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Resolution adopted without a vote by the IPU Council
at its 170th session (Marrakech, 23 March 2002)

The Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union,

Having before it the case of Mr. Joshua Jeyaretnam, a former opposition member of the Parliament of Singapore, which has been the subject of a study and report of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians in accordance with the "Procedure for the examination and treatment, by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, of communications concerning violations of human rights of parliamentarians",

Taking note of the report of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, which contains a detailed outline of the case (CL/170/13.c(ii)-R.1),

Considering that Mr. Jeyaretnam was first elected in 1981 when he won a by-election and became the first opposition member in over 15 years; he was re-elected in 1984 but lost his seat in 1986 as a result of a criminal conviction, which the Privy Council deemed grievously unjust, and was barred from standing for election until 1997, when he ran and was returned as a non constituency member of Parliament representing one of the three opposition members out of the 85 members of the Singapore Parliament; considering that the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians examined his case in relation with the following judicial proceedings:

  • In 1984, Mr. Jeyaretnam was convicted on a charge of fraudulent use of funds belonging to his party, the Workers' Party; owing to the conviction, he lost his parliamentary seat and was debarred from the Law Society of Singapore; Mr. Jeyaretnam took the case to the Privy Council in London with respect to his debarment from the Law Society; in October 1988, the Privy Council concluded that Mr. Jeyaretnam had suffered grievous injustice and been found guilty of offences he had not committed; despite that ruling, the President of Singapore rejected Mr. Jeyaretnam's pardon petition in May 1989, primarily on the ground that "he had not expressed any sense of remorse, contrition or repentance in respect of the crimes for which he was convicted";
  • Shortly after the 1997 election, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister Gho Chok Tong and other senior members of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) filed suits against Mr. Jeyaretnam alleging that he had defamed them at an election rally by saying the words "And finally, Mr. Tang Liang Hong has just placed before me two reports he has made to the police against, you know, Mr. Goh Chok Tong and his people"; Tang Liang Hong, a fellow parliamentary candidate, had filed a police report alleging that the PAP leadership had defamed him during the campaign by publicly labelling him an "anti-Christian, Chinese chauvinist"; in his suit against Mr. Jeyaretnam, the Prime Minister was awarded S$ 20,000, increased on appeal to S$ 100,000 plus full costs; in 1998, the Prime Minister began bankruptcy proceedings against Mr. Jeyaretnam but later agreed to accept payment of the damages awarded to him in instalments; in December 2000, Goh Chok Tong's co-plaintiffs, including Lee Kuan Yew and other PAP members, took steps to revive their 1997 suits; in July 2001 Mr. Jeyaretnam's appeal for a dismissal of these libel actions was turned down;
  • An article published in 1995 in the Workers' Party newspaper alleged that an event called the "Tamil Language Week" was an ineffective means of advancing Tamil language and that a number of those involved in its organisation were political opportunists; the article resulted in two libel suits against the author of the article, Mr. Jeyaretnam as editor and members of the Workers' Party Central Committee; in the first suit, involving Minister of Foreign Affairs S. Jayakumar and four other PAP MPs, the defendants agreed to apologise publicly and to pay S$ 200,000 in damages. In February 1998, after paying S$ 100,000, the defendants were unable to make further payments and the plaintiffs did not pursue the matter at the time; the second suit was lodged by Indra Krishnan and nine other members of the Tamil Language Week organising committee, one of whom is now a PAP MP; although the author admitted that he was wholly responsible for the article, the High Court awarded the ten plaintiffs S$ 265,000 in damages and S$ 250,000 costs jointly against all the defendants; two of the plaintiffs then began bankruptcy proceedings against Mr. Jeyaretnam alone, but were paid off in instalments; subsequently, the remaining eight plaintiffs also started bankruptcy proceedings against Mr. Jeyaretnam and, one day after he failed to pay an agreed instalment in January 2001, he was declared bankrupt; on 16 July 2001, Mr. Jeyaretnam offered to pay off the remaining damages in three further instalments; Mr. Jeyaretnam's final appeal against that bankruptcy order was rejected by the Court of Appeal on 23 July 2001; on the strength of Articles 45.1b and 46.2e of the Constitution, Mr. Jeyaretnam was thus automatically removed from Parliament; his name was officially struck from the Singapore parliamentary roll on 25 July 2001 and he will be barred from standing for the next elections if he fails to repay the creditors;
  • Mr. Jeyaretnam's failure to pay the agreed instalment to Indra Krishnan and her fellow parliamentarians by one day in January 2001 is largely due to a petition by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Jayakumar and the four other PAP plaintiffs; after making no demands since receiving a third instalment towards their S$ 200,000 award in 1998, those plaintiffs applied successfully to the courts in December 2000 to seize a sum of S$ 66,666.66 awarded to Mr. Jeyaretnam in a lawsuit he had brought against a lawyer who owed him costs. Mr. Jeyaretnam intended to use that sum to pay the instalment due on 2 January 2001; the Minister of Foreign Affairs pressed Mr. Jeyaretnam alone for payment of outstanding damages, and not the other Workers' Party defendants;
  • Mr. Jeyaretnam and the international observer of the appeal court hearings in July 2001 point out that the Appeal Court did not address the most important argument advanced by Mr. Jeyaretnam, namely abuse of process; as Mr. Jeyaretnam argued in his appeal, pushing him into bankruptcy would only ensure no further payments, and that consequently the only purpose of the Krishnan bankruptcy proceedings was to remove him from public office by disqualifying him from continuing as a Member of Parliament; in his report, the trial observer referred to extensive Commonwealth jurisprudence to the effect that courts have the discretion to dismiss a petition if it is brought for collateral or improper purpose; moreover, as regards the application of Mr. Jayakumar and others to garnish money awarded to Mr. Jeyaretnam, the sources point out that the money had been due since February 1998 and that none of the judgment creditors had taken any action to recover it; moreover, one of the defendants in the case was more likely to be able to pay the sum since he earned S$ 12,000 a month, as against Mr. Jeyaretnam's S$ 1,600;
  • In a press release of 3 September 2001, Mr. Jeyaretnam stated that Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was now demanding that he pay the outstanding balance of the sum awarded to him in August 1997; moreover, Mr. Jayakumar and the other plaintiffs in the Krishnan case have filed proof of debt for the balance due to them, claiming it only from him and not from the other defendants in that case;
  • The authorities, in particular the Minister of Law, have observed that Singaporeans enjoy freedom of speech but that, as in other countries, it was subject to the law of the land. Even foreigners had noted that Singaporeans expressed critical views of the Government. The two elected opposition MPs were making fierce speeches in Parliament. However, there was no international standard for free speech and the limits of tolerance varied from country to country. Even the common law approach as to whether the words uttered would "lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society in general" was applied differently in common law countries because of different levels of tolerance; moreover, Singaporeans, both politicians and non-politicians, guard their reputation and honour zealously, "otherwise, untruths will linger in people's minds"; the authorities have also stressed the independence of the Singapore judiciary stating that: "Many seek legal redress before our Courts knowing that they receive a fair trial. Our Courts' and Singapore's adherence to the Rule of Law have earned top marks in international polls, surveys and rankings conducted by reputable bodies such as the World Economic Forum, Heritage Foundation and the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy";
  • As regards the proceedings in question, they maintain that the Krishnan case was "really a private matter between Mr. Jeyaretnam and ten private citizens who felt that they had been defamed …"; they pointed out that the plaintiffs can take action against any of the defendants as their liability is joint and several and that there was nothing to prevent the other two defendants in this case from paying the judgment debt; in their view, "it is quite natural for the Plaintiffs to go against Mr. Jeyaretnam who is the editor of the official Party publication, The Hammer, which published the offending article. In addition, Mr. Jeyaretnam is Secretary-General of the Workers' Party;" as regards the dismissal of Mr. Jeyaretnam's final appeal, they have specified that: "The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr. Jeyaretnam's appeal because the bankruptcy court's decision to make the bankruptcy order was correct in law. There was incontrovertible evidence produced at the bankruptcy court hearing to prove that Mr. Jeyaretnam was unable to pay his debts as they fell due, and thus ought to be made a bankrupt." The evidence, the Minister stated, "included a direct admission by Mr. Jeyaretnam's lawyers, when questioned by the Judge, that Mr. Jeyaretnam was unable to pay his debts"; they have moreover insisted that, if PAP members wanted to drive Mr. Jeyaretnam out of Parliament by making him a bankrupt, "they could have tried to do so earlier. The truth is that much forbearance and patience have been extended to Mr. Jeyaretnam. … Mr. Jeyaretnam’s problem is not that PAP leaders want to drive or keep him out of Parliament but that he makes wild allegations too readily",

