Singapore critic charged with contempt of court

January 20, 1995

The Singapore Supreme Court last week ruled that an American academic who criticised the human rights records of Asian governments had a case to answer for contempt of court.

Singapore's extreme sensitivity to foreign criticism of its policies was revealed when the country's attorney-general Chan Sek Keong himself brought the contempt of court charges against Christopher Lingle and four other defendants.

The case has added to the concern of Singapore academics that their freedom to express opposing views to the government's have been substantially curtailed.

Dr Lingle, a former senior fellow in European studies at the National University of Singapore, wrote an article for the International Herald Tribune last October in which he accused unnamed governments in the region of using considerable ingenuity in suppressing dissent. Some governments relied on a compliant judiciary to bankrupt opposition politicians, Dr Lingle wrote.

His article was a response to one published in the Tribune by a Singapore foreign ministry official which criticised European policies.

Mr Chan said Dr Lingle's comments scandalised Singapore's judiciary by imputing its judges were "willing participants in a subtle scheme to suppress political dissent".

Dr Lingle left for the United States after being interrogated by police and was not present at the court hearing. This week he was fined S$10,000 (Pounds 4,545) in his absence. The Tribune's publisher was fined S$5,000. Its Asian editor of the newspaper, who was in court, was fined S$2,500.

The newspaper maintained the article referred not to Singapore but other unspecified Asian regimes seeking to suppress political opposition.

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