In a press release the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) took issue with Singapore High Court’s decision ordering blogger Roy Ngerng to pay damages to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong following a civil defamation suit, which the Prime Minister brought against the blogger in 2014.
ICJ a prominent international human rights organisation composed of 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world, said that the decision of the High Court constitutes a major blow for freedom of expression in Singapore.
The High Court had on 17 December 2015 ordered the blogger to pay a total of $150,000 in damages ($100,000 in general damages and $50,000 in aggravated damages) to the Prime Minister.
“Under international standards, individuals must not be the target of defamation actions over comments made about public figures, particularly where the subject matter is of public interest
“This decision sends a clear message that the people of Singapore are not in fact free to express their opinions about matters of public interest,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
ICJ said that the findings in this decision are inconsistent with international standards on freedom of opinion and expression that establish that pecuniary awards should be conferred only when non-pecuniary remedies, including apology, rectification and clarification are insufficient.
“The government’s ongoing use of defamation proceedings to silence critics is a deplorable practice that undermines the rule of law. It is very concerning to see measures imposed in the region that cast a chilling effect on freedom of expression of activists and human rights defenders,” Zarifi added.