Singaporean blogger fights back against PM libel suit

SINGAPORE: A Singaporean blogger is fighting back after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sued him for defamation for sharing an article on Facebook linking the leader to a corruption scandal.

Singapore has long been criticised for restricting free speech and other political rights, as well as slapping critics with financially ruinous libel suits.

Observers say the government is increasingly targeting online criticism — the case against blogger Leong Sze Hian comes the same month the editor of a news portal was charged with defamation.

The prime minister lodged the defamation suit against Leong earlier in December for posting on his Facebook page a link to an article alleging that Lee was the target of an investigation in Malaysia over the scandal at sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Lee said the article, originally published in a Malaysian news portal, was false and without basis and that Leong had reposted the link to smear his reputation.

But Leong, a regular critic of government policies, has now lodged a countersuit against Lee for alleged abuse of the court system.

“The predominant purpose of the claim is the use of the legal process to chill freedom of expression in Singapore,“ said Leong in his suit, which was posted on Facebook Wednesday along with details of his defence.

He said all he had done was to make the article available on his Facebook page “without embellishment or comment” for less than three days.

Malaysia’s ex-prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak and members of his government are alleged to have stolen billions of dollars from 1MDB in an audacious fraud that spanned the globe.

The scandal led to Najib’s election defeat in May to a reformist coalition led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Najib has since been arrested and charged but denies wrongdoing.

Earlier this month, Terry Xu, editor of Singapore news site The Online Citizen, was charged with defamation for publishing a letter that alleged corruption among the city-state’s leaders.

Singapore is regularly ranked among the world’s least corrupt countries and its leaders are sensitive to accusations of graft.

With Singapore’s media scene dominated by pro-government publications, criticism of the authorities is mostly expressed online. — AFP

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