SINGAPORE, Aug 1 — Lawyer Charles Yeo Yao Hui, the former chairman of Reform Party, has failed to return to Singapore from the United Kingdom after he was granted permission by the court to travel to Vietnam to meet a witness for work.

His travel period was meant to be from July 27 to 30, and he did not tell his lawyers that he would go elsewhere thereafter, they told TODAY on Monday (Aug 1).

One of them, Ashwin Ganapathy from IRB Law, added that he will be making an application to discharge himself as Yeo’s defence counsel.

Yeo, 31, faces six criminal charges in Singapore. The witness he met in Vietnam was unrelated to his case.

In a series of Instagram Stories on his account “protectallminoritylivesinsg”, he posted that he is seeking political asylum in the UK and that it was a “very painful and difficult decision for me to make”.

When he was first charged in January, he had indicated that he wanted to contest his charges. They are:

• One count of uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of another under the Penal Code

• Two counts of attempting to do so

• Three counts of making abusive, threatening or insulting communication towards a public servant under the Protection from Harassment Act

He was also one of two people arrested in January over allegedly committing criminal breach of trust and forgery in relation to his law firm’s clients. He has not yet been charged over these allegations.

He is accused of making remarks on his Instagram and Facebook accounts to wound the feelings of the Christian community on three occasions — Nov 13 in 2020 as well as on Feb 23 and 26 in 2021.

Court documents stated that through his actions, he caused or attempted to cause the posts “to be seen by Christians who view homosexuality as contrary to their religious beliefs”.

Before that, he posted a series of Instagram Stories on his now-defunct account “toxicstatenarrativeinsg” on Nov 3 in 2020 and Jan 11 in 2021 aimed at a police officer who had been carrying out his duties. An Instagram Story is a slideshow of photos or videos that will disappear 24 hours after it is uploaded.

Court documents identified the police officer as Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Jonathan Auyong. The documents also carried screenshots of Yeo’s posts, including an online article about DSP Auyong.

After he was charged, Yeo alleged that he was “facing a swamp of politically motivated persecution aimed at imprisoning or exiling me”.

This was similar to allegations that he had made when he was arrested for purported criminal breach of trust. The police later responded that their investigations were not politically motivated, nor “trumped up” for political reasons.

In his most recent Instagram Stories, he wrote that he did not think he would get a fair trial in Singapore and also apologised to his lawyers, Ganapathy and Azri Tan.

“I believe that if the court was impartial, they would be able to vindicate me easily but I don’t think even the best lawyer can do anything in politically motivated cases,” Yeo said.

He also said he had obtained an interim practising certificate in the past five months, which was “what kept me going or I would have probably sought asylum long ago”.

The Ministry of Law’s website shows that he is currently a legal assistant at S K Kumar Law Practice LLP.

Yeo added on Instagram that his girlfriend, close friends and lawyers were not aware of his decision to seek asylum. He also claimed that he “did not embezzle a single cent”.

Last week, the Court of Appeal ordered Yeo to pay S$4,000 (RM12,920) in personal costs to the Attorney-General for acting improperly in filing applications to challenge the death sentences of two drug traffickers in February.

A three-judge panel said: “As a qualified lawyer of four years’ standing, he should have known that it was his duty to determine whether there was any proper case to put forward to the court — he could not just act willy-nilly on the basis of his clients’ instructions or desires.”

After his arrest in January, Yeo offered to step down as chairman of Reform Party until the matter was resolved. — TODAY