Blogger Leong Sze Hian to pay PM Lee S$133,000 in damages for defamation

Leong's lawyer is advising him on his next step.

Belmont Lay | March 24, 2021, 04:28 PM

Blogger Leong Sze Hian has to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong S$133,000 for defaming him in a Facebook post, a court ordered on March 24, 2021.

Leong's defamation stems from sharing an article by Malaysian website The Coverage in a public Facebook post in November 2018, but without caption.

The article alleged that PM Lee had helped former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak launder money in relation to Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Written judgement

Justice Aedit Abdullah said in a written judgment that Leong shared his post "without making any enquiries as to its truth whatsoever" and displayed "reckless disregard of whether the article was true or not".

The judge also said: "When seen cumulatively with his refusal to apologise for the defamatory words, malice may be made out on the facts."

The sum awarded includes S$100,000 in general damages and S$33,000 in aggravated damages.

Justice Aedit added: "The malice in this case, unlike in several of the other cases cited to me, did not involve a defendant wilfully posting something he knew to be false at the time of posting, nor did it involve a defendant who defiantly insisted on the truth of his libellous claims to the bitter end despite clear evidence to the contrary."

The judge added he will deal with the issue of costs separately.

Sharing Facebook post is defamatory

Justice Aedit also said he found that the words suggest that PM Lee was, "at the very least, involved in serious and dishonest criminal activity", and Leong could not "reasonably claim that the defamatory words did not impugn character".

Leong, the judge said, had "published" the article as his post was hyperlinked to it, and he made it accessible as it was part of his Facebook post.

A total of 45 people responded to Leong's Facebook post, and the post was set to public, the judge said.

POFMA does not matter in this case

Justice Aedit also ruled that the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) does not alter the law of defamation in Singapore, as contested by Leong and his lawyer Lim Tean.

The judge found that POFMA is concerned with falsehoods rather than the harm caused to reputation.

Lim Tean disagrees with judgement

Lim commented on Facebook disagreeing with the decision, saying he was disappointed with the "wrong and deeply flawed" outcome.

He added that he would discuss with Leong and advise him on his options after the judgment.

Lim also shared a post to crowdsource funds for Leong.

PM Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said in response to media queries that PM Lee has nothing to add now that the matter has been decided by the judge.