free speech, open public discourse as well international human rights norms,” he said.
Surendran added that Ravi, who is internationally known for his pro bono advocacy in death penalty cases, had been hit by Singapore with “multiple professional disciplinary complaints over arguments he had made in court on behalf of death row inmates”.
He urged Putrajaya to make the necessary representations to Singapore and to do what is needed to protect its citizens carrying out activities legal under Malaysian law.
“This bullying against Malaysian carrying out peaceful activities within Malaysia can no longer be tolerated.
“We further urge the Singapore government to immediately withdraw the threat of contempt action against Ravi, MalaysiaNow and LFL. Singapore should defend the lawsuit by the 17 prisoners in court in the usual way, and not exert state power to intimidate the litigants, lawyers, activists and news media,” he said.
Early last year, Singapore’s home minister K Shanmugam had instructed the city-state’s anti-fake news agency to issue a letter to LFL to amend a statement on its website, accusing the group of spreading falsehoods over revelations of brutal practices during the execution of inmates in the high-security Changi prison.
LFL had dismissed the directive, saying Singapore had no business interfering with the freedom of Malaysians.