Saturday 21 June 2014

PM Lee Hsien Loong's press secretary rebuts The Economist on defamation suit

Press sec refutes suggestion that Govt saw 'short-term benefits in effect of suit'
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2014

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong's press secretary Chang Li Lin has rebutted an article in The Economist magazine that discusses PM Lee's defamation suit against blogger Roy Ngerng and its impact on Singapore.

The opinion piece was published last Friday on The Economist's Banyan blog, which analyses Asian politics and culture.

It described Mr Ngerng's accusation as an "alleged 'serious libel'", which is wrong, Ms Chang said in a letter to The Economist that was published on its website yesterday.

"This is not an allegation," she wrote.

"Mr Ngerng has publicly admitted accusing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of criminal misappropriation of pension funds, falsely and completely without foundation."

Ms Chang added that after Mr Ngerng promised to apologise and remove his blog post, he did the opposite, "actively spreading the libel further".

After he made an apology to PM Lee, Mr Ngerng posted a video and another blog post, which he was asked to take down. He agreed to do so, but did not remove the video, and instead, sent e-mails to local and international media, republishing his blog posts.

"This was grave and deliberate defamation, whether it occurred online or in the traditional media being immaterial," she said.

The Economist had also observed that this defamation suit was "a departure from the past" in how legal action has been used by political leaders to defend their reputation, as it is against a blogger rather than a politician, and for an article online.

Ms Chang refuted the suggestion in the article that the Government saw "short-term benefits in the effect of the suit, if its critics think twice before committing their thoughts to the Internet".

What is at stake, Ms Chang said, is not any short-term positive or negative impact on the Government, but the sort of public debate Singapore should have.

"When someone makes false and malicious personal allegations that impugn a person's character or integrity, the victim has the right to vindicate his reputation, whether he is an ordinary citizen or the Prime Minister," she said.

The Internet should not be exempt from the laws of defamation, she added.

"It is perfectly possible to have a free and vigorous debate without defaming anyone, as occurs often in Singapore."

Ms Chang also asked for a correction to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's June 17 interview with Mr Ngerng.

She clarified that the PM is not suing Mr Ngerng for "questioning the Government", but for accusing Mr Lee of misappropriating CPF savings.

The report also said Mr Ngerng may get two years' jail for his defamation.

But, said Ms Chang, since Mr Lee's suit is a civil one, there is no question of a jail term.

The correction was published yesterday.

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