Singapore — During more than three hours in the witness stand on Tuesday (Oct 6), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the court that he chose to file a defamation suit against writer and financial adviser Leong Sze Hian to protect his “own reputation and standing”.
Mr Leong’s lawyer, Mr Lim Tean, also asked Mr Lee why he persisted with the case even though his client took down the offending post after being asked to do so by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).
Mr Lee replied that Mr Leong had merely complied with a legal order but did not apologise and took “every opportunity” to publicise the lawsuit. He sponsored a post by The Online Citizen website on it, gave interviews in Hong Kong and spoke at the Speakers’ Corner.
“So if someone feels he has been unjustly attacked and sued simply by sharing an article, you are saying he is drawing publicity to the statements?” asked Mr Lim, according to channelnewsasia.com.
“I think there is a legal way to do it, and the correct way is to clear his name in court. But while court proceedings are pending, to proceed in this way … in extreme promotion … can only lead me to conclude he wasn’t sorry,” said Mr Lee.
During the proceedings, Mr Lim repeatedly asked Mr Lee why he had not sued the States Times Review, which also carried the offending article, and its editor Alex Tan, but his counsel, Mr Davinder Singh, objected to this, saying it is litigation privilege, meaning that Mr Lee was not required to detail what he discussed with his lawyer.
“I saw the people sharing the article, I discussed the matter with my lawyer and, after discussion, I made the decision,” said Mr Lee. He added that the defamation was “a very grave attack on the Singapore Government’s integrity and reputation and on my own integrity and reputation as the Prime Minister of Singapore”.
“The Singapore Government took this very seriously and responded in many ways to put out its statement of where the facts stood, to correct the mis-statements, to report the falsehoods and to take action against untrue statements which have been put online,” he said.
“… The Government has to take it very seriously because for this Government particularly, integrity and honesty (are) … key attributes and principles and values that we uphold and which is the basis on which we have the moral right to govern Singapore and to serve Singaporeans, and to attack that is a fundamental attack at the core basis of the Singapore Government’s standing, reputation and legitimacy. And that is why we responded comprehensively by all the means we could.”
When Justice Aedit Abdullah prompted Mr Lee to answer Mr Lim’s question, he added that he did also make his own considerations and consulted his counsel, Mr Singh, eventually deciding to proceed in this defamation case against Mr Leong.
The second day of the 4-day hearing will be on Wednesday (Oct 7). /TISG