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TOC editor testifies in libel trial, grilled on whether he verified allegations by PM Lee’s siblings

TOC editor testifies in libel trial, grilled on whether he verified allegations by PM Lee’s siblings

Mr Terry Xu, the editor of The Online Citizen, was questioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's personal lawyer on Dec 1, 2020. (Photo: TODAY/Nuria Ling)

SINGAPORE: Taking the stand for the first time in his defamation trial, the chief editor of socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) was quizzed on whether he had independently ascertained the truth behind allegations made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s siblings.

Mr Terry Xu said that he “saw no way” of doing this, adding that they had presented their own evidence to support their allegations.

Mr Xu was testifying in court on Tuesday (Dec 1) during a hearing in the afternoon. He is challenging a libel lawsuit brought against him by PM Lee over a TOC article published in August last year. It was titled “PM Lee’s wife Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members”.

The article, PM Lee’s lawyers have said, contains false allegations repeated from his siblings that gravely injure his character and reputation. They also accused Mr Xu of malice.

READ: Singapore in 'very sad state' if I depend on living in Oxley Road house to 'exude magic aura': PM Lee in libel trial

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.

Mr Xu initially named Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang as third parties in the lawsuit, intending for them to bear damages if he was found liable for defamation.

However, his lawyer Lim Tean said on Monday that he is likely to discontinue third-party proceedings. Mr Lim completed his cross-examination of PM Lee on Tuesday morning.

RELIED ON SIBLINGS’ STATEMENTS

In the afternoon, Mr Xu was grilled for more than two hours by PM Lee’s personal lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh. 

Under cross-examination, Mr Xu said that he had established his belief on Dr Lee’s and Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s allegations before the article was published. 

When the lawyer again asked him to substantiate this, he added: “I believe I included all the evidence I relied on in coming to that belief. I would like to remind the court that I’m a website editor who has published extensively on this topic and I don’t have to make the additional effort in getting in touch with the evidence required.”

READ: TOC defamation trial: Animosity from siblings evident, but PM Lee hopes that 'matters can be repaired' one day

He said that this evidence included public statements made by PM Lee’s siblings from Jun 14 until at least Jul 7, 2017. 

They had alleged in the first statement, which kickstarted the Oxley Road saga, that PM Lee opposed their father’s wish to demolish the family house and that he misused his power as prime minister.

The TOC article, written by Ms Rubaashini Shunmuganathan and approved by Mr Xu, repeated a similar allegation that Dr Lee made in another Facebook post.

“CREATIVE WRITING”

Senior Counsel Singh also questioned Mr Xu on what this paragraph in the article meant: “If that is not all, the late LKY also removed PM Lee as an executor and trustee of his will, making only the other two siblings … as the executors.”

Mr Xu had taken the article down when PM Lee’s press secretary Chang Li Lin sent a letter of demand on Sep 1 last year.

READ: Court documents claim PM Lee 'suffered loss and damage' following publication of The Online Citizen article

He then reposted it three days later with a caveat at the back of that paragraph: “(Note that this is not related to the prior alleged event mentioned before this sentence)."

The “prior alleged event” was that Mr Lee Kuan Yew began having doubts in late 2013 that the house was gazetted before he learnt that it was not.

Senior Counsel Singh pressed Mr Xu on whether the phrase “if that is not all” meant that Mr Lee Kuan Yew removed his son as an executor after learning that the house was not gazetted.

PM Lee’s position is that his father had decided as early as July 2011 to remove him as executor.

Senior Counsel Singh told Mr Xu: “It would appear that you took the opportunity of Mdm Ho Ching’s article to attack the plaintiff and to say things beyond what the siblings had alleged.”

Mr Xu replied that he had realised the two paragraphs could be misinterpreted, so he inserted the caveat.

“I suggest to you that it was not a misinterpretation. You were finding an excuse, having got caught out for saying something false,” Senior Counsel Singh said.

Mr Xu disagreed.

READ: PM Lee to testify in court if defamation suit against TOC editor Terry Xu goes to trial

The lawyer also noted that when Mr Xu had asked Ms Rubaashini to write the article, he said that he needed “some creative writing”.

“You see the sequence (of events in the article)? You see the creativity that goes beyond the allegations?” the lawyer asked.

“I don’t,” Mr Xu replied.

The trial continues on Wednesday.

For more stories like this, visit todayonline.com.

Source: Today/zl

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