Singapore PM takes the stand in defamation suit

Lee Hsien Loon (left) is suing the editor of The Online Citizen,Terry Xu (right), over an article posted on its website and Facebook page on Aug 15, 2019.- ST

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrived in court on Monday (Nov 30) to testify in his defamation suit against The Online Citizen (TOC) editor Terry Xu.

Xu's lawyer Lim Tean began his cross-examination of Lee.

The week-long hearing could also see the prime minister's siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, take the witness stand to testify in court.

The case revolves around claims made by TOC in an article published on Aug 15 last year, titled "Lee's wife, Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members".

The TOC article had commented on how Lee's wife, Ho Ching, had shared a link on Facebook to an article titled "Here's why sometimes it is okay to cut ties with toxic family members".

It also referenced a Facebook post that Dr Lee made in May. Hsien Yang had also shared the post by Dr Lee.

In September last year, Lee asked TOC to remove the article, along with a Facebook post linking to it, and publish a full and unconditional apology.

His press secretary Chang Li Lin said the allegations in the article and post were libellous and repeated several false allegations against Lee that were previously made by his sister.

One such allegation was that Lee had misled his father, the late Lee Kuan Yew, into thinking that his 38 Oxley Road property had been gazetted by the Singapore Government, and that it was futile for the founding prime minister to keep his direction to demolish it.

Another allegation was that Lee Kuan Yew removed Lee as an executor and trustee of his will after it was revealed to him in late 2013 that the 38 Oxley Road property had in fact not been gazetted.

Lee later initiated legal proceedings against Xu when the latter refused to take the article and post down or apologise. He also filed a suit against the Malaysian author of the article, one Rubaashini Shunmuganathan.

His lawyers said the article had gravely injured Lee's character and reputation and that Lee had been "brought into public scandal, odium and contempt".

The case could see Lee taking the witness stand to testify in court, Chang said in September.

She noted that although Lee had chosen not to sue his siblings as it would further besmirch his parents' names, this did not mean he would not ever take legal action should it become necessary.

In October last year, Xu applied to bring Lee's siblings into the suit as third parties. He said he wanted them to bear the damages if he was found to have defamed Lee in the TOC article.

He said the TOC article merely quoted directly from public comments made by Lee and Dr Lee and that they would have knowledge of particulars relating to the truth of the allegations.

"The Defendant reserves the right to cross-exam LWL and LHY to provide more information," said Xu said in his defence document, referring to Dr Lee and Hsien Yang by their initials. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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