Blogger Roy Ngerng was pushed almost to breaking point on Friday when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s lawyer Davinder Singh continued his cross-examination, bursting into tears under the barrage of accusations.
Throughout the day Singh sought to establish Ngerng as having been insincere in his apology to Lee, while also deliberately seeking to escalate and aggravate the situation even after admitting that he had defamed the Prime Minister in a blog post that drew links between the City Harvest Church trial for criminal misappropriation and the way the Central Provident Fund is managed.
“You would say whatever is convenient to get your way,” Singh accused Ngerng, adding that the latter had only apologised and made an offer of $5,000 in damages last May to “get away [with defamation] on the cheap.”
He said that Ngerng – despite insisting that he was really sorry for having defamed Lee – had continued to publish the “offending words and images” in emails to the international media as well as subsequent blog posts bearing Lee’s first letter of demand and affidavits, which contained the defamatory statements.
"Your apologies are meaningless and insincere." said Singh, as Ngerng sat in the witness box. “Every step of the way you were calculating, you were plotting.” He also claimed that Ngerng had “capitalised” on Lee’s initial letter of demand to generate interest in and attract attention to his blog.
Singh then shifted his focus to Ngerng’s financial situation and connections with foreign organisations.
He pointed out that Ngerng had sought to ask the court to take into account of his financial difficulties in the assessment of damages and noted that Ngerng did not have the financial means to pay high damages. Ngerng began to cry as Singh questioned him on his financial situation and his June 2014 crowdfunding campaign.
Ngerng’s legal costs had been partially funded by a sum of £5,000 ($10,490) from London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), and he had also received legal assistance from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Centre for International Law (CentreLaw) from the Philippines, who both produced briefs submitted with his affidavit.
Singh said that Ngerng had chosen to “use foreign organisations to put pressure” on the court, as well as to “campaign against Singapore.”
“Mr Singh, Mr Lee is not Singapore. Lee Hsien Loong is not Singapore,” an exasperated Ngerng responded.
“You have sought to use a foreign organisation to suggest that this court would be denying freedom of expression or impairing it if it were to award damages. … You are saying to this court that the plaintiff has sued you because of political opinions,” Singh persisted, which he claimed was a signal that Ngerng was seeking to “reopen the issue” even after the court had already ruled in a summary judgement that his blog post was defamatory.
Justice Lee Seiu Kin interrupted Singh to clarify that he felt "absolutely no pressure" from foreign organisations. He added that, in view of the fact that Ngerng has no legal counsel, he would look at the briefs submitted to him and consider the points highlighted.
When Singh said that Ngerng had at no point been told that he could no longer write about the CPF, the latter asserted that his case did concern the issue of free speech, expressing his worry about his ability to speak up on local issues because he was not sure what other consequences he would have to face.
“Let us be honest, we all know that I am being persecuted,” he said, breaking down in tears, a second time as he said that he had always directed his advocacy at the government rather than an individual.
Justice Lee Seiu Kin swiftly put a stop to affairs, asking Ngerng if he was in a fit state to continue being cross-examined before announcing that the court would break for lunch.
Singh brought a day-and-a-half’s cross-examination to an end after the break by continuing to take issue with inconsistencies in some of Ngerng’s statements, such as him having said in a previous affidavit – eventually not submitted to the court – that he had not republished the defamatory statement despite having sent the links to the offending content via email.
He also took issue with a blog post Ngerng had published on 30 June, in which Ngerng wrote,
“It is wrong that our children are unfairly persecuted just for criticising a man whom the government is trying to protect.”
This, Singh contended, was yet another sign that Ngerng was not truly contrite, as he was once again trying to suggest that he had been persecuted unjustly.
However, Ngerng pointed out that the sentence in the blog post had been written in the context of urging people to continue to advocate for 16-year-old Amos Yee, and did not actually refer to his own case.
Both parties will have until 31 August for their written submissions, after which Justice Lee will decide if oral submissions will be necessary before coming to a decision.