SINGAPORE – Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is suing the chief editor of independent website The Online Citizen for an alleged defamatory article published in August.
The Online Citizen reported on Friday that its chief editor Terry Xu received a writ of summons and statement of claim from lawyer Davinder Singh on Thursday, on behalf of the prime minister, after it refused to take down an article.
“The statement of claim finds fault with an article published on TOC, ‘PM Lee’s wife, Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members,’ stating that the article contained statements that are false and baseless and were calculated to disparage and impugn PM Lee as well as his office as the Prime Minister,” The Online Citizen said in a Facebook post Thursday.
The story published on Aug. 15, refers to disputes in the Lee family over the inheritance of the siblings’ late father and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, considered the founder of modern Singapore.
Lee, whose government passed a law in May to criminalize the dissemination of “fake news” through online platforms with sentences of up to 10 years in jail, demanded in a letter sent through his press secretary and published by The Online Citizen that the “libelous” article be removed immediately from the website and Facebook account, and that an apology letter be issued within three days.
Lee’s request, with a deadline of Sept. 4, was rejected by Xu.
“Although I do fear that the cost stemming from the possible legal suit from you may be hefty, that is a price that I am willing to pay to not only uphold my principles, but also to uphold my obligations to Singapore and my fellow Singaporeans,” said Xu, who now has eight days to prepare his defense.
Singaporean authorities closely control the media, either directly as a major shareholder of the most important television, radio and newspapers, or through the use of restrictive laws that favor censorship.
Reporters Without Borders placed Singapore, one of the most prosperous countries in the world, at 151st out of 180 in its Press Freedom Index 2019.
It said “the city-state does not fall far short of China when it comes to suppressing media freedom. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s government is always quick to sue critical journalists, apply pressure to make them unemployable, or even force them to leave the country.”