This is over half of the $133,000 that the High Court awarded Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as damages that Mr Leong has to pay PM Lee for sharing an article that he neither wrote nor commented on.
For those unaware, the defamation suit was in relation to an article shared by Mr Leong on his personal Facebook Timeline titled “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” in 2018.
The article, published by “Malaysian-based social news network” The Coverage, alleged that PM Lee had entered “several unfair agreements” with Najib Razak, who was the Malaysian Prime Minister at the time the deals purportedly took place, “including the agreement to build the Singapore-Malaysia High-Speed Rail”, according to court documents.
In other words, Mr Leong has to pay $133,000 in general and aggravated damages to PM Lee for merely sharing an article that he did not write without comment. It is noteworthy that while the article was shared by others, only Mr Leong has been sued. It is also noteworthy that the writer of the original article and the website that published it at the outset has not been sued, neither was there any letter of demand sent by PM Lee to the authors.
The fact that average Singaporeans have risen up to support Mr Leong with donations is a message to authorities that they do not think that the lawsuit was fair.
Lawyer Teo Soh Lung opined that “when the Prime Minister finally receives the full sum of S$133,000, he may wish to ponder about the usefulness of his lawsuit.” She also hopes that he will realise “that the money didn’t come from Leong who he considers a thorn in his side, but from the people of Singapore.”
The fact that people have rallied to fund Mr Leong’s court case (back in 2018) and then now to fund the damages is a clear sign that the more PM Lee and the authorities try to clamp down on opposing voices through punitive court procedures, the more they alienate the public.
Punitive court proceedings may have worked well prior to the advent of digital developments such as crowdfunding and social media. But now, it is increasingly difficult for the Government not to look the bully when this matter could have been easily settled outside of court.
The offending article was proven to be untrue and Mr Leong did take it down. The matter should have ended there and PM Lee could have issued his own statement putting the matter to rest. Instead, it was dragged through the courts unnecessarily so for over 2 years!
At the end of the day, what is PM Lee trying to achieve? Has he really vindicated his reputation when in reality it is questionable if his reputation even suffered because of Mr Leong sharing the article to a limited number of people in the first place? Or are Singaporeans increasingly tired of these high handed measures which can be seen as an abuse of the court system?
The fact that Singaporeans have time and again risen to donate to Mr Leong is a sign that these court cases are damaging to the Government’s reputation. Not only has this case not aided PM Lee’s reputation, but it has also probably damaged it drawing attention to the high handed nature of authorities, the seeming lack of proportionality in the damages and the Government’s reactive and disproportionate response to swat a fly with a sledge hammer