Singapore's High Court on Friday ruled in favor of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a defamation case filed by the leader against a blogger, reports said. It was the first time that Lee had sued an online critic, and the action was in response to a blog post alleging Loong misappropriated state pension funds.
The claims were made by former government employee Roy Ngerng, 33, who was the author of a blog called Heart Truths, according to Agence France-Presse, or AFP. While details about damages to be awarded in the case will be announced later, civil cases heard in the country’s High Court usually award at least 250,000 Singaporean Dollars ($200,000), reports said. Ngerng reportedly sought a trial to defend himself but judge Lee Seiu Kin turned him down, according to AFP, stating there was "no triable defence against the plaintiff's claim."
"There is no doubt that it is defamatory to suggest that the plaintiff is guilty of criminal misappropriation,” the judge reportedly said. Ngerng had reportedly admitted earlier that the claims he made on May 15 about Loong using state funds were false.
"I am currently deliberating with my lawyer M.Ravi on the next course of action," Ngerng told AFP, adding: "I am disappointed as I have never intended to defame the prime minister. I will still continue to speak up on the CPF (Central Provident Fund) and other issues that concern Singaporeans."
Singapore is consistently extolled as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, but critics of Singapore's tightly-controlled political environment say that leaders sometimes use defamation cases to curb critics. In turn, Singapore’s leaders have argued that lawsuits are necessary to safeguard their reputation from baseless allegations.
"I think it is a sad commentary when the elected leader of a country can't take criticism from its citizens about issues related to public policy," Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division in Bangkok, said, according to Reuters.