Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has asserted that he is “entitled to vindicate my reputation” and that he gave blogger Leong Sze Hian “a reasonable opportunity to apologise,” for allegedly defaming him, in court documents seen by TODAY.
PM Lee filed a defamation claim against Mr Leong, for sharing on Facebook an article alleging that PM Lee played a part in laundering money from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The article, which was not written by Leong, garnered 22 reactions, five comments and 18 shares.
Mr Leong is fighting the claims against him in court and also filed a counterclaim against PM Lee for “abusing the process of the court in bringing the claim against me.” PM Lee’s lawyer Davinder Singh applied to strike out the counterclaim by Leong, before Mr Leong applied to strike out PM Lee’s original defamation claim against him.
Justice Aedit Abdullah heard the striking out applications by both parties and has reserved judgment. A written judgment will be delivered at an unspecified date.
In an affidavit that was part of the documents filed in response to Mr Leong’s counterclaim, PM Lee said that because Mr Leong “had a widespread following” on Facebook and because the Facebook post was set to “public”, the libelous article could have been seen by “all Facebook users and the public in Singapore at large”.
PM Lee wrote: “The libel was a very serious one and went to the heart of whether I am fit to be the Prime Minister of Singapore.” Stressing that the article was “false and baseless and contained very grave allegations made against me,” he added:
“They attacked my integrity and sought to undermine my reputation and standing.
“These allegations were all the more serious because they were made against me in my capacity as the Prime Minister of Singapore and had the potential to cause serious harm to me in the discharge of my functions in office.”
On Mr Leong’s Facebook post, PM Lee said that “it is clear from objective facts” that a significant number of people in Singapore, beyond Mr Leong’s Facebook friends or followers, would have had access to the post and/or the article.
He further argued that the access to the article was by no means “minimal” or “inconsequential”, as Mr Leong has claimed, since Mr Leong himself claimed to have a “wide readership among Singaporeans and in Singapore” and because his Facebook posts “discusses issues that relate to Singapore and Singaporeans”.
PM Lee also took issue with the fact that Mr Leong refused to apologise or sign an undertaking that he would not make any such similar allegations. He wrote:
“Instead, he has used this suit to wage a public campaign to gain sympathy and support. In the process, he has cynically drawn attention to the article to keep it fresh in the minds of people in Singapore.”
“As an individual who has been falsely defamed, I am entitled to vindicate my reputation. I gave (Mr Leong) a reasonable opportunity to apologise and to resolve the matter. He refused to do so.”
“While anyone, including the defendant, is entitled to criticise me or my policies, no one has the right to falsely defame.”
Pointing out that he “did not sue the defendant,” in “all (the) time” that Mr Leong had written “a large number” of articles criticising government policies, PM Lee continued:
“This time, however, he has falsely defamed me and has impugned my integrity and reputation. He will have every opportunity to defend himself when he takes the stand to be cross-examined. I hope he takes that opportunity and will not go into hiding again.”
Some Singaporeans have noted that PM Lee’s actions against Mr Leong stands in sharp contrast to his decision to refrain from suing his siblings, Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, for defamation when they leveled allegations of abuse of power against him.
Singaporeans have asked PM Lee to extend the same leeway he gave to his siblings to Mr Leong: