Lees sue FEER

13 Sep 06

Singapore’s prime minister and his father, the founding father of the city-state, have filed a defamation suit against the publisher and editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), according to court documents.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former premier Lee Kuan Yew filed the libel suit against Hong Kong-based Review Publishing Company Ltd and FEER editor Hugo Restall on Aug. 22 for an article published in July on opposition politician Chee Soon Juan.

The article — under the headline “Singapore’s Martyr: Chee Soon Juan” — criticised the Singapore government’s handling of a pay-and-perks scandal at the country’s largest charity. The magazine also quoted Chee attacking the Lees.

The Far Eastern Economic Review declined comment on the case.

The suit is the latest in a series brought by Singapore’s leaders against foreign media and opposition politicians.

Court documents showed that the Lees’ lawyers first sent a letter to Review Publishing on July 18, demanding the removal of the article from FEER’s Web site.

The Lees also asked Review Publishing to issue an apology and pay compensation by July 24.

But Review Publishing proposed publishing the Lees’ letter on its Web site to allow the leaders to give their position to readers and suggested publishing an interview with Lee Kuan Yew.

The suit said FEER attempted to profit from their libel by proposing to interview Lee Kuan Yew and circulate their correspondence on its Web site.

Court documents showed that the Lees’ lawyers made an application on Aug. 25 to serve the summons to Review Publishing and FEER’s editor in Hong Kong. Review Publishing, owned by Dow Jones & Co., does not have a representative in Singapore.

Chee, an acerbic critic of the government, has had several run-ins with Singapore’s leaders. He was slapped with a defamation suit in 2001 for accusations against Lee Kuan Yew and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and was declared bankrupt because he was unable to pay damages.

On Tuesday, Singapore’s High Court ruled that Chee and his sister had defamed the Lees in a separate case. No damages have been announced yet.

Singapore has for decades taken a tough stance on foreign media when they report on local politics. International media organisations have been banned, slapped with defamation suits or seen their circulations restricted when they published articles deemed offensive by the government.