Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 24 March 2021


Singapore Blogger Ordered to Pay Damages in PM Defamation Suit

  • Prime Minister Lee sued blogger for 1MDB-related post
  • Leong found guilty, ordered to pay S$133,000 in damages
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Photographer: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images

Singapore’s High Court on Wednesday ordered a local blogger to pay S$133,000 ($98,800) in damages to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for sharing a defamatory article about him on Facebook.

Lee sued Leong Sze Hian for posting a link to a Malaysian news site that alleged the prime minister had helped launder 1Malaysia Development Berhad funds. In his judgment, Justice Aedit Abdullah concluded that in sharing the post “there has been publication to a sufficient number of persons in Singapore to warrant substantial damages.” He also said that while Leong later relied on the various officials to counter the allegations in the article, it wasn’t enough to reverse the impact of the defamatory material.

“These actions and speeches did not, to my mind, reduce the harm caused to the plaintiff’s reputation for the purposes of ascertaining if there had been damage suffered in the tort of defamation,” he wrote. “The fact that there may be countervailing information provided or statements made does not reduce or negate a defamation.”

The Singaporean leader, who has sued other people for defamation while in office, was personally cross-examined in court during the trial in October, and his lawyers have said the accusations are false and baseless. During the trial, Lee maintained it was his right to defend himself amid what he called a “grave attack” on his personal integrity and reputation. Leong, in his defense, had denied he was being malicious. He removed the Facebook post, though court documents showed he didn’t comply with a letter of demand sent by Lee’s lawyers to make a public apology.

“I am disappointed by the judgment and believe it to be deeply flawed,“ said Leong’s lawyer, Lim Tean, who is also an opposition politician. In response to media queries, the prime minister’s press secretary said that the matter had been decided by the judge and Lee had nothing further to add.

The decision comes as Singapore has adopted a tougher stance on misinformation posted online, including with the adoption in 2019 of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, known as Pofma. The law gives officials the power to request companies like Facebook Inc. to block pages if online users don’t post a government-issued correction alongside the original article, deemed to have carried a false or misleading claim that’s not in the public interest.

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