Veteran blogger Leong Sze Hian, who lost a libel suit brought by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong against him over a Facebook share, has decided not to appeal against the High Court judgement in the case, as there is “no greater verdict” than that of the people of Singapore.
In a statement released through his lawyer Lim Tean’s firm Carson Law Chambers on Friday (23 Apr), Mr Leong said that the love and support he received from the people of Singapore “is far more valuable” to him than any possible successful appeal to a higher court.
Mr Leong, a financial adviser, had managed to raise over S$133,000 over 11 days as of 4 Apr from over 2,000 individuals to pay damages to PM Lee.
“Not only have they fully funded me for the $133,000 in damages which I was ordered to pay, I have also raised nearly $40,000 to cover the legal costs and disbursements of almost $130,000 that the Prime Minister is seeking against me,” his statement read.
Mr Leong said that he will “leave it to another person, in an appropriate forum” to convince the Singapore courts that the High Court decision was wrong.
“We must be a progressive nation, and archaic and outdated defamation laws should not be allowed to stifle our people’s free speech, innovation and creativity,” he added.
Leong to challenge claims for legal cost and disbursements
However, Mr Leong will be contesting the sum sought by PM Lee’s counsel for legal costs and disbursements.
The prime minister is seeking S$50,000 in legal costs and S$79,322.22 in disbursements, which comes up to a sum of S$129,327.
A significant portion of the amount sought for disbursements is derived from the engagement of Dr Phan Tuan Quang, PM Lee’s Hong Kong-based expert witness, at S$43,022.58.
Dr Phan is an associate professor of Innovation and Information Management at the University of Hong Kong who specialises in data.
At trial, he testified via Zoom that while he did not have the raw data from Mr Leong’s Facebook post, he said that he was given the screenshot of the post.
He said that he had provided a low conservative estimate based on past scientific research.
Mr Lim, in a letter dated 22 Apr to PM Lee’s counsel’s letter claiming cost and disbursements, submitted that the S$50,000 sought for legal cost against his client is “manifestly excessive”.
The cost, he said, should have been determined in line with the District Court’s scale, as the libel suit should have been commenced in the State Courts and not the High Court.
The cost that should be awarded to PM Lee thus should not amount to more than S$12,000, he added.
Similarly, the S$79,322.22 sought by PM Lee’s counsel for disbursements is also manifestly excessive, said Mr Lim.
He submitted that cost for the second day of trial should not have been allowed, as Justice Aedit Abdullah did not accept the evidence put forth by Dr Phan.
For the same reason, the court should also remove the bulk of disbursements intended for Dr Phan’s engagement, Mr Lim added.
Compelling Mr Leong to pay that particular part of disbursements, he said, would amount “to a penalty on him” and would be unfair.
Mr Lim also noted that Justice Aedit did not agree with PM Lee’s counsel that Mr Leong’s interview with Amnesty International in Hong Kong had aggravated the damages, and that consequently, the amount on this should not be allowed by the court.
The disbursements in this instance pertain to the translation cost of video recordings from the interview, from spoken Cantonese to English text.
The cost of the translations amount to S$3,980.40.
Background to Leong’s defamation case
Mr Leong was sued by PM Lee in 2018 for defamation over a Facebook share of an article alleging PM Lee’s involvement in the 1MDB scandal.
The blogger did not attach or insert any commentary at the time he shared the article.
Mr Leong took down the article at 7.30 am 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’”.
Just last month, the High Court ordered Mr Leong to pay PM Lee S$133,000 for defamation, which includes S$100,000 in general damages and S$33,000 in aggravated damages.
The amount of damages was made in reference to another blogger, Roy Ngerng’s case.
Justice Aedit found that the defamatory statement in the article shared by Mr Leong was worse compared to allegations made in Mr Ngerng’s case.