SINGAPORE: A court docket on Wednesday (Mar 24) ordered blogger Leong Sze Hian to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong S$133,000 for defaming him in a Fb put up.
Mr Leong had shared an article by Malaysian web site The Protection in a public Fb put up in November 2018. The article, which was posted with no accompanying caption, alleged that Mr Lee had helped former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak launder cash in relation to scandal-hit Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Growth Berhad.
Justice Aedit Abdullah discovered that Mr Leong couldn’t “reasonably claim that the defamatory words did not impugn (Mr Lee’s) character”. The phrases counsel that Mr Lee was, “at the very least, involved in serious and dishonest criminal activity”.
He discovered that Mr Leong had “published” the article as a result of it was a part of his Fb put up, being hyperlinked to it, and since Mr Leong had made it accessible.
A complete of 45 folks responded to Mr Leong’s Fb put up containing the hyperlink to the article, and the privateness settings of the put up have been set to public, mentioned the choose.
He dominated that the Safety from On-line Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) doesn’t alter the regulation of defamation in Singapore, as contested by Mr Leong and his lawyer Lim Tean.
Mr Leong had contended that POFMA has a direct and vital influence on defamation, as a person shouldn’t be capable of bypass POFMA and sue in defamation if the previous permits for it.
In distinction, Mr Lee and his lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, argued that POFMA is separate from and has not modified the regulation of defamation in Singapore.
Justice Abdullah discovered that POFMA is worried with falsehoods relatively than the hurt brought about to status, and meant to keep away from or minimise harm to the nation and its folks, or public confidence within the Authorities and its businesses endangered by on-line falsehoods.
“However, the POFMA does not provide individuals with any right or cause of action arising from a false and defamatory allegation against them. This is a key distinction,” he mentioned.
The choose rejected Mr Leong’s arguments that the lawsuit towards him was an abuse of course of.
Mr Lee had requested for damages according to the case of Roy Ngerng, the place S$150,000 was awarded. Mr Leong’s lawyer requested as a substitute to pay damages as little as S$1.
READ: PM Lee v Leong Sze Hian defamation go well with: Blogger declines to take stand, lawyer says there isn’t any case to reply
Justice Abdullah didn’t discover the identical extent of “significant malice and aggravation” as in Mr Ngerng’s case, however mentioned the defamatory assertion in Mr Leong’s case is worse: That Mr Lee was concerned within the “defalcation of the funds belonging to the citizens of another country, in cooperation with the leader of that country”.
“For that reason, I would find that despite the lower reach, an award of S$100,000 in general damages was warranted. However, as for the quantum of aggravated damages, there was a more limited basis to award such damages on the instant facts, and it would thus suffice to award roughly a third of the general damages, or about S$33,000, for a total quantum of S$133,000,” he mentioned.
In response to queries from CNA, Mr Lee’s press secretary mentioned the matter has been determined by the choose and the Prime Minister has nothing additional so as to add.
Lawyer Lim Tean commented on Fb concerning the resolution, saying it was “wrong and deeply flawed” and that he was “disappointed” by the end result.
He mentioned he would talk about with Mr Leong and advise him on his choices after the judgment.
CNA has contacted Mr Leong for remark.
WHAT HAPPENED AT TRIAL
Through the trial, which spanned a number of days in October final yr, Mr Leong claimed that the Prime Minister was selecting on him for his function as a staunch Authorities critic by singling him out for defamation.
In response, Mr Lee mentioned on the stand that Mr Leong was not essentially the most vocal nor simplest critic of the Singapore Authorities. He mentioned Mr Leong had been “a thorn in our side in a small way for a very long time”, however mentioned he was entitled to his criticism.
“And our answer to that is – in the end, put it to the test. The test of the ballot. Persuade Singaporeans, see if they support you, or the Government. And indeed it was put to the test in the recent General Election: When the defendant and yourself (Mr Lim) contested in Jalan Besar GRC and won 35 per cent of the vote. So that’s the answer,” mentioned Mr Lee.
READ: Lee Hsien Loong v Leong Sze Hian defamation trial: Lim Tean questions PM Lee on why he selected to sue solely Leong
Mr Lim repeatedly questioned Mr Lee about why he selected to sue solely Mr Leong though many others had shared the identical offending article.
In response, Mr Lee mentioned that he needed to take the accusation towards him “very seriously” as Prime Minister and shield his personal status and standing. His lawyer Mr Singh objected to questions on why Mr Lee had not sued the States Instances Overview, which carried the offending article or its editor, citing litigation privilege.
Below this privilege, Mr Lee was not required to element what he mentioned together with his lawyer, however he advised the court docket that he made the choice to sue Mr Leong after he noticed folks share the article and following discussions together with his lawyer.
When the flip got here for Mr Leong to resolve whether or not he would take the witness stand, he declined. His lawyer mentioned there was no case to reply, and this prompted Mr Lee’s lawyer to say that the blogger had “turned tail” from the battle.
Mr Lim mentioned on the time that the Prime Minister’s case was “so frivolous and vexatious and abusive that we are not calling any evidence for the defence”.
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