TOC given permission to challenge Pofma decision in apex court

(From left) Daniel De Costa, lawyer M. Ravi and editor of The Online Citizen (TOC) Terry Xu outside the State Courts on Jan 20, 2020.
(From left) Daniel De Costa, lawyer M. Ravi and editor of The Online Citizen (TOC) Terry Xu outside the State Courts on Jan 20, 2020.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - The Online Citizen (TOC) has been given the green light to challenge its failed appeal against a correction direction under Singapore's fake news law.

The High Court on Thursday (March 12) gave it permission to appeal, paving the way for the Court of Appeal to hear its first case involving the Protection From Online Falsehood and Manipulation Act (Pofma).

The socio-political website had been issued a correction direction over a story, quoting Malaysian rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), that alleged Singapore's prison officers were instructed to use unlawful execution methods, including kicking the head of death row prisoners to snap their necks when the rope breaks during hanging.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, initiating the correction direction, said the claims were false.

TOC then filed an appeal under Pofma to have the correction direction set aside. This was dismissed by High Court Judge Belinda Ang.

On Thursday, lawyer Eugene Thuraisingham, representing TOC, said the case "gave rise to questions of general principle decided for the first time and involved questions of importance upon which further argument and a decision of a higher tribunal would be to the public advantage".

He confirmed that TOC is filing an appeal to the apex court.

In her decision issued on Feb 19, Justice Belinda Ang had found that the onus is not on the Government to prove a statement is false in an appeal under Pofma. Rather, the person who made the statement must show it is true.

High Court Judge Ang Cheng Hock had ruled differently on the issue in another Pofma case involving the Singapore Democratic Party, finding that it is the Government's job to prove a statement is false.

 
 
 

This issue on the burden of proof, and which judge's interpretation is correct, is something that TOC intends to bring up in its appeal to the apex court, said Mr Thuraisingham.

TOC had also argued that it was merely reporting hearsay and the statements had to be read in context of the entire article. It added that the corrections directions was only on selected portions of the article.

Mr Thuraisingham said this issue is significant and will be brought up in the appeal to the apex court as "it would have an impact on how allegations may be and are to be reported in the future".