Opposition leader sentenced to 12 days in jail

June 2nd, 2008 - 4:01 pm ICT by admin  

Singapore, June 2 (DPA) Singapore’s most vocal opposition party leader was sentenced Monday to 12 days in jail for contempt arising from remarks made during a hearing to assess damages from a defamation lawsuit last week. Chee Soon Juan, the 45-year-old secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic party (SDP), said he planned to appeal.

High Court judge Belinda Ang also sentenced Chee’s sister and SDP executive member Chee Siok Chin to 10 days for contempt of court, a ruling she also intends to appeal.

A frustrated Chee said justice in Singapore had been “raped” and “kicked.”

The contempt charges against the Chees resulted from their comments and actions during a three-day hearing last week to assess damages in the lawsuit filed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father.

Chee “scandalized the court, adversely affected the administration of justice and impugned the dignity and the authority of the court,” Ang said.

The Chees have until Wednesday to appeal.

The Lees won the defamation suit against the Chees and the SDP in 2006 arising from the party’s newsletter published before the general election that year. It contained articles on a scandal at the National Kidney Foundation and drew parallels between how the charity and government were run.

The Lees are pressing for aggravated damages.

During last week’s hearing, Lee Kuan Yew said Chee was “a near psychopath,” liar and cheat while under cross examination by the former university lecturer who was representing himself.

Chee accused the court of making his cross examination “meaningless.”

The case marked the first time any leader of the ruling People’s Action Party has been questioned by a political opponent in open court.

The PAP holds all but two seats in the 84-member parliament and has dominated the political scene since independence from Malaysia in 1965.

If the SDP is unable to pay up, the 28-year-old party faces the prospect of dissolution.

Chee was declared bankrupt following a defamation award of 500,000 Singapore dollars ($373,000) in February 2006 to Lee Kuan Yew and another former prime minister, Goh Chok Tong. He is barred from running for parliament until 2011.

His sister was declared bankrupt for failing to pay costs related to a protest last year.

Critics say Singapore’s leaders use defamation lawsuits to cripple the opposition.

The government maintains that such legal action is necessary to safeguard the leaders’ reputations.

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