Lee family wins defamation case

September 24, 2008

Hugo Restall, Review Publishing, Far Eastern Economic Review

A High Court judge in Singapore ruled that the Far Eastern Economic Review had defamed Singapore’s leaders, according to international news reports. Justice Woo Bih Li decided the case in a summary judgment without trial, dismissing arguments submitted by the magazine’s lawyers that the contents of the article constituted fair comment, according to the BBC. Damages will be decided later, and the Review may appeal, the news reports said.

The accusation stemmed from an August 2006 article about one of the country’s prominent opposition leaders, written by the editor, Hugo Restall, the reports said. The article, “Singapore’s Martyr, Chee Soon Juan,” is available on the Hong Kong-based magazine’s Web site. Singapore’s founding statesman Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long, sued Restall and the magazine’s publisher, Review Publishing, for the article, which outlined a scandal involving a nonprofit group that emerged during a libel case when the owner of the organization sued a newspaper.

Restall drew parallels with the lack of general official transparency in the article and commented on the role of the libel case. “How many other libel suits have Singapore’s great and good wrongly won, resulting in the cover-up of real misdeeds? And are libel suits deliberately used as a tool to suppress questioning voices?” he asked in the article. 

The Wall Street Journal Asia, which like the Review is owned by Dow Jones, is facing contempt proceedings from Singapore’s attorney general. 

The Lees have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages or out-of-court settlements from legal action against foreign publications including the London-based Economist magazine, the U.S. financial news service Bloomberg, and The International Herald Tribune, according to CPJ research.