Today: Will NMP sue poet for defamation? (Oct 31)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Will NMP sue poet for defamation?


HE THOUGHT she had made the police report which led to the cancellation of the “Pink Picnic”, a public event that had been planned by gay activists.

In his “flash of anger”, poet and playwright Alfian Sa’at shot off an angry email to Nominated Member of Parliament Professor Thio Li-ann early one morning in August.

Yesterday, Professor Thio denied that she was the person behind the August police report. In an email to the media, she said: “I have only made one police report in my lifetime and that was in relation to the hate email I received … This fact can be verified by the relevant authorities.”

Mr Alfian told TODAY that he “had heard and saw on a few blogs” alleging that it was Prof Thio who had called the police. He “shot off” the email after returning home from a night of clubbing. “If it was not her,
I had done her great wrong and I offer my public apology,” he said.

Prof Thio said: “Perhaps Mr Sa’at was over-zealous in relying on a misleading and unreliable information source, but he remains responsible for the abusive manner of his communication. However, as he has publicly apologised, I think we can all move ahead by learning to argue on substantive public issues in a civil fashion.”

The email was cited by Prof Thio in her speech in Parliament last week against the repealing of Section 377A of the Penal Code. She had described the email as being “full of vile and obscene invective”.

The 63-word email started off stating, “this is a personal note to you”. It then contained one four-letter word, accusations of “hate-mongering”, vows to urinate “on her grave” and was signed off “With love, Alfian”.

The email has since been removed from Mr Alfian’s personal blog but has resurfaced on at least two other websites.

Mr Alfian, 29, said he removed the email last week “on the advice from friends”.

Yesterday, Prof Thio raised “the issue of possible defamation” in her letter to the media. The National University of Singapore law professor said: “As his first email to me was prefaced, ‘This is a personal note to you’, no issue of libel arose then. However, as he has reproduced his email of Aug 12, 2007, addressed to me in the public forum of his blog, the issue of possible defamation now arises.”

Lawyers told TODAY that they have seen an increasing number of cases involving defamatory statements made in blogs. In this case, Harry Elias Partnership consultant Doris Chia said the email could lower Prof Thio’s reputation. Ms Chia noted, however, that the words were “phrased like an angry tirade. The question
is whether how many people will take his sayings seriously”.

Then, there is also the defence of fair comment.

Mr Adrian Tan, a partner at Drew and Napier, said: “The law allows everyone to express their views on public matters, even if those views involve strong language. All honestly-held views are protected, even views
which the general public might find offensive.” Defamation could also be considered a criminal matter under the Penal Code, where anyone guilty of criminal defamation may be jailed for two years, or with fine, or with both.
Yesterday, Prof Thio said she noted Mr Alfian’s public apology and how he had urged others not to follow his “reckless example”. “His current rejection of using hatemail tactics containing four-letter words and abusive language to intimidate people is to be welcomed,” she said.

Mr Alfian told TODAY: “For me, this matter is closed. I have taken down the post, apologised and it would not be productive to take this any further.”