Rumours, women, politicians and S’pore bloggers
Bloggers back down after ministers’ libel threats
Two Singapore blogs have backed down and deleted postings after threats of libel suits by ministers. One was a comment mentioning rumours about law minister cum foreign minister K Shanmugam, another an article with the word "cronyism" and which mentioned Ho Ching, wife of prime minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Even though both could probably be justified as fair comment, the blogs retreated anyway. No surprise. Singapore politicians have collected large awards in damages (usually donated to charities) in libel suits against media houses.
Singapore’s unwritten law seems to be: You say, you pay.
But what did they really say? Nothing much.
The "scroobal" and Shanmugam
Leading blogger Alex Au deleted a comment by "scroobal" which mentioned rumours about Shanmugam and another MP, Malaysian-born banker Foo Mee Har, but made no direct allegations about them.
Alex Au also published the demand letter from lawyers Allen & Gledhill in full — which included the complete "scroobal" comment, now erased from the blog, but quoted intact in the letter. It said in part:
The Yaw affair
(The "Yaw affair" was about the opposition MP expelled by his party after allegations in blogs and the media that he had had affairs with five women, one of them a married fellow party worker, seen in the photograph.)
The comment by "scroobal" only said (1) there were rumours (2) people knew there were rumours (3) there was no proof (4) but in any case he was only talking about how the Singapore press behaved (i.e. keeping quiet about government people but exposing opposition people). Alex Au himself said nothing.
Allen & Gledhill, however, accused Au of having made allegations against Shanmugan. "We refer to the following comments that you have made on your website…"
Wait a minute, the comments were made by "scroobal", not by Alex Au.
"The allegations against our client that you have referred to … have been put up primarily by a person who calls himself “scroobal’ on the internet. The allegations are false and scurrilous.
Nothing had been alleged, but the lawyers denied the allegations anyway.
And what were the allegations? That there were rumours? But what allegations? The commenter didn’t say. So the lawyers are denying something that was not said.
Allen & Gledhill go on:
Our client has instructed us to try and trace “scroobal’ in order to sue him. But the internet being what it is. “scroobal’ has been untraceable so far. Likewise, others who have repeated the allegations made by “scroobal’ have so far been untraceable.
So Allen & Gledhill couldn’t find "scroobal" or anyone else, "the internet being what it is". And because they couldn’t find anyone, they hammered Alex Au instead, who had actually said nothing. (Another popular forum also took down comments by "scroobal".)
Although nothing had been said, it didn’t matter to the lawyers, they denied it anyway. They got the comment deleted, but repeated it in the letter. And that was okay.
So I thinks this is how it works in Singapore: we know you ddidn’t say anything but you published something by this fellow so we’ll punish you. That fellow also didn’t say anything, but he said something somewhere else. But we can’t find him. We can find you. So we’ll punish you instead.
Strange, but that’s Singapore.
According to unspecified rumours in the past, Singapore is a fine clockwork country where nothing goes wrong, run by people about whom there are no rumours.
(In case you’re wondering, some Singaporeans had apparently asked whether Shanmugam was getting divorced or had already got a divorce, or is he seeing another woman, or has he already married another woman, and what exactly is the state of his marriage, or something like that, gathered from bits and pieces, the internet being what it is, according to Allen&Gledhill.)
Malaysian-born Foo lets it ride
Foo Mee Har, the other MP mentioned by “scroobal”, has lived in Singapore since 1989, and became an MP last year after having worked for Standard Chartered at senior levels. She said on her Facebook page she would not take any further action. The personal attacks and rumours against her were "false and baseless" she said.
Err…what allegations? The “scroobal” comment at Alex Au’s blog said nothing about Foo but she’s also denying it anyway. From bits and pieces floating on the Internet it appears that people have questioned how she rose to the top at the bank, what kind of relationships with the men who were her mentors; whether her bank had taken bankruptcy action against her husband and if she had a hand in having it withdrawn, and whether she had a relationship with someone at the top for her that led to her being a PAP candidate in the elections last year, and why she became a Singapore citizen only in 2008.
Foo Mee Har’s glamour girl look and your everyday MP look
Photos: PAPthe WeakestLink blog; The Straits Times
You say, you pay. You don’t say, you also pay
Singapore: it’s a heck of a fine country, foreigners say.