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"Wall Street Journal Asia" found in contempt of court and fined

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns a Singapore high court ruling on 25 November 2008 finding the Hong Kong-based "Wall Street Journal Asia" in contempt of court and fining it 25,000 Singapore dollars (approx.12,700 euros) for publishing two editorials and a letter by an opposition leader questioning the country's judicial system. The newspaper is owned by Dow Jones & Co.

"Even if the fine is not colossal, the ruling very clearly shows that Singapore's judges have no intention of letting the foreign media express themselves freely about the country's judicial system, which is lacking in independence," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Another Dow Jones publication, the 'Far Eastern Economic Review', has also been prosecuted in Singapore," Reporters Without Borders added. "The way this company is being hounded by the government and judicial system - which takes its orders from Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - is utterly deplorable. We urge the Singaporean authorities to stop prosecuting foreign news media."

A Dow Jones spokesman told Reporters Without Borders: "Dow Jones is extremely disappointed with the ruling of the high court and strongly disagrees with the court's analysis that the editorials and letter to the editor constitute contempt of court. Also, contrary to what the attorney general has alleged, the 'Wall Street Journal Asia' has not engaged in a 'campaign' of any sort against the Singapore judiciary. We will in the future continue to defend the right of the 'Wall Street Journal Asia' to report and comment on matters of international importance, including matters concerning Singapore."

The prosecution was brought by the attorney general, who said the editorials and the letter, published in June and July "impugned the integrity, impartiality and independence of the Singapore judiciary."

In his verdict, a copy of which has been obtained by Reporters Without Borders, judge Tay Yong Kwang said that some of the passages had outraged the country's judges and that "words sometimes mean more than what they appear to say on the surface."

Denying any illegal intent on the part of the newspaper, its lawyer, Philip Jeyaretnam, said it had simply wanted to inform a readership that knew the difference between information and criticism.

The letter was written by Chee Soon Juan, one of the leading members of the Singaporean opposition. It was an article about Chee that led the prime minister and his father, Lee Kuan Yew, to sue the "Far Eastern Economic Review". The high court ruled at the end of September that the magazine had libelled the Lees and ordered it to pay damages. The size of the damages award has not been released.

Updates the "Wall Street Journal Asia" case: http://www.ifex.org/alrtlrtlrtlrts/content/view/full/97154

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