Court rejects bid for protection order by former chairman of Hainan clan association

SINGAPORE – A bid by the former chairman of the Hainan Hwee Kwan for a protection order against another clan member has been rejected, with a judge saying it was reasonable for the member to have made critical Facebook posts about him.

Mr Foo Jong Peng had applied for the order against Mr Wee Teck Hwa, arguing that the latter had intended to cause harassment, alarm or distress by repeatedly posting about him on the social media site.

But District Judge Peter Lo said in his oral decision last month that Mr Wee’s actions were reasonable and it was unlikely that the Facebook posts would have been widely seen by the public.

Mr Foo is current chairman of company Kheng Chiu Tin Hou Kong and Burial Ground (THK), which is the financial arm of the Hwee Kwan. He is represented by lawyers Chung Ting Fai and Charmian Ong.

Mr Wee is a member of both the THK and the clan association, and is represented by lawyer M. Ravi.

He had repeatedly posted on Facebook a photograph of a 2012 article in evening newspaper Lianhe Wanbao about Mr Foo’s extramarital affair with a fellow director.

On various occasions, he had also posted a document showing that Mr Foo had been declared bankrupt in 1992. The latter was discharged of his status some time between 1995 and 1996.

Mr Wee had also made a single Facebook post about correspondence with a person named “Lawyer Cheng”, which set out a list of dates and individuals with whom Mr Foo had quarrels.

The correspondence also included claims that Mr Foo was “a stupid fool” and the THK had never been peaceful since he stepped in.

In his oral decision, of which a record was issued on Monday (Feb 1), District Judge Lo noted that the repeated and frequent posting of the Lianhe Wanbao article and Mr Foo’s bankruptcy status “could be said to likely cause (Mr Foo) some degree of alarm or distress”.

But Mr Wee’s actions were reasonable, as the THK had not held any elections since 2012 or annual general meetings (AGMs) since 2013, through which he could have aired his grievances about Mr Foo, said the judge.

Mr Foo had claimed that the lack of elections and AGMs was due to an outstanding dispute currently pending in the High Court.

District Judge Lo also said: “I am of the view that as chairman of the company and a leader in the Hainanese community, it would be reasonable for (Mr Foo) to expect that he would be subject to criticism from others in the community.”

On the post about the correspondence with “Lawyer Cheng”, the judge said the statement alleging that Mr Foo was “a stupid fool” was not sufficient to have caused any harassment, alarm or distress to the chairman.

He also did not find the remaining parts of the post threatening, abusive or insulting.

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Among other things, the judge said that there was no evidence as to the actual extent to which the Facebook posts were known to the public.

“With (Mr Wee) only having a limited number of Facebook friends… even if the Facebook posts were set to be viewable by the public, it was not likely that members of the general public would stumble upon the posts unless they were being searched for specifically,” he added, noting that Mr Wee’s Facebook contacts numbered around 200 or more.

There was also no evidence submitted by Mr Foo to support his allegation that he had been “receiving endless calls from relatives, friends, acquaintances and even a minister to explain the past as well as updates of the case”, said District Judge Lo.

In a statement to The Straits Times, Mr Wee said he was pleased by the decision and heartened that his criticisms were found by the court to be fair and reasonable.

He was also grateful to his lawyer for agreeing to take on the case for a token fee, given his financial situation.

Mr Foo’s lawyers said their client is appealing against the decision.

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