June 22, 2017

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You’ve heard from the PM on the stand – now hear what he has to say about Singapore in the hot seat – during an interview with CNN host and The Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria. The dialogue was held as part of the opening of this year’s SG50+ Conference at the Institute of Policy Studies. The theme: At 50: What Lies Ahead.

Now we know it’s tough trawling through MSM to hear what the PM had to say about politics, society, and the limits of free speech – so we’ve done that for you. Here are some excerpts, culled from stories today about yesterday’s dialogue:

On politics…

“In most other countries, the governments do not develop policies which are meant to help everybody equally. If you’re a Republican, it’s quite clear who your policies are meant to help… If you’re a Democrat, you also know what your constituency is, and you take care of your constituency. But in Singapore, a government’s job is to look after as large a proportion of the population as possible, while still giving people the incentive to vote for this G, so that they will get some benefit from it. And if we take the view that if you voted against me, I should help you first as that shows my largeness of spirit, then I think you will go extinct as a government.”

“We are a multi-party liberal democratic system. The outcome is not what you would like to see, but that is what Singaporean voters have decided.”

“I prefer strongly not to. This is a job which needs a young man, people with energy, people who will be there and can connect with young people, and will fight the battles with (them), not for five or 10 years but for 20, 30, 40 years to come. And you need somebody of that generation.” – asked if he would continue to lead Singapore for next 10 years.

On society…

“I think we must have a balance. We want people who stand up; we don’t want people who scrape and bow. But if you don’t have a certain natural aristocracy in the system – people who are respected because they have earned that – and we level everything down to the lowest common denominator, then I think the society will lose out.” – rejecting a suggestion that Singapore would benefit from a culture that challenges the authorities.

“I have a multiracial mix (in population) but I have a mix where everybody has benefited from the system, where everybody has a stake and can see that it is working for us. And it has prevailed so far.”

“You don’t expect to go back to how you were in the 1960s. Yet, it is not natural that you stay in this place. Is it to be expected that a population of 3.5 million citizens and maybe a million foreign workers will have the best airline in the world, the best airport in the world, one of the busiest ports in the world, and an education and healthcare and housing system which gives us a per capita GDP higher than America or Australia or Japan? It’s an entirely unnatural state of affairs and one which we should count our blessings for – if not every day, at least (at) every election.” – about the G’s “paranoia” to remain successful

“The problem is not gone. Religion has become more prominent (and) everybody’s more conscious of their identity.” – referring to the potential fault lines of race and religion in society

On law and order…

“I spent six hours in court. If this were an orderly place, would I have to do that?” – elaborating on his point that Singapore is not as orderly as outsiders seem to think.

“It’s right and proper that there should be ways for a defamation to be examined, determined whether it’s true or false, and if it’s false, that there should be proper damages and redress…

You can say and discuss anything you like, but you can’t defame anybody you like. If you can’t redress defamation, then how can I clear my name when somebody defames me?” – on the limits of free speech in Singapore

“You can give offence even without intending to, so when you intend to give offence, I think you have to act against it.” – on race and religion sensitivities

 

 

Featured photo from PM Lee’s Facebook.

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Roy Ngerng speaking to the media outside the supreme court.

This morning’s apology from blogger Roy Ngerng, posted on his blog:

I, Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, republish this apology on my blog, in recognition of having published Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Demand Letter to me, on my blog, which included links to the Article on my blog, links to the Article on my Facebook page and on The Heart Truths’ Facebook page, and links to the other websites as stated in Paragraph 11 of the Demand Letter. I have since removed the above-mentioned portions from the article where the Demand Letter can be found and have republished this apology on my blog again. As I had explained in court, I did not realise that there were links inside the Demand Letter which would lead to the Article, and the related links and republication. (The Article was published online from 15 May 2014 to 21 May 2014. The Demand Letter was published from 19 May 2014 henceforth.) It was never my intention to defame the Singapore Prime Minister and I hope that by voluntarily republishing this apology on my blog, that I can show my sincerity to the Singapore Prime Minister. Thank you.

The two days of hearing have all been about one word: Is blogger Roy Ngerng really sorry that he defamed the Prime Minister? That was a big plank of Senior Counsel Davinder Singh’s cross-examination during the hearing to determine the amount of damages Mr Ngerng should pay the PM.

Mr Singh said that despite several apologies tendered since he posted on his blog last May implying that the PM was a thief and a liar who played punk with the people’s CPF funds, his actions did not bear out his contrition. The lawyer put Mr Ngerng’s sincerity under the spotlight, a critical point which could determine the size of compensation.

