'engineered libel's publication'
South China Morning Post. Sept 24, 1997
Related: S'pore leaders under fire over `political' libel
SINGAPORE: The city state's leaders tried to exterminate a political opponent by publishing his complaints to police against them, and did not deserve the massive libel payout subsequently awarded to them, a leading British lawyer said yesterday.
Charles Gray told the Court of Appeal that Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew were themselves responsible for publication of the libellous police reports filed by Tang Liang Hong.
Mr Goh and fellow leaders of his People's Action Party (PAP) say they had to sue to defend their integrity. Mr Gray alleged their motives were purely political.
"Far from being actions to repair damage to reputations and vindication of their reputations, these suits were, in reality, conceived and pursued by all these respondents as the means to exterminate a political opponent," Mr Gray said.
"The truth of the matter was that it was the premier and the Senior Minister who themselves saw fit to procure the widest publicity for words which they and the other respondents now choose to treat as the vilest of libels.
"The bulk of the damage, if there was any damage, must have followed the very wide publicity in the press which followed publication of the contents of the report."
Opening Mr Tang's appeal against the decisions on Monday, Mr Gray said the record S$8.08 million (HK$40.86 million) libel award was "grotesque" and would have a "chilling effect" on freedom of speech.
Mr Gray told the court yesterday that the judge who awarded the payout to Mr Goh, Mr Lee and nine other PAP leaders was not aware of who published the police reports.
He said the facts concerning the release of the reports had been "assiduously obfuscated" by the PAP leaders in Mr Tang's trial for defamation earlier this year.
Mr Tang called the PAP leaders liars for accusing him during the campaign for January 2 elections of being an "anti-Christian Chinese chauvinist".
The PAP won 81 of parliament's 83 seats.
Mr Goh and the others sued Mr Tang, of the Workers' Party, who fled Singapore after the election saying his life had been threatened. He has not returned.
Mr Gray argued on Monday that the libel decisions were wrong in law because Justice Lai Kew Chai, who made critical decisions in hearings leading up to the trial, should have stood aside.
The British lawyer said there could have been a perception of bias because Mr Justice Lai had been a partner in Mr Lee's old firm.
Lawyer Tan Kok Kuan said there had been no close relationship between Mr Lee and Mr Justice Lai. The judge was not obliged to withdraw.
Published in the South China Morning Post. Sept 23, 1997