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Leong Sze Hian faces defamation case

Status: 
Defamation Case
About the situation

Blogger and human rights defender Leong Sze Hian is facing defamation proceedings brought against him by the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong. The court action was brought on the basis that Leong Sze Hian posted on a Facebook an article published by a Malaysian media outlet.

About Leong Sze Hian

Leong Sze HianLeong Sze Hian is a prominent blogger and human rights defender who works on social and economic rights and has called for more equitable government policies in Singapore.

11 March 2019
Leong Sze Hian faces defamation case

Blogger and human rights defender Leong Sze Hian is facing defamation proceedings brought against him by the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong. The court action was brought on the basis that Leong Sze Hian posted on a Facebook an article published by a Malaysian media outlet.

Leong Sze Hian is a prominent blogger and human rights defender who works on social and economic rights and has called for more equitable government policies in Singapore.

On 7 November 2018, Leong Sze Hian shared a link to an article on his Facebook page, without comment or amendment, that had been published by The Coverage, a Malaysian-based online news outlet. The article was entitled “Breaking News: Singapore Lee Hsien Loong Becomes 1MDB’s Key Investigation Target – Najib Signed Several Unfair Agreements With Hsien Loong in Exchange For Money Laundering”. The article linked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the Malaysian strategic development company, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which has been involved in a corruption scandal, which has seen billions of Malaysian ringgit embezzled from the country and has also implicated former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

On 10 November 2018 at around 7.30am, the human rights defender removed his post upon reading a notice from the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) demanding that the post be taken down within six hours. The notice had been sent to the human rights defender at around 11pm the previous day but he did not read it until the next morning.

Despite complying with the request, on 12 November 2018, the human rights defender received a letter by a lawyer representing the Prime Minister alleging that the Facebook post had been published with malicious intent and that both the post and the article “contains allegations that are highly defamatory to [their] client.”On 4 December 2018, Leong Sze Hian received notification that the Prime Minister had started defamation proceedings against him.

Leong Sze Hian lodged a counterclaim on 26 December arguing that the libel action brought against him by the Prime Minister was an “abuse of process”. While not included in Leong Sze Hian’s counterclaim, it must also be noted that the threshold of defamation is much higher for public figures, including government officials given the heightened public scrutiny they are ususally subject to.

On 10 January 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s lawyers filed an application to strike out Leong Sze Hien’s counterclaim on the grounds that it had no legal basis.

Front Line Defenders believes that the disproportionate legal action being taken against Leong Sze Hian for his Facebook post is a targetted attempt by the authorities to silence the human rights defender.

Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the proceedings brought against Leong Sze Hian which is one of many cases being brought against human rights defenders, including Jolovan Wham, in the country. Front Line Defenders recognises that these cases are part of an ongoing effort to clamp down on freedom of expression in Singapore.