Singapore fines `Trib' for slur

Singapore - The High Court imposed heavy fines on an American professor and officials of the International Herald Tribune yesterday after finding them guilty of contempt.

Goh Joon Seng handed out Singapore's stiffest combined fines in a contempt case over an article in the Tribune on 7 October which criticised unnamed Asian judiciaries. The judge had "no doubt" the offending passage "referred to, and was intended by [author] Christopher Lingle to refer to Singapore".

The attorney general, Chan Sek Keong, said the case was never about free speech or intimidation, but about protecting the reputation of the judiciary. "This case has been reported as the action taken by me to suppress freedom of speech. Lingle sees it asan attempt to intimidate him. It is nothing of the kind. He has simply committed contempt of court by alleging the judiciary is compliant."

Lingle, an American academic who has returned to the US, was fined Singapore $10,000(£4,540). His opinion piece referred to "intolerant regimes in the region", some of which, he wrote, relied "upon a compliant judiciary to bankrupt opposition politicians". It was argued that was a slur on Singapore, since gove rnment politicians are known for suing opposition figures for defamation.

Michael Richardson, the Asia editor, was fined S$5,000(£2,270), and Richard McClean, the Paris-based publisher, S$2,500 (£1,135). The local distributor, International Herald Tribune (Singapore), and printer, Singapore Press Holdings, were each fined S$1,500 (£681). Costs were awarded against all five, who have two weeks to pay.

Comment, page 18