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Judge dismisses defence applications in criminal defamation suit linked to The Online Citizen

Defence lawyer M. Ravi had argued that if Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's siblings - Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling - have not been prosecuted for their comments, "Mr De Costa should similarly not be prosecuted”

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On Monday (Jan 20), a judge dismissed two applications by defence lawyer M Ravi in a criminal defamation case linked to alternative news site The Online Citizen.

Daniel Augustin De Costa, 36, was charged with criminal defamation and unauthorised access to computer material under the Computer Misuse Act.

Earlier in October last year, the Info-communications and Media Development Authority (IMDA) made a police report against alternative news site The Online Citizen (TOC) and a writer named Willy Sum after the website published an article titled “The Take Away from Seah Kian Ping’s Facebook Post”, purportedly written by Sum.

He was charged in November alongside TOC editor Terry Xu Yuanchen for criminal defamation, and received a second charge for his computer crime.

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The article drew the Government’s attention for making allegations of corruption against certain individuals. The Attorney-General’s Chambers subsequently allowed the police to investigate the matter. The police obtained a court warrant to search the homes of Xu and Sum.

In presenting his arguments to the court, Mr Ravi brought up section 12 in Singapore’s constitution, which states that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.

He argued that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s siblings – Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling – have not been prosecuted for their comments, and added, “If the Lee siblings were not prosecuted, Mr De Costa should similarly not be prosecuted”.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Mohamed Faizal, Ho Lian-Yi and Sheryl Yeo urged the court to dismiss this application, saying it possessed “absolutely no merit”.

Parties will return to court for a pre-trial conference on Feb 17.

Leading up to Xu’s defamation suit against him, on Sep 1 last year, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) issued a letter to the editor of TOC, demanding an apology and that they remove an article and a Facebook post repeating allegations made by PM Lee’s sister Lee Wei Ling during the Lee family feud in 2017.

The letter put forth PM Lee’s request that TOC immediately remove the article and Facebook post by Sep 4, and publish a “full and unconditional apology” along with an undertaking that it would not publish similar allegations in the future. The letter warned that “PM Lee will have no choice but to hand the matter over to his lawyers to sue to enforce his full rights in law” if TOC does not comply.

On Sep 4, Mr Xu responded and said that he will not comply with the demands set out in PM Lee’s letter. The very next day (5 Sept), PM Lee’s lawyers served Mr Xu with a writ of summons and a statement of claim at his place of residence, initiating a defamation case against him. /TISG

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