Singapore’s highest court Tuesday suspended human rights lawyer M. Ravi for five years over comments criticizing the city-state’s attorney general, the maximum sentence possible. A prominent human rights lawyer who is known internationally for representing death-row inmates in Singapore, Ravi has spent the better part of his 20-year career advocating for human rights and access to justice.
After helping a client avoid the death penalty in 2020, Ravi claimed that the Attorney General (AG) was “overzealous” in prosecuting his client during an interview for an online publication. Instead of apologizing or retracting his statements, as requested in a letter AG sent to Ravi, he posted the letter on Facebook, saying that he was “entitled to [his] criticisms of the unfairness associated to the miscarriage of justice.” He also threatened to sue the Law Society of Singapore if did not protect the independence of lawyers or participated in any ongoing harassment against him.
In response, the AG filed a complaint with the Law Society. Ravi was initially held responsible and ordered to pay a $6,000 penalty for making “baseless” accusations. Eventually, the case reached the Singapore Court of Appeal, the country’s highest court.
Given Ravi’s history of similar disciplinary behaviour and the “aggravated” circumstances of this case, the Court of Appeal found it appropriate to impose the maximum sanction since his misconduct has actively undermined “public confidence in the integrity of the legal system and legal profession.” In imposing the maximum sanction, the court held:
The whole tenor of Mr Ravi’s arguments at the hearing made it evident that he viewed himself as a victim of what he believed to be a dishonourable system that tolerated the improper abuse of prosecutorial power by the AG et al, the abnegation of duty by the court to initiate the review process, and the need to contend with the “sword of Damocles” that the AG and the Law Society had set over him during the course of his representation in the Gobi (Review) proceedings and over the legal profession at large. Within this allegedly unjust and oppressive system, Mr Ravi cast himself as someone who was simply “zealously pursuing … [his] cause [and] the oath [he had] taken to the rule of law”.
Malaysian rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has publicly condemned the Law Society for staying silent and failing to protect one of their own in the face of harassment and intimidation. LFL also warned Ravi’s suspension would have devastating impacts on the rights of many Malaysian death-row inmates.
Commenting on his suspension, Ravi says he has “no regrets” because he managed to save “at least one life.”