Having been tied up in a court battle with the Singapore government over a private Facebook post he made, Li Shengwu has announced that has decided to pay the fine of S$15,000 for contempt of court over that Facebook post.
Dr Li, who is the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday (11 August), “I have decided to pay the fine, in order to buy some peace and quiet. Paying the fine avoids giving the Singapore government an easy excuse to attack me and my family.”
On 29 July, Dr Li, an assistant professor of economics at Harvard University, was found guilty of contempt of court and was ordered to pay a fine. Should he refused, he would have to serve a one-week jail term.
Dr Li said in Tuesday’s post, “The government claims that my friends-only Facebook post “scandalized the judiciary”. The true scandal is the misuse of state resources to repress private speech.”
“In the course of this three-year prosecution, the Singapore Attorney General’s chambers has written thousands of pages of legal documents, suppressed parts of my defence affidavit, and demanded that I reveal to them all of my friends on Facebook,” he added.
He said that back in January, he decided he “would not dignify the government’s prosecution” by continuing to respond. He added, “Even without my participation, it took six more months to arrive at a verdict, long enough for the government to mishandle a pandemic and hold an election.”
Dr Li asserted also that he is not admitting any guilt by paying the fine.
He said, “I do not admit guilt. I have never denied writing what I wrote, to my friends in a private Facebook post. I disagree that my words were illegal.”
“Moreover, civilized countries should not fine or jail their citizens for private comments on the court system,” he added.
Background of the case
Contempt of court charges against Dr Li arose after a private Facebook post in 2017 — which was only made accessible to his connections on the social media site — was first leaked to the public by a relatively unknown blog and subsequently made viral through the now-defunct SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh Facebook page.
The son of Progress Singapore Party (PSP) member and PM Lee’s brother Lee Hsien Yang wrote that “the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system”, which he noted referred to the constraints surrounding what the media is allowed to or able to report regarding the high-profile dispute of his paternal family.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) issued a public statement to local media saying that it was looking into the Facebook post by Dr Li, in which he questioned the independence of Singapore’s courts — in response to a media query by a media outlet which remains unknown till today.
On 21 July 2017, AGC sent a warning letter to Dr Li claiming that he made “false and baseless allegations” about the Singapore judiciary’s purported lack of independence.
The warning letter also requested him to “purge the contempt” by deleting the post from his Facebook page and other platforms, and asked him to “issue and post prominently” on his Facebook page a written apology and undertaking drafted by the AGC.
By 4 August 2018, the AGC filed an application in the High Court to commence committal proceedings against him for contempt of court, which was allowed by Justice Kannan.
In October, AGC then “ambushed” Dr Li with “court papers in public” whilst he was delivering a lecture in “Scott Kominers’ brilliant market design class” at Harvard University in United States.
Following this, Dr Li decided to challenge the court order that enabled the AGC to serve papers on him overseas.
In a 66-page judgement released last April, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by Dr Li to contest the court order which enabled the AGC to serve papers on him in the United States for contempt of court.
Earlier this year, Dr Li revealed that he is withdrawing from the proceedings. He claimed that the AGC applied to strike out parts of his own defence affidavit “with the result that they will not be considered at the trial”.
He also alleged that the AGC had “demanded that these parts be sealed in the court record, so that the public cannot know what the removed parts contain”.
Dr Li said that he will no longer “continue to participate in the proceedings against me”, as he “will not dignify the AGC’s conduct by my participation”.
While he said that he will “continue to be active on Facebook, and will continue to regard my friends-only Facebook posts as private”, he remarked that he had removed his cousin Li Hongyi from his Facebook friends list. Mr Li Hongyi is the son of Mr Lee Hsien Loong.
Dr Li may be issued a warrant of arrest and be placed under arrest if he returns to Singapore.