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(May Issue, Far Eastern Economic Review)
Singapore’s Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew has a track record of suing his critics for defamation in the republic’s courts. But now he’s taken the fight overseas–a development that rights workers, journalists and opponents say may harm freedom of expression in Singapore.
In the little-publicized suit filed in an Ontario court, Lee is taking on Canada’s leading newspaper and former Singapore President Devan Nair. “I believe this is the first time Lee Kuan Yew has sued a Canadian newspaper,” says Margaret John, Amnesty International Canada’s coordinator for Malaysia and Singapore. “Amnesty International fears that Lee Kuan Yew’s suit against a former president of Singapore in a foreign jurisdiction is likely to have a further chilling effect on freedom of expression in Singapore.”
Lee filed the suit in June 1999 over an article that appeared in Toronto-based The Globe and Mail. Lee, who is seeking C$400,000 ($255,000) in penalties and damages, alleges the article defamed him by suggesting he had carried out a vilification campaign against Nair with rumours that his former colleague was an alcoholic and womanizer. In the article, the reporter included Nair’s suspicion that Lee had induced government doctors to drug him so that it looked as if he was disorientated.
Nair, who lives in Canada, has filed a counter-claim. In his memoirs, published in 2000, Lee did not mention the lawsuit. But he said Nair resigned on March 28, 1985, and sought treatment for alcoholism at the Caron Foundation in the United States.