The cross-examination of CPF blogger Roy Ngerng in the hearing to determine damages to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong continued in the High Court on Friday, and at points got so intense that Ngerng broke down twice while on the stand.
Ngerng was reduced to tears when Senior Counsel Davinder Singh grilled him about his limited financial means; and also earlier Friday morning in court, when Singh pressed Ngerng after the latter said he would be silenced after the case concludes.
Singh, who is representing Lee, had argued that despite the blogger’s limited financial means and sincerity in his apology, he had chosen to introduce amicus (friend of the court) briefs from foreign organisations to "put pressure on this court", instead of stopping his aggravation.
The documents were filed from the International Commission of Jurists and Center for Law in the Philippines, and were on Wednesday submitted together with Ngerng’s opening statement.
Singh argued that Ngerng's intention in filing the amicus briefs was to suggest to the court that it would be denying Ngerng his rights to freedom of expression. He also asserted that in harnessing international pressure, Ngerng had claimed that Lee had sued him because of his political opinion.
“You are using (these international organisations) to apply pressure on the Singapore courts not to award damages,” Singh said. "While you were laying the groundwork for these briefs — you were giving the plaintiff the false impression that you were sincere about your apology.”
Responding to this, though, Justice Lee Seiu Kin said he felt "absolutely no pressure" in allowing the briefs to be added to Ngerng's opening statements, especially bearing in mind that Ngerng was unrepresented.
"I would like to reiterate that you are free to adopt whatever submissions you wish to adopt," Justice Lee said at the end of the hearing on Friday.
Singh had also disputed Ngerng’s claim in a recent blog post detailing his failed Queen’s Counsel application that he would not be “able to speak up anymore”.
“You know that in judgement His Honour had held that you can speak about the CPF,” Singh said.
Ngerng broke down at this, and said between sobs, “Let us be honest – we all know that I am being persecuted, we all know that just because I spoke about the CPF I would be persecuted... I have always advocated to the government. I do not hate the Prime Minister but we need to speak up (for) the people… if not, who will?”
He also stressed that what he wrote about the CPF and the government was separate from the offending blog posts.
Crowdfunding money depleted completely
The court also heard that Ngerng was given £5,000 (S$10,536) by London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) in financial assistance for the case.
Ngerng had depleted the $110,000 that was crowdfunded after the initial letter of demand, and had contacted the MLDI in London during a February trip sponsored by English human rights organisation Article 19.
This shortly after he travelled to Norway in the middle of that month on funds provided by the University of Trondheim to speak at this year's Intenational Student Festival in Trondheim.
Ngerng's $110,000 went to:
- M Ravi's legal services: $70,000
- Drew & Napier, for legal and related costs incurred in defamation case: $29,000
- The Queen's Counsel application: $6,000
- Lawyer George Hwang: the remainder of the $110,000, plus Ngerng's savings — this amount was not revealed in court.
“As you were incurring these expenses and filing fees — you were aware that if you continued to aggravate the injury that there was a risk that the damages could be increased,” Singh said.
Instead, Singh added, Ngerng had chosen to repeat the libel by posting both PM Lee’s letter of demand and his affidavit on his blog, as well as use foreign organisations to "campaign against Singapore" and use the court process to further his campaign.
Ngerng said in response: “Mr Singh… Mr Lee is not Singapore — this has nothing to do with Mr Lee.”
The senior counsel had earlier in cross-examination of Ngerng charged that Ngerng had attempted to mislead the court by only including in his affidavit the statistics for the offending blog post’s sub-page, and not the statistics for his blog’s main page. Singh also argued that Ngerng had lied to his previous lawyer, M Ravi, by instructing Ravi to claim in a lawyer’s letter that Ngerng had acted in an overzealous manner.
In addition, said Singh, Ngerng had also refused to publish PM Lee’s reply regarding the blogger’s $5,000 offer, putting the PM in a position where he felt compelled to inform the public.
Ngerng countered that Singh was lying, saying, “I only found out the offer was derisory through the media.”
The hearing concluded just 40 minutes after the court re-convened at 2:30pm Friday — Justice Lee called for the lunchtime break after Ngerng broke down a second time earlier. A visibly-downcast Ngerng declined to speak to reporters waiting for him outside court afterward.
Written submissions for both Ngerng and Lee for damages will be submitted to court by the end of August. Justice Lee will then decide if he requires oral submissions, deliberate and make his decision later on.
Top photo by Ng Yi Shu.
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