SINGAPORE, Dec 27 — Blogger Leong Sze Hian has filed his defence and counterclaim yesterday against a defamation lawsuit brought by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, arguing that it is an “abuse of the process of the court.”
Leong is represented by lawyer and opposition party leader Lim Tean of Carson Law Chambers.
The libel suit was filed against Leong on November 12, after he shared an article alleging that Lee had helped Malaysia’s former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak to launder money from the country’s state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
A pre-trial conference for the case is expected to take place on Jan 7.
The article, "Breaking News: Singapore Lee Hsien Loong Becomes 1MDB's Key Investigation Target — Najib Signed Several Unfair Agreements With Hsien Loong In Exchange for Money Laundering,” was originally published by online site States Times Review on November 5 and picked up by Malaysian website The Coverage on Nov 7.
Leong shared The Coverage’s post on his Facebook that same day, without any accompanying caption.
In a statement of claim, Lee’s lawyers from law firm Drew and Napier noted that Leong’s public post and the article “contain allegations that are highly defamatory of our client.”
Leong said in his defence that the post, which was made on or about 6.16pm on November 7, was only up for three days before he removed it at 7.30am on November 10. This was because he received a takedown notice from the Infocomm and Media Development Authority.
He also filed a counterclaim that the libel suit is an “abuse of the process of the court” because it is “not a real and substantial tort.”
Leong pointed out that both the States Times Review and The Coverage — which published the article — have “significant circulations and readerships” that outstrip those of his Facebook page.
Government leaders had also come out to dismiss the article as fake news, he noted.
As such, the matter was already in public domain and his only involvement was to make available the article in The Coverage on his Facebook page “without embellishment or comment” for less than three days, Leong said.
Furthermore, his Facebook post on the article did not gain much traction, he added.
It received only 22 reactions, five comments and 18 shares, which Leong described as “minimal and inconsequential.”
He argued that “no damage could have been caused in the eyes of the very few people who read” the post, and that Lee’s libel claim “cannot be said to be necessary.”
He asserted that the libel suit is meant to “chill freedom of expression” ahead of both Najib’s trial next year and a general election that could also take place that same year.
In response to media queries, Chang Li Lin, the press secretary to the prime minister, said that the matter is before the courts and Lee will “continue to take legal advice on developments.”
In a statement, Leong’s lawyer Lim Tean said that he “did not hesitate for a moment in accepting the brief from Leong.”
Lim said: “Leong did not choose to pick a fight, but now offers battle to uphold the freedom of expression in Singapore, a fundamental human right for which he has fought tirelessly for more than two decades.”
Lim, 53, is himself facing legal woes, including a bankruptcy application for failing to repay a US$150,000 (626,500) loan. The case is still ongoing.
A practising lawyer, Lim is Cambridge-educated and was previously a partner at law firm Rajah and Tann. He later started his own firm Carson Law Chambers.
On October 31, Lim’s new party called the People’s Voice was registered as the country’s 11th political party.
He was previously the secretary-general of the opposition National Solidarity Party (NSP), but left in 2017 after barely two years into the top post. Lim joined the NSP in 2011. — TODAY