“Every time you get caught, you apologise for convenience, but you carry on doing what you always intended to do,” said Mr Singh who went on to recount the occasions when Mr Ngerng said sorry in the past.

Mr Ngerng denied this, insisting that he never intended to defame Mr Lee. If there were missteps, such as sending the offending post to the media, it was because he panicked. He claimed that he was referring to the G as a whole when he wrote about the mismanagement of CPF funds. He was not directing his charges at the Prime Minister.

Mr Singh’s counter: his act of replicating a Channel NewsAsia chart on the City Harvest Church trial, and replacing founder Kong Hee’s photo with that of the PM, was evidence of his intent. Mr Ngerng then gave the court new twist:  he had no idea that “misappropriation” a word he had used when he implied that the PM was behaving like the church leaders on trial for misusing church funds had criminal implications.

This was Mr Ngerng’s apology on the day he took down his blog post after receiving a letter of demand from PM Lee:  “I unreservedly apologise to Mr Lee Hsien Loong for the distress and embarrassment caused to him by this allegation”.

In the following 10 days, however, he made a YouTube video containing the defamatory comments, made public the letter of demand which contained the offending statements. He sent emails to members of the media with links that repeated the libel. He retracted them when told to, with apologies. Yesterday, he argued that only a small group of people had access but Mr Singh retorted that he had merely “privatised” what should have been unavailable.

So what did Mr Ngerng say about the word sorry over the past two days?

To PM Lee at the start of the hearing

“I do sincerely apologise to you for whatever defamatory things that might have been said, so, sorry.”

“Mr Lee, I would just like to let you know again that, you know, before we start the cross-examination, that you know, when I wrote the article, there was no intent to defame you and I apologise for, you know, it having been looked upon as that. I accept your Honour’s judgment and I apologise to you once again. Sorry for that.”

During his cross-examination of PM 

“Mr Lee, …..I am disappointed. I have no hatred against you, and you are now turning around to say that I actually am unapologetic. I’ve got no way to disprove this. Mr Lee, if I run the elections and if I did not win the elections and I tell my electorate that I’m sorry that I did not win, but I am disappointed, can my apology be insincere when I tell my electorate that I’m apologetic and I did not win, but I’m disappointed? Does that mean my apology is any less insincere?”

“I think it was seven or eight apologies I made to you. Thank you for acknowledging that.”

“Mr Lee you said at the 2011 elections, ‘if we didn’t get it right, I’m sorry, but we will try better next time.’ You said sorry and asked Singaporeans to give you a next time. Will you give me a next time…?”

Responding to SC Davinder Singh who asked him why he still circulated the letter of demand containing the offending statements and emailed some people the links to his video and blog posts.

“….the letter of demand which referred to the offending words …had the links to where the offending words can be found. As I have told you, I’m sorry I put it up because I was —- what do you call it? I was, you know, in a fix, and therefore it went out without my knowing.”

“Yes, I’m sorry that I published the letter of demand without having an awareness that…offending words and images are there. But I’m not sorry for having actually put up this article because I was actually very upset and factual.”

“I acknowledge however in the first email that was sent out, I did republish the link and for that I have admitted that I’m sorry and I apologise for that. But on top of that, apology was also written right after that so that would have negate the effect, as I have said in my affidavit of evidence-in-chief and in my opening statement as well.”

And with his latest apology this morning, what will the PM’s lawyer say? The hearing continues.

Featured image by Shawn Danker.

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Photo By Shawn Danker
Roy Ngerng speaking to the media outside the supreme court.

By Bertha Henson

Amidst all that excitement about watching the Prime Minister on the stand, people might have forgotten what the issue in court today was all about: It’s about damages, or how much blogger Roy Ngerng should pay Mr Lee Hsien Loong for defaming him.

But judging from reports that have come out through the day on what happened in court, that wasn’t what Mr Ngerng seemed interested in.

After apologising to the PM for defaming him, he proceeded to ask questions that looked as if he had already forgotten the apology as well as the court judgment which found him guilty.

(Or maybe, he didn’t apologise. This was what he said to the PM: “I’m actually glad I am meeting you for the first time today and I do sincerely apologise to you for any defamatory things that might have been said. So sorry” Hmm… “might’’ have been said?)

Anyway, to recap: Mr Ngerng had practically called Mr Lee a liar and a thief, who pocketed CPF funds much in the way the City Harvest church leaders have been accused of doing with their church funds.

He apologised initially, but continued to republish the offending remarks. The PM took him to court and a summary judgment was issued against Mr Ngerng. In other words, the courts found it such an open-and-shut case that it made a decision without needing to call for witnesses.

