SINGAPORE: The chief editor of alternative news website The Online Citizen and a writer for the platform successfully appealed to have their jail terms for criminal defamation replaced with fines on Thursday (May 4).
Terry Xu Yuanchen, 40, was given a fine of S$8,000 instead of the original three weeks’ jail for defaming members of the Cabinet of Singapore.
This was for approving the publication of a letter in September 2018 that alleged “corruption at the highest echelons”.
The writer of the letter, 39-year-old Daniel De Costa Augustin, was given a fine of S$10,000 to replace his jail term of three weeks.
However, he will still go to jail as he was given three months’ jail for one count of unauthorised access to an email account not belonging to him, which he used to submit the article.
The pair also appealed against their convictions, but this was dismissed by Justice Aedit Abdullah.
Justice Abdullah said the sentence of three weeks’ jail for criminal defamation was “manifestly excessive”.
He said there was a difference in gravity between saying the Cabinet members were corrupt, and saying the members had allowed corruption to infect the establishment or the elite in Singapore through their incompetence.
The defamation here referred to the latter, and should be reflected in the sentence, he said.
De Costa was represented by Mr Chung Ting Fai, who successfully asked for a deferment in the sentence.
Xu did not appear in court. His lawyer, Mr Remy Choo, confirmed with CNA that Xu is in Taiwan. He had served three weeks’ jail in April 2022 when he was sentenced by a district court.
Justice Abdullah fixed a further hearing for Mr Choo to confirm with Xu on whether he would choose to have the time served to be taken as the two weeks’ jail in default for the S$8,000 fine, or if he wants to pay the fine.