Noting finally that in no single case has an opposition member in Singapore won a defamation suit in court; there were, as the authorities stated, instances when members of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) have been sued for defamation. Mr. Chiam See Tong, an opposition member since 1984, had successfully obtained damages for defamation from PAP members in three instances. In all three, the PAP members made public apologies before trial to Mr. Chiam See Tong, who then agreed to out-of-court settlements; according to Mr. Jeyaretnam, the Workers' Party brought a suit in 1972 against a PAP candidate who had accused the Party of having received S$ 600,000 from Malaysia, thus suggesting that the Party was acting in the interest of a foreign power; in 1981 Mr. Jeyaretnam brought action against Mr. Goh Chok Tong; although it found that the words were defamatory, the court dismissed the claim, arguing that they were fair comment and Mr. Jeyaretnam had not proven any damage, and ordered Mr. Jeyaretnam to pay the costs; a suit brought by a Workers' Party election candidate against the government newspaper Straits Times was dismissed on the ground that the plaintiff had not called any witness to prove that he was the person referred to in the incriminated publication,

  1. Thanks the authorities for the observations they have regularly provided;
  2. Stresses that freedom of speech constitutes one of the principal foundations of parliamentary democracy as it is a prerequisite for that debate and exchange of ideas which nurtures democracy;
  3. Affirms that in making the statement at an election rally found defamatory of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and others, Mr. Jeyaretnam merely exercised his right to freedom of speech; points out that, in the Krishnan case, he is not the author of the incriminating article; therefore cannot share the view of the authorities that, unlike PAP members, "he makes wild allegations too readily";
  4. Affirms that the right to the protection of one's honour and reputation is a fundamental right which the plaintiffs in question, like anyone else, were entitled to defend; considers nevertheless that the sequence and timing of the defamation and bankruptcy proceedings brought against Mr. Jeyaretnam suggest a clear intention to target him for the purpose of making him a bankrupt and thereby removing him from Parliament;
  5. Deeply regrets his removal from Parliament;
  6. Requests the Secretary General to convey this resolution to the authorities and to the sources.

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