SINGAPORE (AFP) – A Singaporean blogger was ordered yesterday to pay almost USD100,000 in damages for defaming the prime minister by sharing an article on Facebook linking the leader to a corruption scandal.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had accused Leong Sze Hian of spreading false claims about him over the article related to the money-laundering scandal at state fund 1MDB in Malaysia.
Critics said the case is the latest example of the tightly-regulated city-state’s government being heavy-handed and seeking to silence dissent online.
Singapore’s leaders have frequently turned to the courts to take on critics, ranging from political opponents to foreign media outlets, and insist such action is necessary to protect their reputations.
High Court Judge Aedit Abdullah found in Lee’s favour, and ordered Leong to pay him SGD133,000 (USD99,000). Lee had sought SGD150,000.
“I am of course disappointed,” Leong, a financial adviser, said afterwards.
“Whilst I am glad that my… ordeal has come to this point, I hope that this is the last time that any politician will sue ordinary citizens for defamation.”
He also appealed to the public to donate to cover the cost of the damages.
Leong’s lawyer Lim Tean described the verdict as a “wrong and deeply flawed decision”.
The premier took the stand at the start of the trial in October and accused Leong of making “malicious and baseless” allegations, which had undermined the government’s “integrity and honesty”.