Opposition  politician  defiant
    after losing defamation battle

  Agence France Presse
March 15, 2005

AN opposition leader vowed Tuesday, March 15, to continue fighting the ruling party despite being on the brink of bankruptcy after losing a defamation suit filed by the city-state's two former premiers.

Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, told AFP he had not paid S$500,000 (US$303,030) in damages to Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew, as ordered by the High Court.

Lawyers for Goh and Lee had sent separate letters to Chee on February 28 demanding the money, plus legal costs and expenses, to be paid by Monday.

Chee, 42, said he had yet to respond to the letters and was expecting to see bankruptcy proceedings start against him shortly.

"It's not a matter of whether I'm going to pay it, but rather whether I can afford to," said Chee, who has contested national elections but never won a seat in parliament.

"This is a common Singapore government tactic... whether I'm made a bankrupt or not, I will continue to do what I intend to do, that is, to fight for democracy in Singapore."

By law bankrupt persons cannot run for public office but Chee remained defiant.

"Elections are just one of the ways of doing political work in Singapore. In the past two, three years, I haven't just spent my time thinking about the elections.

"I try to organise people, write, speak as much as possible within the international community," he said.

The High Court in January found Chee liable for damages as a result of remarks made about Goh and Lee during the election campaign in October 2001.

The twin cases involved accusations by Chee, which he later retracted, that the former premiers had lent some US$10 billion to then-Indonesian president Suharto at the height of the East Asian financial crisis in 1998.

Lee, Goh and other members of the People's Action Party (PAP), which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965, have a history of taking legal action against their political opponents and media critics.

J.B Jeyaretnam, one of Singapore's most famous opposition politicians, remains a bankrupt after losing a series of long-running legal battles against Lee, Goh and others.

Jeyaretnam became the first opposition politician to win a seat in parliament in 1981 but the PAP's defamation suits eventually crushed his career.

Human rights groups have criticised the government for using libel laws to silence its critics but the city-state's rulers argue they need to take legal action to protect their reputations.

Lee led Singapore to independence and ruled until 1990. He then handed power to Goh, who stood down last year for Lee's son, Lee Hsien Loong.

Goh and the elder Lee remain in the cabinet as chief advisers of the new prime minister.