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A Hong Kong-based regional magazine appealed a Singapore High Court ruling that it defamed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father Lee Kuan Yew, the city-state’s former leader.
Peter Low, a lawyer for the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), argued there was nothing in the article, published in 2006, that defamed the Lees.
The Lees had sued editor Hugo Restall and Review Publishing over the article, based on an interview with Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).
The piece entitled “Singapore’s ‘Martyr,’ Chee Soon Juan,” described the SDP secretary-general’s battle against the ruling People’s Action Party.
In the article, Restall also touched on the success of Singapore officials in libel suits against critics.
Singapore’s High Court last September ruled that the magazine defamed the Lees by suggesting they were corrupt.
The magazine is now asking the three-judge Court of Appeal to overturn the High Court’s ruling.
Decisions by the Court of Appeal are final and this will be FEER’s last legal avenue.
“The article is more about misgovernance than corruption,” Low, the FEER lawyer, said in court.
Singaporean leaders have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages in defamation cases against critics and foreign publications. They say the cases are necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded attacks.
US media giant Dow Jones, which owns FEER, sent a representative from its New York offices to observe the hearing.
In March, a senior editor of the Wall Street Journal, another Dow Jones publication, was fined 10,000 Singapore dollars (6,900 US) for contempt of court over three articles allegedly insulting the city-state’s judiciary.
The High Court also ordered Melanie Kirkpatrick, a deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, to pay 10,000 dollars in legal costs.
The ruling followed a judgement against the business newspaper’s publisher Dow Jones Publishing Company (Asia) Inc. last November.
In October 2007, London’s Financial Times newspaper apologised to Lee Kuan Yew and other members of his family and agreed to pay damages for false allegations in a column about sovereign wealth funds.