30 November 2013

Alex Au's Cell Block Tango: "He had it coming"

As you may know, the Attorney-General's Chambers has initiated contempt of court proceedings against the blogger Alex Au. In addition, there is a statement calling the AGC to drop its case against the author of Yawning Bread, signed by prominent activists, online news journalists, academics, artists -- and other assorted poseurs.

Fair disclosure: I was approached to sign this. On a strictly professional level, I offered my services to edit an early draft of the text. On a personal level, I have not signed this statement and do not intend to.

I do not believe Alex Au's case warrants a campaign against the AGC. Nor should it galvanise Au's supporters to make hysterical, unseemly, and unhelpful comments about an "Operation Coldweb" that are sure to damage the integrity of the judicial process in the eyes of the public.

Simply put, Alex Au had it coming.

I have been blogging since 2003. Alex Au has been been writing online since 1996, back when Yawning Bread was a website and not quite a blog. Over these 10 years (and 10 years is a long time to get to know someone just from their writings alone), we know Alex Au to be, on occasion, an irresponsible, intemperate writer itching for a fight with the authorities over real or imagined slights, whipping up campaigns of manufactured outrage. And we have called him out on that time after time, over the years.

There was that time when Alex Au incited readers in a mailing list not to bother with civility or respect when dealing with the Christian Right in Singapore, and pretended he said the complete opposite when asked by the press. There was that time when Alex Au organised a Facebook campaign to boycott DBS for donating to the Focus on the Family charity. And another time when Alex Au organised a hate campaign against the National Volunteer and Philanthropic Centre (you know, the one where the good Mr Gilbert Goh's Transitioning.org has its offices!), claiming the NGO was either led by Christian fundamentalists, actually not independent at all, or financially suspect.

We could go on but I hope you get the idea. Alex Au is the sort of blogger who is reasonable and responsible on the whole, and then on occasion transforms into the poster child of the Nasty Internet that the ministers keep trotting out whenever they urge for more online regulation.

How a simple, commonplace judicial procedure that happens all the time in every other country, rescheduling court hearing dates so cases and judgements don't contradict each other, gets turned into a conspiracy theory ascribing ulterior motives to the sitting judge -- you have to really hand it to Alex Au.

So of course there is now a legal test: the case is now before the supreme court to decide whether, in this day and age, the judiciary can be scandalised, given the exact words Alex Au used in his article.

Alex Au had it coming. And I have no doubt he wanted it this way. And if the petitioners really believe that Singaporeans are mature enough to discuss judicial procedures without scandalising the court, they ought to give the court credit for being mature enough to decide that. Shouldn't they?

[Addendum, 2 December 2013: It is important to note that the Supreme court has granted the AGC leave to initiate a contempt of court suit against Alex Au. To date, the AGC has not filed the suit against Alex Au, although the proceedings began with their application for leave to the Supreme Court.

Hopefully the several people whom Alex Au claims are "keen on raising funds to help defray my costs" have not actually begun to raise funds. To do so would be most improper. For Alex Au to mention all those details about raising funds while neglecting to admit that the AGC has not yet taken action against him (and may never) despite being granted permission by the Supreme Court is typical of Alex's failings.]