‘I am of course disappointed,’ says pundit ordered to pay Singapore’s PM S$133K

Leong Sze Hian in a Facebook live today. Photo: The Online Citizen/Facebook
Leong Sze Hian in a Facebook live today. Photo: The Online Citizen/Facebook

A government critic sued for sharing an article that implicated the prime minister in corruption said he was “disappointed” by today’s high court ruling that he must pay S$133,000 (US$99,000) in damages to Lee Hsien Loong. 

Shortly after Judge Aedit Abdullah delivered the ruling against him, Leong Sze Hian took to Facebook Live to say the ruling was unprecedented and that he would consult with his lawyer on whether to appeal.

“I am of course disappointed as I feel that I understand that I’m the first person in the history of the world to be sued for defamation for sharing on Facebook a news report from a news website without any comment,” Leong said today. 

“Whilst I’m glad that my two-years-four-month ordeal has come to this point, I hope that this is the last time that any politician will sue ordinary citizens for defamation,” he added. 

While Leong wasn’t the only one to share the article, he has been on the government’s radar for publishing criticism of its policies over the years.

His legal trouble began in 2018 after sharing an article accusing Lee of making “secret deals” with former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak involving money looted from that nation’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund. The article was published by now-banned politics site States Times Review and later picked up Malaysian site The Coverage.

Justice Aedit said today that Leong could not “reasonably claim that the defamatory words did not impugn (Lee’s) character,” noting that Leong had “published” the article to his Facebook page as a public post, where it received reactions from 45 people. 

The judge also said that Leong had shared the article “without making any enquiries as to its truth whatsoever” and showed “reckless disregard of whether the article was true or not.”

Leong’s lawyer said today that his client was the only one out of thousands who had shared the article in November 2018. Leong was served a takedown notice by the local media authority. After removing the post, the prime minister initiated legal action, Lim added.  

“Sze Hian was the only person served with an IMDA notice. Only one person out of over 9,000 people served with that notice, and when Sze Hian came to know of that notice, he immediately removed his post. But three days later, Lee Hsien Loong through his lawyers served Sze Hian with a letter of claim,” he said.

Lee was represented by five top-shelf lawyers including top legal eagle Davinder Singh.

Other stories you should check out:

PM Lee Hsien Loong in court on first day of defamation trial against blogger

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