Blogger Leong Sze Hian to pay PM Lee $133,000 for defamation
Judge rules that sharing of defamatory article amounts to publishing it
The High Court has ordered blogger and financial adviser Leong Sze Hian to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong $133,000 for defamation.
The sum includes $100,000 in general damages and $33,000 in aggravated damages.
Mr Leong was sued for sharing, on his Facebook page, an article from Malaysian news site, The Coverage, that falsely linked PM Lee to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal in Malaysia.
Justice Aedit Abdullah said in a written judgment yesterday that Mr Leong did so "without making any inquiries as to its truth whatsoever" and displayed "reckless disregard of whether the article was true or not".
Justice Aedit noted that the link to the article, along with its headline and a photo, was the only substantive content of Mr Leong's post, and it would be artificial to draw a "bright-line distinction" between the article and the post.
The judge said there did not appear to be any other plausible interpretation of the link to the article apart from Mr Leong supporting or endorsing the content in the link in some way.
Mr Leong had argued that in circumstances where the facts of a case might run afoul of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), an individual should not be able to bypass the law and sue for defamation as doing so would "deny a citizen the protections built into Pofma".
But the judge said that Pofma is concerned with falsehood rather than the harm caused to reputation.
"Pofma does not provide individuals with any right or cause of action arising from a false and defamatory allegation against them. This is a key distinction," he said.
PM Lee's lawyers had sought $150,000 in damages, in line with what was awarded in a previous defamation case involving blogger Roy Ngerng.
Mr Leong's lawyer Lim Tean asked for only nominal damages of as little as $1.
While the judge agreed that the two cases were comparable, he noted that the defamatory material in Mr Ngerng's case received a far larger number of views - at least 37,223 distinct individuals.
Justice Aedit found that the defamatory content would have been published to, at most, about 400 people in Singapore as a result of Mr Leong's post, or 20 per cent of the estimated 2,060 of Mr Leong's Facebook friends and followers based here.
But the judge said Mr Leong's case involved a more serious claim - that PM Lee was involved in cross-border misappropriation of funds belonging to the citizens of another country, in cooperation with the leader of that country.
"For that reason, I would find that despite the lower reach, an award of $100,000 in general damages was warranted."