Editor sued for defamation won’t call Lee Hsien Loong’s siblings to the stand

The Online Citizen editor Terry Xu walks out of the Supreme Court building on Nov. 30, 2020. Photo Carolyn Teo/Coconuts
The Online Citizen editor Terry Xu walks out of the Supreme Court building on Nov. 30, 2020. Photo Carolyn Teo/Coconuts

Looks like Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings won’t be airing their dirty laundry in court after all now that Lee’s brother and sister won’t be dragged into the week-long trial that began today. 

The defense team for The Online Citizen Asia’s editor Terry Xu, who the prime minister is suing over an article about the Lee family feud, today dropped the siblings from its lineup of witnesses to be called in court. They had originally intended to call Lee’s estranged brother Lee Hsien Yang and sister Lee Wei Ling to the stand so they would be liable for damages if Xu was found guilty of defaming the prime minister, as his August 2019 article was based on their claims.

But Xu’s lawyer, Lim Tean of Carson Law Chambers, said in court today that that would not be happening anymore. No reason was given for the move.

Legal observers have questioned why Lee would go after the media for reporting things that were said by his own family members.

When Lee took the stand today to give his much-anticipated testimony, Lim asked him whether Singaporean media would not ever be able to report on his siblings’ accusations. Lee denied that was the case, but said it also doesn’t stop him from taking legal action.

“Not at all,” Lee said in reply. “They can report, and if I sue, they can defend and vindicate themselves and demolish me – which is what you’re hoping to do in this trial.”

The prime minister brought the defamation suit against Xu after his article repeated allegations by Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang that their elder brother had deceived their father, Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, into thinking their home at 38 Oxley Road had been listed for preservation and could therefore not be demolished as he wished. 

The prime minister denied the allegations in Parliament two years before the article was published. As for why he didn’t sue his siblings over the same claims, he said that he didn’t want to drag the family name through the mud.

“(It) is not that anyone can say anything,” he said in court today. “I had decided to take a different approach with my siblings but it didn’t mean carte blanche for anyone else to use that and further defame me.”

“I’m not obliged to sue everyone in order to sue one person. I consulted counsel and decided who to sue,” he added. 

The prime minister also told the court that he has “detached” himself from the feud with his siblings, adding that he no longer owns his father’s home, which he said he has already sold to Lee Hsien Yang. An independent committee set up to decide what to do with the home suggested three actions in 2018: full demolition, retaining a portion, or preservation. Lee said that he would leave the decision to a future government.

Other stories:

Feuding Lees could face off as family drama gets its day in court

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