Clearly, this wasn’t the outcome he was looking for. Mr Ngerng wanted to be able to question Mr Lee in court. He was looking for a fight, but was defeated before the bell rang.

The next chance then was to set up the fight for when it came to assessing damages. Mr Ngerng had offered $5,000 and then $10,000, which the PM turned down.

Then the online tittering started about how the PM was trying to bankrupt a man seeking to clarify CPF matters and who was only exercising his freedom of speech.

While all this is good gossip, there is a line between defamation and freedom of speech. Mr Ngerng had apologised for defaming the PM initially and the court has ruled as well. That over, he could have raised the questions he asked about CPF again, without repeating the libel.

Of course, he should worry about damages because the fact is that people have been bankrupted by law suits. Then he should be trying to argue that the damage was limited and hence smaller damages should be considered – unless he thinks he didn’t do anything wrong at all.

Several times yesterday, the PM’s lawyer tried to restrain Mr Ngerng from going over old ground.

Asked which sections of his post was defamatory, the PM replied that the question was “meaningless” as the post should be viewed in its totality.

Mr Ngerng also questioned how his post could be defamatory if it were only facts that were published. To this, Mr Lee replied: “All the institutions you mentioned are all in the G, which you have taken pains to prove that I am responsible for.” (Read more highlights from the exchange here.)

It is all very puzzling. Is Mr Ngerng trying to get his judgment overturned? His questioning on the number of people who might have read the offending posts was more to the point of the current proceedings. If not that many people read it, then the damages needn’t be so high.

Supreme Court Justice Lee Seiu however had permitted Mr Ngerng’s line of questioning because facts aside, malice was a factor that could jack up the costs for damages decided.

So how much are we looking at potentially? PM Lee’s lawyers didn’t say, but noted that previous awards in defamation cases involving top government ministers ranged from $100,000 to $400,000. Given Mr Ngerng’s continuing attacks, they argued that the quantum should be higher.

 

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Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
Blogger Roy Ngerng addresses the press at the Free My Internet Protest.

by Sharmeel Sidhu

May 15 2014 – A blog post is published by Roy Ngerng titled “Where Your CPF Money is Going: Learning from the City Harvest Trial”, where he uses charts to compare the roles of the leaders of City Harvest, with a similar one of PM Lee and various other figures.

May 18 2014 – Ngerng is served a Letter of Demand by PM Lee Hsien Loong’s lawyers. Ngerng announces that he has been sued. Ngerng implied that PM Lee, as Chairman of GIC, is “guilty of criminal misappropriation of the monies paid by Singaporeans to the CPF.”

May 20 2014 – Ngerng takes down the post from his blog, but stalled on his apology. He continues to publish blog posts on the CPF scheme (“YOUR CPF: The Complete Truth and Nothing But The Truth”). He also asks his supporters to sign an online petition (1,593 supporters as of 24 May,9am) and join the Facebook event page (508 fans attending, as of 24 May,9am) to ask the government to return Singaporeans’ CPF.

May 21 2014 – Ngerng applies to be an NMP, and shares the issues (labour, income inequality and poverty, CPF, healthcare and education) he would advocate as an NMP. He is granted a deadline extension until 23 May, 5pm to comply with the demands from PM Lee’s lawyer. Human rights group Maruah and Singapore Democratic Party Sec-Gen Chee Soon Juan speak up against PM Lee’s move.

May 23 2014 – Ngerng publishes an apology on his blog and acknowledges that his comments about PM Lee is “false and completely without foundation”. Three days later PM Lee’s lawyers say that his apology was not genuine and “demanded that he remove four further blog posts and a YouTube video, or face aggravated damages”. Ngerng agrees to delete these articles. On May 27, Ngerng’s offer of $5,000 in damages is rejected by PM Lee’s lawyers.

May 26 2014 – Davinder Singh, PM Lee’s lawyer, says that Ngerng “misled” PM Lee, and the public by not removing the Youtube video like he’d agreed to do, and only made it private. He accuses Ngerng of sending two emails consisting of links to the video and post to the media; Ngerng’s lawyer M Ravi said that he was not aware of this.

29 May 2014PM Lee files a defamation suit; Ng raises money for his case on “crowdfunding” site; roughly $110,000 was raised from over a thousand contributions.

17 June 2014 – Ngerng’s lawyer M Ravi states his defence; says his client did not imply that PM Lee misappropriated CPF funds.

