Back in 2018 when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) commenced legal action against blogger Leong Sze Hian (Mr Leong), he had said that the legal action was to defend against allegations made in an article shared by Mr Leong that “falsely alleged that (he) had become a key target of the investigations into 1MDB, that Mr Najib had signed several ‘unfair agreements’ with (him), in exchange for assistance by Singapore banks to launder 1MDB’s billions, and that (he is) corrupt.”
In other words, PM Lee had said that he wanted to vindicate his reputation as the article shared (but not written or endorsed or commented upon) by Mr Leong was “an attack against (PM Lee) personally as well as against the Singapore Government, of which (he is) the head”.
PM Lee had then added that the “libel was a very serious one and went to the heart of whether (he was) fit to be the Prime Minister of Singapore”.
It has been previously pointed out that had PM Lee really wanted to vindicate his reputation, he would have sued the originator of the article. As far as we are aware, this was not done.
It is also noteworthy that the article was shared by at least 9000 over individuals apart from Mr Leong and that none of these others has been sued.
Fast forward circa 2 years, the verdict is now out and the High Court has awarded PM Lee damages totalling S$133,000, ostensibly based on those awarded against blogger Roy Ngerng (S$150,000) despite the fact that Mr Ngerng was the originator of the offensive content while Mr Leong was not, thereby making comparisons between the cases tenuous.
After the High Court has issued its judgement, it would seem that the judgement of the Court of Public Opinion has also been swiftly issued — far more swiftly (in just 11 days) than the 2 years the lawsuit took to conclude.
After just 11 days of crowdfunding, Mr Leong said that a “Miracle on Easter Sunday” had been achieved, noting that 2,065 people had contributed to the crowdfunding efforts. A total of S$133,082 was raised as of Sunday, with the highest donation being S$5,000 and the smallest being S$2.91.
With this in mind, how exactly has the lawsuit vindicated PM Lee’s reputation?
In the first place, it is questionable that the PM’s reputation was even affected by Mr Leong’s sharing of article on Facebook.
Mr Leong took down the article at 7.30 a.m. on 10 November 2018 after being instructed by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) to do so a day prior.
Prior to his removal of the post on 10 November, the court noted that Mr Leong’s article had garnered “22 ‘reactions’, five ‘comments’, and 18 ‘shares’”. This is therefore a very limited period with a limited audience. PM Lee and the People’s Action Party went on to win a landslide victory in the July 2020 elections.
Is this the outcome of a damaged reputation that needed court action to salvage?
Beyond basing the figures on what was awarded against Roy Ngnerg (despite the two cases being different as pointed out above), Justice Aedit did not explain how the damages are justified, other than stating that the allegations in Mr Leong’s shared article are far worse, than those written by Roy Ngerng without noting that Mr Leong was not the originator of the offending article.
After all, how do you quantify the damage by a single Facebook share to the reputation of a man who has gone on to win the election so decisively?
Last but not least, the reaction of the common man has been most telling of all where reputation is concerned. The people of Singapore rose up to donate to Mr Leong’s cause in less than 2 weeks. This shows that if anything, it is PM Lee’s own actions that have affected his reputation. Had he not sued, would the people have had to rise up to donate?