Page last updated at 07:24 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 08:24 UK

Editor 'defamed' Singapore leader

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
The article defamed Prime Minister Lee and his father, the court found

Singapore's High Court has ruled that the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) magazine defamed Singapore's leaders.

It ruled that the editor, Hugo Restall, also defamed Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew and his son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong.

The case was about an article in FEER in 2006, based on an interview with Singapore politician Chee Soon Juan.

The Singapore government has frequently resorted to its own courts to protect its reputation.

Singapore state media reported that Justice Woo Bih Li had reached his conclusion of defamation by summary judgement, as requested by the Lees.

In such a judgement, the court makes a ruling without the case going to trial, as it agrees with the applicant that the defence arguments are baseless, the Straits Times newspaper added.

Damages are to be assessed later. FEER has a month in which to lodge an appeal.

The Straits Times reported that lawyers for the Lees had said the article at the centre of the case was "calculated to disparage both leaders by suggesting they were corrupt and unfit for office, and would sue and suppress those who questioned them as the questions would expose their corruption".

The article which had aroused the Lees' anger was entitled Singapore's 'Martyr,' Chee Soon Juan. It described the Singapore Democratic Party secretary general's battle against the ruling People's Action Party and its leaders.

FEER had argued that the article was based on facts and fair comment, concerned matters of public interest and was a neutral report.

But Justice Woo said FEER's defences failed or did not apply in Singapore, the Straits Times said.

He said there was no doubt the defamatory words in the article referred to the two Singapore leaders, and that other references that linked the government to Singapore's National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and its disgraced director TT Durai amounted to "defamation by implication".

Justice Woo found the article to mean that Lee Kuan Yew "has been running and continues to run Singapore in the same corrupt manner as Durai operated NKF and he has been using libel actions to suppress those who would question to avoid exposure of his corruption", the newspaper reported.

He also found the article to mean that Prime Minister Lee "is unfit for office because he is corrupt and he too has set out to sue and suppress those who question him to cover up his corruption".

Not 'neutral'

Justice Woo rejected FEER's argument that the article constituted fair comment, saying the words in question were allegations of facts and not comments.

FEER's argument that Dr Chee was entitled to respond to allegations made against him by the Lees, was also rejected, as Justice Woo found the defamatory words went beyond such a response.

The allegation of corruption against the Lees was "plainly an example of someone going beyond defence and proceeding to offence", he was reported to have said by the Straits Times.

Singaporean leaders have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages in defamation cases against critics and foreign publications, which they have said are necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded attacks.

Singapore has also banned several foreign publications from distributing their products in Singapore, and has required those that do distribute there to promise to abide by stringent media rules.

Country profile: Singapore
30 Jul 08 |  Country profiles

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