July 2014PM Lee applies for summary judgement; Ngerng follows up on 4th August with an affidavit stating that he was questioning the distribution of CPF monies. PM Lee responds, saying that his claims are “inadmissible, irrelevant and/or an abuse of the process of the court”.

19 September 2014 – During a closed hearing, PM Lee’s team asks for an injunction, saying that Mr Ngerng has no defence, after Ngerng said that his post was misinterpreted; he also stated that the Defamation Act did not prevent his freedom of speech. Ngerng’s lawyer defends his client, saying that the blog post in question was not defamatory on the whole.

Sep 27 2014 – “Heckle-gate” – Ngerng, together with Han Hui Hui, leads a protest at Hong Lim Park called “Return Our CPF”. They interrupt a YMCA event, “holding placards and shouting slogans, and disrupting the performance and frightening participants including special needs children who were performing at the charity event”

7 November 2014 – The High court of Singapore finds Ngerng guilty of defamation with damages to be assessed, the first such ruling in Singapore over an online article. An injunction against Ngerng is granted, barring him from posting further accusations. Ngerng maintains that he will continue speaking about CPF and other concerns that Singaporeans have.

12 Jan 2015 – Ngerng ordered to pay PM Lee $29,000 in legal fees and other expenses; Ngerng pays on 6 Feb after argument with lawyer.

6 Feb 2015 –  A video of M Ravi is released online, showing him outside the Subordinate Courts expressing his distress at client Ngerng, after he failed to show up for his application to leave Singapore’s jurisdiction to go to Norway.M Ravi was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2006.

10 Feb 2015 – Ngerng’s lawyer M Ravi barred from practice by The Law Society until further examination by a psychiatrist; this decision is made after a medical examination.

11 Feb 2015M Ravi goes to The Law Society’s office to appeal his ban, and his visit is documented in a absurd 12- minute long Youtube video. Ravi says that his suspension is due to his decision to take part in the election.

1-3 July 2015 – Ngerng to go to Supreme Court without a counsel to assess damages he must pay PM Lee, after being found guilty of defamation.

Follow the story on The Middle Ground’s Facebook page.  

Check out our lunchtime report, with more to follow.

 

 

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by Arin Fong, Koh Wan Ting, and Shawn Danker

Roy Ngerng is representing himself in court today to hear the assessment on damages to be paid to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He was found guilty of defaming the Prime Minister in his blogpost titled “Where Your CPF Money is Going: Learning from the City Harvest”, which has been since taken down from his site.

We’re witnessing the hearing from Supreme Court and here’s what we gathered so far:

PM Lee’s lawyers are asking for “a very high award of damages“, as compensation must be sufficient to “act as consolation to the plaintiff for the distress he has suffered” resulting from the defamatory remarks published on Ngerng’s blog.

Ngerng opened the session with an apology to PM Lee. He also reportedly said, “I am sorry. I had no intent to defame you,” when he wrote the article.

PM Lee is not buying the apology, saying that it is “not sincere – the record contradicts that,” citing recent blogposts by Ngerng. His lawyer Davinder Singh added, “The defendant continues to be two-faced.”

Ngerng has also been cross-examining PM Lee, showing sections of his blogpost and asking him what is accurate. PM Lee has taken the stand and is answering Ngerng’s questions. PM Lee has remarked, “We are not here to play games. The meaning of the offending words has already been admitted. No point going through again other than to aggravate damages.”

PM Lee even threw some minor shade at Ngerng. The blogger stated that he has written 400 articles, to which the Prime Minister simply replied, “well done”, evoking titters from the room.

Court has adjourned for lunch, we’ll be back with more after the break.
Want to know more about the Roy Ngerng case? Check out our timeline leading up to today’s events.
Featured image by Shawn Danker. 

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by Bertha Henson

He was the one who got away, a name that opposition politicians mention when they speak of the PAP G’s anti-corruption stance. How did Phey Yew Kok get away? Why can’t he be found and be brought back to justice? Implicit in the question was that Phey was somehow allowed to flee the country despite being charged for criminal breach of trust (CBT). He fled when he was out on bail. It seems his passport was not impounded.

Those longer in the tooth will remember the fracas that was kicked up when the NTUC President and PAP MP for Boon Teck was hauled to court on four CBT charges, involving $83,000. That was in 1979, and he had been in the NTUC seat for nine years.

Remember Silo supermarkets? Well, he was said to have committed the offences when he was general secretary of Silo, the Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation. He got four staffers to buy goods at cost in Silo-operated warehouses and to shift them to a private supermarket he had set up. Remember Savewell?

