Singapore PM’s nephew fined for criticizing judiciary online

SINGAPORE (AP) — A Singapore court has fined the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for criticizing the judiciary in a Facebook post two years ago amid a deepening family feud.

Li Shengwu said in reaction to the ruling that he worried about further suppression of free speech in Singapore.

In the 2017 posting, Li wrote “Singapore is very litigious and has a pliant court system” after his father and aunt engaged in a public spat with their older brother Prime Minister Lee over the fate of their family home.

The attorney-general initiated contempt of court proceedings, and the High Court agreed with prosecutors that Li’s posting “impugns the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.” A copy of Wednesday’s ruling was obtained by the Associated Press on Thursday.

Although it was a private post and Li later amended it, the court said the posting had by then been republished to the public and could undermine confidence in the administration of justice. The court ordered Li to pay the fine of Singapore dollars 15,000 ($10,900) within two weeks, failing which he will be jailed for a week.

It rejected Li’s argument that he was referring to how defamation laws were used to protect the reputation of government leaders. Li later withdrew from the court proceedings.

Li, an assistant economics professor at Harvard University who is based in the U.S., remained defiant.

“I disagree with the judgement, and worry that it will reinforce the PAP’s tendency to suppress ordinary political speech. In response to three words in a private Facebook post, the government has wasted three years of civil servants’ time,” he wrote in a response on Facebook.

PAP is the People’s Action Party co-founded by Li’s grandfather Lee Kuan Yew, who as Singapore’s first prime minister helped built the city-state into one of the richest nations.

After Lee Kuan Yew’s death in 2015, Prime Minister Lee was accused by his two younger siblings of abusing his power to stop them from demolishing the family home according to the wishes of their father. They accused him of seeking to preserve the house to maintain his own political popularity and legitimacy. Lee Hsien Loong said the government should be allowed to decide whether to maintain the house as part of the nation’s heritage and that he had no role in the decision.

Li’s father, Lee Hsien Yang, campaigned for the opposition in Singapore’s general election earlier this month, saying the PAP had turned into an elitist party with no checks and balances. The PAP won enough to maintain majority rule but ceded more seats to the opposition.

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