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PM Lee wins defamation suits, awarded S$210,000 in damages against TOC editor Terry Xu and writer

PM Lee wins defamation suits, awarded S$210,000 in damages against TOC editor Terry Xu and writer

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and chief editor of The Online Citizen Terry Xu arrive at the Supreme Court on Nov 30, 2020 for the defamation trial. (Photos: Nuria Ling/TODAY)

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was awarded S$210,000 by the High Court on Wednesday (Sep 1) in two separate defamation lawsuits against Terry Xu, the editor of socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC), and Rubaashini Shunmuganathan, the writer of a TOC article.

In August 2019, TOC published an article written by Ms Rubaashini about Mr Lee's dispute with his siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, over their family home at 38 Oxley Road.

The article was found by Justice Audrey Lim to be defamatory, stating that the libel against Mr Lee was "grave and serious".

"The defamatory remarks do not merely attack his personal integrity, character and reputation, but that of the PM, and damage his moral authority to lead Singapore," said Justice Lim in a 60-page judgment.

Justice Lim also granted an injunction that Mr Lee had sought, restraining Xu from further publishing or disseminating the defamatory allegations in the article.

“As usual, PM Lee intends to donate to charity the damages he has been awarded," Mr Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said on Wednesday.

DAMAGES "FAIR AND REASONABLE": JUSTICE

In the first lawsuit against Mr Xu, Mr Lee was awarded S$160,000 in general damages and S$50,000 in aggravated damages, for a total of S$210,000.

Justice Lim had described the amount as a "fair and reasonable sum to compensate him of his injury and vindicate his reputation".

In the second lawsuit, Mr Lee was awarded general damages of S$160,000 against Ms Rubaashini - the same amount as the first lawsuit against Mr Xu.

Justice Lim noted that both Mr Xu and Ms Rubaashini should be jointly liable for the sum as it is in respect of the same article, and that Mr Lee should not be doubly compensated.

Aggravated damages were not awarded against Ms Rubaashini, as she did not contest her liability or raise a "reckless justification defence", unlike Mr Xu, and that she did not aggravate the injury to Mr Lee after the article was published.

"To avoid doubt, the total amount awarded to (Lee Hsien Loong) in damages in both suits is S$210,000," said Justice Lim in an updated judgment.

Ms Rubaashini was found liable for defamation on Dec 31, 2019. She had been served a Writ of Summons, the Statement of Claim and other documents on Dec 4, but did not appear for the suit.

Justice Lim will next hear parties on costs in both suits.

XU'S RESPONSE

In a Facebook post on Wednesday after the decision was handed down, Mr Xu said that he is currently working with his counsel to decide what his next steps will be, such as appealing against the judgment.

Mr Xu added that he and his lawyer, Lim Tean, were "very disappointed" with the judgment.

The TOC article in the suits was titled “PM Lee’s wife Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members”.

Since 2017, PM Lee has been embroiled in a dispute with his siblings - Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang - over the fate of their family home at 38 Oxley Road after the death of their father and Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The lawsuit concerns five specific paragraphs in the article based on allegations made by Dr Lee. They stated that PM Lee misrepresented to his father that the house had been gazetted as a heritage building and that it was futile to demolish it.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that Mr Lee was awarded S$370,000 in damages. The court has since clarified in an updated judgment that he was awarded S$210,000 in damages.

Source: CNA/ic(ac)

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