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PM’s libel suit: TOC editor explains why he did not take down article

He would have done so if the PMO's letter to take down the article had not been publicised in other media

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Singapore — On the third day (Dec 2) of the libel suit filed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, The Online Citizen (TOC) editor Terry Xu said he would have complied with a letter of demand from PM Lee’s office to take down an allegedly defamatory article if the letter had not been publicised in the media.

Additionally, when questioned why he thought PM Lee’s wife’s sharing of the “cutting ties” article was ironic, Mr Xu told the court that it was because he felt that Ms Ho Ching, instead of PM Lee, was the toxic family member.

But he agreed that the article did not suggest who was the toxic family member.

PM Lee’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, during his continued cross-examination of Mr Xu, made reference to the letter of demand that PM Lee’s press secretary, Ms Chang Li Lin, had sent to Mr Xu on Sept 1 last year.

Ms Chang had demanded that the article and corresponding Facebook post be taken down, for Mr Xu to apologise and give an undertaking not to publish any similar allegations.

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While Mr Xu initially took the article down, he reposted it three days later and said he would not comply with the demands.

By way of explanation, he said he did not have the chance to respond to the letter of demand before it was sent to other media outlets.

If PM Lee’s lawyers had sent the letter in the “conventional” manner, without sending it to media outlets, asking for the article to be taken down “with no recourse or threat to sue”, Mr Xu said he would have done so — as he has in other instances. He would also have apologised.

Mr Xu said that PM Lee sending the letter to other media outlets meant to him that he wanted to “escalate the matter”.

“A person of power using his public office to issue a letter, it creates some doubts as to the angle (from which) he is approaching the matter,” he said.

The suit was filed last year after an article with the headline “PM Lee’s wife, Ho Ching, weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members” was published on the TOC website and Facebook page on Aug 15, 2019.

The article mentioned the rift between PM Lee and his siblings, the will of their father the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and the family property at 38 Oxley Road.

TOC was asked by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) the following month to remove the article as well as a Facebook post repeating allegations made by PM Lee’s sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, during the family feud in 2017. The PMO also asked that a full and unconditional apology be issued.

Mr Xu did remove the article from TOC’s site “at first, but uploaded it again on Sept 4, 2019, adding a parenthetical note that had to do with the will of the late Prime Minister, referred to as LKY in the TOC article.

In court, Mr Singh accused Mr Xu of using Madam Ho’s article as a “peg” to “turn it into an attack” against the Prime Minister, even though PM Lee was not the one who posted it.

“You see, you had dipped your pen in poison and you did so deliberately. It was not, as you claim, a mere report of the allegations,” Mr Singh added.

When Mr Singh asked Mr Xu whether he had time to contact PM Lee and his siblings to ask for evidence and their positions on the allegations, Mr Xu responded that the siblings had provided evidence on Facebook and “made their position very clear”.

“Even if I wait for another 10 years, (PM Lee) would not reply to my questions,” he added. /TISG

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