Saturday, November 8, 2014

Freedom in Singapore doesn't mean freedom from responsibility and liability

Refer to this news and what the defense lawyer Mr. Ravi used as material to help the defendant. He invoked Article 14 of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression to try to defend Roy's action in the libel/slander case.

I guess defense lawyer will try to invoke the rights of freedom of expression as a shield in most cases of libel/slander. I guess for common person, we will all fall trap to the misconception about Freedom of Expression/Speech and other freedom prescribed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The misconception is that, "It is all right to curtail other people's freedom but not our own".

So, is it all right to speak with mischief, malice, ill-intent, hatred, bully, malign, and other vile intent (just to preserve your rights) to destroy the life of others (or curtailing the rights and freedom of others)? Bear in mind I'm referring to the question in general (not just in Roy's case).

There are several examples of individual freedom versus other people's (or public) freedom:
  1. Freedom to move and reside. A group of people decided to park their butts in front of your house, wandered around, and made tents. Their rights however encroached and curtailed other people's rights. Similarly, how about an individual decided to scale your property wall and entered your house just to invoke his rights to freedom of movement to the judge/jury when he is pressed with intrusion (for paparazzi)/trespassing (for robbers) charges?
  2. Freedom to express/speak. In major religion, there is a prohibition/warning about the danger of speaking with ill-intention or malice (or rumour and slander). Such "freedom" had been known to start wars, killed innocents, and sacrificed plenty. Is it all right to speak untruthfully (without fact/evidence) and malice to degrade and harm someone? Is individual rights more precious than others? Is there no responsibility? To be more specific, is freedom to express free us from responsibility/liability as well?
  3. If human basic rights provide freedom of movement, most of the prison inmates including dangerous murderers, rapists, and war criminals shouldn't be locked up against their will. They have their rights! How about freedom of individuals with Ebola being prevented from flying to other countries (note that they are being quarantined against their will and against their basic human rights)? Aren't their freedom being curtailed?
  4. Freedom to express. When a friend was killed in an accident, a mob of people expressed their anger (freedom of expression?) that ended up a riot with damaged properties (but fortunately no casualties). In this case, are their rights to express freely justifiable to removing the rights of residents and property owners to a peaceful and safe environment? 
If we allow the rights of certain people to be preserved but cared less about the rights of other people, then what will happen next will only be disorder and disregard for the law (and logic). If the Western press who are protected by rights to express freely can end up paying millions to several celebrities, politicians and others, then it is not surprising that Roy will have to bear the responsibility for his action too. He was given the chance to minimize the damage, but he insisted to charge forward to be accounted for his action.

As for the CPF issue, to my knowledge (in "pre-Roy" time), it had been an ongoing work by opposition and ruling parties to deal with the issue involving feedback from contributors (pertaining to several discontents). The debate had been professional and there was none so stupid or audacious as Roy to insinuate a misappropriation in CPF (which is totally unrelated to this prior works). I think it was a mischief gone wrong...  I guess the Malay proverb rings true here, "kerana mulut (or blog) badan binasa" (or bad repercussion from "slip of tongue"). Also, "Better the foot slip than the tongue ". Fortunately, there had and will always be freedom of speech/expression, but it is never too far away from responsibilities.

I would like to point out that whatever changes pertaining to CPF (seen during Roy saga) is the result from hardwork of thinking opposition party (for several years) and cooperation from ruling and not by mere blogger who stuck his head in and ended up in libel/slander. The real people who worked out the CPF issues are the ones who sat and thought before speaking out. It is unfair that Roy is getting the credit for things he did not participate in. Isn't it akin to "spiritual adviser" making a "rain dance" and later got credit for the subsequent rain that was the result of cloud seeding?

Just a thought.

Update: Keypoint (of this entry) is that freedom of expression is not free from responsibility/liability (in general sense).

Opposition party hard work on CPF issues (random picks)
  1. Speech on CPF (Amendment) Bill – MP Png Eng Huat (12 Nov 2013)
  2. MP Sylvia Lim’s Budget 2012 Speech
  3. Speech by Low Thia Khiang on CPF changes, 18 Sep 07

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