Citing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s inaction in suing his siblings for defamation last year, award-winning cartoonist Sonny Liew has urged the head of government to extend the same leeway to The Online Citizen editor Terry Xu and blogger Leong Sze Hian.
Xu was charged with criminal defamation yesterday after publishing an article, that made allegations of corruption against prominent politicians, on the socio-political website he runs. Leong is being sued by PM Lee for sharing an article on Facebook that linked PM Lee to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.
In a Facebook note he published yesterday, Sonny Liew noted that the action that has been taken against Xu and Leong stands in sharp contrast to PM Lee’s decision to refrain from suing his siblings, Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, for defamation.
Last July, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s younger children Dr Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang accused their elder brother of abusing his power to preserve their family home against their father’s willed desire to demolish the house.
Accusing PM Lee of convening a secret committee to make a decision on the house, the younger Lee siblings further claimed that state organs were being used against them. The younger Lees asserted that their elder brother “misused his power as prime minister, and that he hijacked the organs of state to pursue his personal goals”.
PM Lee addressed the allegations against him in a Parliamentary debate where he declared that he has been cleared of all charges. Expressing that he “deeply regret[ed] that this dispute has affected Singapore’s reputation and Singaporeans’ confidence in the Government,” PM Lee added that he does not intend to sue his siblings.
Liew has pointed out that “as a lay person following the news, it would seem that the actions of Xu and Leong would likely not be any more damaging to anyone’s reputations than the statements made by Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling back in 2017.”
The cartoonist further noted that PM Lee’s decision to not take legal action against his siblings is a “a curious development, since the Singapore government has always taken a strong stance against any accusations of impropriety – from JBJ to Tang Liang Hong and Roy Ngerng, legal action has always been a stick the authorities have been willing to use”.
Comparing Singapore’s second PM Goh Chok Tong’s 1999 statement that “We (the government) have an understanding that if a minister is defamed and he does not sue, he must leave Cabinet. By defamation, I mean if somebody says the minister is on the take or is less than honest,” to his sympathy for the Lee siblings in the Oxley Road case, Liew said:
“Mr Goh was however, sympathetic to the fact that in the Oxley Road case, these were family members involved, going so far as to tell Low Thia Khiang in parliament when the latter raised concerns about differential treatment of Lee’s siblings with the fate of Tang Liang Hong, whom Mr.Goh had sued in 1991, that Tang was “not my brother” and that it was “political sophistry” to compare the two cases.
“Except… it’s not quite clear where the sophistry lies.”
Pointing out that there “was hope that the Oxley Road saga represented a new benchmark for Singapore’s political scene,” Liew concluded that hopefully all Singaporeans are deserving of the “same empathy and kindness the Prime Minister showed towards his brother and sister.”
“There was hope that the Oxley Road saga represented a new benchmark for Singapore’s political scene – if Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling could avoid legal action despite their statements, it seemed to follow that their fellow Singaporeans might also be extended the same consideration and leeway (pun not really intended) for expressing their views. Or in Xu and Leong’s case, sharing online the views expressed by others.
“Everyone is someone’s son, daughter, brother, sister, father or mother, after all. And though few of us would be joined by ties of blood, we are still bound by our common nationality and humanity. Snide to each other at times, for sure. Boisterous, argumentative, contrary, perhaps – but ultimately all human beings who have variously by fate, choice or circumstance found ourselves on this island, hopefully all deserving of the the same empathy and kindness the Prime Minister showed towards his brother and sister.”
Read his note in full here: