trial : Day 3
August 21, 1997
Libel case 'used for Singapore political attack'
J.B."BEN" JEYARETNAM, the veteran opposition leader, yesterday accused Singapore's leaders of trying to drive him out of parliament by pursuing libel cases against him.
Mr Jeyaretnam, 71, agreed that he told an election rally that a Workers' Party (WP) colleague had filed police reports against Goh Chok Tong, the Prime Minister, and other members of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). But, questioned by his barrister, George Carman, QC, he told the court he had no detailed knowledge of what was in the reports, which accused Mr Goh, Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister, and nine other PAP leaders of criminal conspiracy and lying.
The 11 are suing Mr Jeyaretnam, saying his announcement of the police reports amounted to defamation by innuendo because everyone knew what the documents contained after a widely publicised war of words.
The trial, planned to last 12 days, is being monitored by the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists and by Amnesty International, which says it is worried Singapore may be using the courts to suppress opposition. Mr Goh denied on Tuesday that the defamation actions were intended to bankrupt Mr Jeyaretnam and thus bar him from parliament. The actions stemmed from December's election campaign which resulted in the PAP winning 81 of parliament's 83 seats.
In the campaign, the PAP focused all its heavy weaponry on Tang Liang Hong, a WP candidate, accusing him of being an "anti-Christian, Chinese chauvinist" who endangered racial harmony in mainly ethnic Chinese Singapore, which has large Malay and Indian minorities.
Mr Tang filed police reports accusing PAP leaders of lying and criminal conspiracy and Mr Jeyaretnam announced that move at the last rally before voting on January 2.
Mr Goh and his colleagues sued Mr Tang, who fled abroad saying his life had been threatened. He did not return to defend himself and the PAP leaders were awarded a record S$8.08 million (£3.5 million) in damages.
They also sued Mr Jeyaretnam, who is an MP by virtue of a constitutional provision requiring at least three opposition members.
"The case against Tang and me is purely political," Mr Jeyaretnam told Tom Shields, QC, Mr Goh's barrister.
"What I announced was that Tang Liang Hong had just placed before me reports that he had made to the police. That is all. I doubt very much that the ordinary layman in Singapore would understand from that, that he [Mr Tang] is reporting them for criminal conspiracy and defamation," Mr Jeyaretnam added.
Mr Shields suggested that Mr Jeyaretnam knew "full well the inference was that they were lying". The opposition politician replied: "I really didn't think about it." He said that Mr Tang had simply placed copies of the police reports on the rally podium and asked him to announce that they had been made. The case continues. (Reuters)
Answering back can cost
FROM ANDREW DRUMMOND IN SINGAPORE
"NOBODY fishes in the local lakes any more because now even the fish don't open their mouths," the driver said on the way to the High Court in Singapore. He was describing the atmosphere as Goh Chok Tong, the Prime Minister, faced a grilling from George Carman, QC, in the extraordinary libel case against the leader of the Opposition.
At the centre of the case is the Workers' Party leader, J.B. "Ben" Jeyaretnam, who is being sued for the innuendo of waving a police report in front of an election meeting and saying that Mr Goh had been reported to the police.
The report filed by a political candidate, Tang Liang Hong, was an answer to mudslinging by the Prime Minister, who had accused him of being a Chinese chauvinist and anti-Christian and therefore likely to disrupt Singapore's racial balance, even though Mr Tang has studied Indian dancing and his daughter is a Christian.
But under Singapore's "meritocracy", to answer back the head of government can be a costly experience. Mr Goh has already been awarded $S600,000 (£260,860) in an earlier libel action against Mr Tang. Eleven other government politicians shared the rest of an $S8 million award between them.
Singapore boasts the highest standard of living in the region. There are jobs to go round. The state is sparkling clean. The quality of life, however, is a different matter. A poll published in Singapore last week indicated that at least 37 per cent of adults had contemplated or were contemplating emigrating.
South China Morning Post
Hearing 'purely political'
VETERAN opposition leader J. B. Jeyaretnam yesterday told the High Court that ruling party leaders were out to destroy him politically with multiple defamation suits.
"I have said that the case against Tang Liang Hong and me is purely political," the 71-year-old leader of the Workers Party said from the witness box on the third day of his defamation hearing.
Mr Tang, who fled Singapore after allegedly receiving death threats, was Mr Jeyaretnam's running mate in the January 2 general elections and came close to winning a seat in Parliament.
The hearing, being closely monitored by global human rights and judicial groups, was yesterday adjourned earlier than scheduled to give lawyers more time to prepare their initial submissions for today.
Mr Jeyaretnam, a judge before he entered politics 26 years ago, could be disqualified as an MP if he loses the lawsuits and is unable to pay libel damages.
Premier Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and other leaders of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in May won a record S$8.08 million (HK$41.15 million) in libel damages from the self-exiled Mr Tang.
The PAP leaders have slapped eight defamation suits on Mr Jeyaretnam, whom they accuse of uttering defamatory remarks at an election-eve rally.
Mr Jeyaretnam said his controversial disclosure at the rally that Mr Tang, 61, had lodged two police reports after being branded an anti-Christian, Chinese chauvinist by PAP leaders was meant to prove that the Workers Party was serious.
"The PAP keeps saying: look at the opposition, they have no men of character, it is not credible, has a bunch of quacks and opportunists . . . We were trying to tell the electorate that we are not quacks, we don't just talk," he said.
Hong Kong Standard
Case is political says sued opposition leader
SINGAPORE: An opposition leader sued for defamation by 11 members of the ruling party said on Wednesday the case was politically motivated to get him out of parliament.
It was the last comment made in his defence by Workers Party leader J B Jeyaretnam, 71, who is fighting the suit filed by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and nine others over a statement he made at an election rally.
``I want to say this is politically motivated _ to keep me out,'' said Mr Jeyaretnam, who gave evidence for two hours.
He is one of three opposition members in the 84-seat Parliament, which has been dominated for 38 years by the People's Action Party.
If Mr Jeyaretnam, who has no assets _ partly because of previous legal wrangles _ is found guilty and assessed for the multi-million dollar awards that have become expected in such cases, he would be declared bankrupt.
That would require him to give up his Parliament seat, which he received not through election but under a law that ensures there are always at least three opposition members in Parliament.
Mr Goh, who was on the witness stand on Tuesday, denied any political motivation. ``Mr Jeyaretnam is no threat to us,'' he said. _ AP