SINGAPORE — Delivering the highest fine in Singapore’s history of contempt cases involving the press, a high court justice ordered an American professor and a U.S.-owned newspaper to pay more than $14,000 in fines for an opinion column criticizing Asian regimes.
High Court Judge Goh Joon Seng said in his ruling that an October 7, 1994 opinion article’s reference to “intolerant regimes” and a “compliant judiciary” could only refer to Singapore, and therefore “scandalized the Singapore judiciary.”
Christopher Lingle, a fellow in European studies at the National University of Singapore who wrote the article for the International Herald Tribune, was handed the largest fine of $6,900, while the Herald Tribune’s Singapore-based Asia editor, Australian Michael Richardson, was fined $3,450. The newspaper’s Paris-based publisher, Richard McClean, was fined $1,725, and the paper’s local printer and distributor in Singapore each were fined $1,035.
Lingle did not attend the contempt trial, and has said he does not plan to attend any court proceedings in Singapore. The newspaper, which is owned jointly by The New York Times Co. and The Washington Post Co., and Lingle still face a libel suit filed by Singapore’s senior minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Lingle’s article drew fire from government officials who felt the piece unfairly characterized the country’s judicial system and political operation. The article was written in response to a Herald Tribune article by a senior Singapore government official who praised Asian governments.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.