Phey jumped bail and skipped town during the New Year period in 1980, leaving his wife behind. His two sureties, both businessmen, lost their $95,000 bond, according to the now-defunct New Nation. Phey was then 45. Over the years, there have been numerous “sightings’’ of Phey, mainly in Thailand and Taiwan. Opposition politicians have also queried the Home Affairs minister in Parliament about his whereabouts.

Phey Yew Kok - missing

Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said in his memoirs that then secretary-general Devan Nair protested that the man was innocent – until he was shown confidential investigation reports. The late Mr Lee was dismissive of Phey: “He was last heard of in Thailand, eking out a miserable existence as a fugitive, subject to blackmail by immigration and police authorities.’’

On Monday, Phey surrendered himself at the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok, said the CPIB. He was brought back to Singapore yesterday. “Phey will be required to assist CPIB in further investigations in relation to other offences he may have committed,” the CPIB said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that now with Phey in court, the law will take its course. “This will bring closure to a long outstanding case involving a person who was holding public office as an MP and a senior union leader.”

For your information, a CBT offence is punishable by up to seven years in jail, or with a fine, or with both.

Phey is now aged 81.

 

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by Bertha Henson

It’s been a long time since shots were fired in a public place, which is why many in Singapore are all agog at what happened in Khoo Teck Puat Hospital on Saturday night when what looked like a routine police escort duty went awry.

From patching together various reports, this was what happened (with blanks to be filled – what the reports don’t say):

A 24-year old Singaporean who had been arrested for motor vehicle theft had complained of chest pains and was escorted by to the hospital from (don’t know where) by two policemen. They were in a private consultation room in the hospital when one of the officers decided to leave the room. (don’t know reason or whether suspect is allowed to be alone with just one escort). The suspect then grabbed the other officer’s baton and started beating him with it. The suspect (don’t know if he was handcuffed, much less whether the cuffs were at the front or at the back; back more effective) then managed to pull the policeman’s gun from his holster. (Although it is very hard to do if it was resting properly in the holster; you have to pull it out vertically).

The struggle alerted two paramedics who were outside the room. They rushed in and one of them grabbed a nearby pillow to press the revolver, which was held by BOTH the suspect and the cop, to the floor. The other paramedic threw a blanket over the suspect and all four ended up rolling on the floor. (Don’t know where the other cop was then. Could be in the loo?)

That was when three shots rang out. (Who pulled the trigger is left vague) But the end result is that the policeman was shot in the hand.

Of course, given how rare such a case is, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean was asked for his comments:  “Any illegal discharge of firearms is a very serious offence. Police investigations are ongoing and it would not be appropriate to comment at this time.”

Then today, MSM reported that the man will be charged under the Arms Offences Act. This was described as a “holding” charge which apparently means that this can change if further investigations showed that something else happened. Now the Arms Offences Act is seldom used given the severity of the penalties which include the mandatory death penalty.

Some people have argued that he could be punished for a “rash act”, which was what happened to a retiree who said he was trying to adjust his air rifle’s aiming mechanism when he accidentally shot a neighbour two years ago. He was jailed six weeks. In this case, it would appear that his “accident” scenario was believed.

In February this year, the Arms Offences Act was invoked when the courts sentenced a security officer to five years jail and six strokes of the cane because he possessed a Beretta pistol illegally. The man wanted to use the weapon to rob a bank, but got cold feet instead and got caught. Now the man didn’t discharge his pistol – or he would have faced the death penalty. This is whether or not he hurt or killed anyone.

This is clear in the Arms Offences Act which states that “any person who uses or attempts to use any arm shall be guilty of an offense and shall on conviction be punished with death”. It doesn’t matter whether the person intended to cause physical injury to any person or property.  What’s more, if there were other people with him who knew he had a firearm and didn’t try to stop him, they would get the death penalty too.

When Parliament debated changes to the death penalty regime in Singapore Nov 14 2012 the focus was on murderers and drug traffickers who were sent straight to the gallows upon conviction. Now, the judge is allowed some discretion to impose life imprisonment if he determines that the act of killing was unintentional. Drug traffickers who help the police will also get to preserve their lives. Nothing, however, was said about firearms.

In other words, in Singapore, you fire one shot and it’s curtains for you.

Of course, the interesting question in this particular shooting incident is: Who pulled the trigger? We’d probably have the full works, if those cameras-on-uniform that the police force is testing out is already applied to all cops. Right now, we will have to wait for investigations to be over and for the details to surface in court. Also, you can bet that police standard operating procedures, whether on reducing the risk of firearms being snatched or escort duties, will be put under the microscope.

 

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