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Singapore

Blogger Leong Sze Hian fights back against Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong’s libel suit, wins support from leader’s brother Lee Hsien Yang

  • Long-time critic Leong Sze Hian claims the prime minister is abusing the city state’s court system to chill freedom of expression
  • Lee Hsien Yang, the prime minister’s younger brother, has reportedly donated a ‘meaningful sum’ to Leong’s legal fund
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 5:58pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 9:17pm

A Singaporean blogger is fighting back after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sued him for defamation for sharing an article on Facebook linking the leader to a corruption scandal.

Singapore has long been criticised for restricting free speech and other political rights, as well as slapping critics with financially ruinous libel suits.

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Observers say the government is increasingly targeting online criticism – the case against blogger Leong Sze Hian comes the same month the editor of a news portal was charged with defamation.

The prime minister lodged the defamation suit against Leong earlier in December for posting on his Facebook page a link to an article alleging that Lee was the target of an investigation in neighbouring Malaysia over the scandal at sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Lee said the article, originally published by a Malaysian news portal, was false and without basis and that Leong had reposted the link to smear his reputation.

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Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak and his cronies are accused of having stolen billions of dollars from 1MDB in an audacious fraud that spanned the globe. Najib has been charged but denies wrongdoing.

Leong, a regular critic of government policies, has now lodged a countersuit against Lee for alleged abuse of the court system.

“The predominant purpose of the claim is the use of the legal process to chill freedom of expression in Singapore,” said Leong in his suit, which was posted on Facebook on Wednesday along with details of his defence.

He said all he had done was to make the article available on his Facebook page “without embellishment or comment” for less than three days.

Leong launched a crowdfunding campaign earlier this week aimed at raising S$10,000 (US$7,280) towards his legal fees – a fund to which Lee Hsien Yang, the prime minister’s younger brother, said he had donated a “meaningful sum”, according to local news website Today.

When asked why he had donated, Lee Hsien Yang reportedly replied: “surely it needs no explanation?”

Singapore’s Prime Minister and his two siblings, the children of the city state’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, have quarrelled bitterly over the fate of their parents’ bungalow. The Prime Minister’s siblings claim their father always wanted his house to be torn down after his death, but a ministerial committee has been studying future options for the house, including preserving it partially or completely.

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The ruling People’s Action Party, co-founded by Lee, held key meetings in the basement of the property in the 1950s.

Amid the feud, Lee Hsien Yang’s son, Harvard academic Li Shengwu, made a Facebook post that resulted in the Attorney General’s Chambers in Singapore launching contempt of court proceedings against him last year.

Earlier this month, Terry Xu, editor of Singapore news site The Online Citizen, was charged with defamation for publishing a letter that alleged corruption among the city state’s leaders.

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Singapore is regularly ranked among the world’s least corrupt countries and its leaders are sensitive to accusations of corruption.

With Singapore’s media scene dominated by pro-government publications, criticism of the authorities is mostly expressed online.