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October 6, 2020, 05.07 PM

SINGAPORE, – Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was in court Tuesday to begin his defamation suit against blogger Leong Sze Hian.

Singapore's PM testified in court in a lawsuit over the blogger’s alleged role of sharing a Facebook article and spreading false claims linking the leader to Malaysia’s state fund 1MDB money-laundering scandal.

For critics, PM Lee’s defamation suit is the latest example of the tightly-regulated city-state's government being heavy-handed and seeking to silence dissent online.


Read also: Najib Razak Found Guilty in Malaysia’s 1MDB Scandal

Singapore's leaders have frequently turned to the courts to take on critics, ranging from political opponents to foreign media outlets, and insist such action is necessary to protect their reputations.

Taking the stand at the start of the trial, Lee accused Leong of making "malicious and baseless" allegations, which had undermined the government's "integrity and honesty".

The article that Leong shared, originally published in a Malaysian news portal, alleged that Singapore's PM was the target of an investigation in Malaysia over the 1MDB state fund.

Read also: Indonesia-Malaysia Police Collaboration Lauded in Arrest of Fugitive Djoko

Billions of dollars were looted from the investment vehicle in a scandal that involved Malaysia's former leader Najib Razak and his inner circle.

Lee, 68, also said he suffered damage to his own reputation.

Leong's lawyer Lim Tean argued the libel suit was unnecessary as authorities had denied the allegations, adding the Singaporean Prime Minister had "picked on the defendant when there are many others who shared the (defamatory) article".

Read also: Lim Tean Arrested by Singapore Police for Criminal Breach of Trust

The defamation suit will run until the end of the week.

On Friday, Lim, who is also an opposition politician, was arrested on suspicion of harassment and misappropriating money and claimed the move was politically motivated. Police denied his claim.

Singapore's leaders are sensitive to allegations of graft, but rights groups frequently accuse them of resorting to tough laws to silence criticism.

Last year authorities introduced a law against online misinformation, which empowers ministers to order the blocking of social media posts they deem false, sparking criticism that it would chill free speech. (Writer & Editor: MBA-SR/RBU, © Agence France-Presse)



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