Blogger Roy Ngerng broke down in tears yesterday, declaring he was being persecuted for casting doubts about the management of Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.
He also claimed he was being silenced by the Government.
Mr Ngerng's emotional reaction in the High Court came as Senior Counsel Davinder Singh suggested he was being deceitful and belligerent in his actions despite his repeated apologies for defaming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr Singh, who is representing Mr Lee, pointed out that Mr Ngerng had - as recently as last month - approached international legal organisations to champion his case and made damaging posts on his blog The Heart Truths.
The blogger had submitted to the High Court statements from the International Commission of Jurists and Centre for International Law Philippines. In doing so, Mr Singh said, Mr Ngerng was trying to imply that "if (the court) were to award high damages it would run afoul of international human rights law, and would be generating an atmosphere of intimidation and is a form of judicial harassment".
The court also heard Mr Ngerng had received £5,000 (S$10,500) from a London-based organisation for the case.
These disclosures were made yesterday, the final day of a three-day hearing to assess the damages the blogger has to pay Mr Lee for defaming him in a May 2014 blog post. It had suggested the Prime Minister had misappropriated CPF savings.
Mr Ngerng, 34, had deleted the libellous post and apologised when he got a lawyer's letter.
But Mr Singh, in arguing for aggravated damages, highlighted how his actions since then had displayed a deep and intense malice towards Mr Lee.
He singled out Mr Ngerng's submission of the statements from the two international organisations, and charged that the blogger had chosen to "use foreign organisations to campaign against Singapore, and to use this court process to advertise that campaign".
Mr Ngerng, choking up and pulling out a wad of tissues, said all he wanted to show was the potential chilling effect the lawsuit had on freedom of speech. Despite a court ruling that he was still allowed to speak on CPF matters, he said: "Let us be honest. We all know that just because I spoke up about the CPF, I am being persecuted."
He also teared up when he said he is depending on his parents after losing his job last year. But he still had access to other funds, Mr Singh said, asking him about the $110,000 raised via crowdfunding, along with the monies from London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative, which gives legal help to journalists and bloggers worldwide.
The blogger is also far from repentant despite his repeated apologies, Mr Singh said, pointing to blog posts last month that cast aspersions on the judiciary, and alleged "abuse of power" by the People's Action Party.
Mr Ngerng insisted his posts were being read out of context, saying he had raised only what he felt were genuine questions about sociopolitical issues in Singapore.
Mr Singh said Mr Ngerng had been lying in a bid to get away with lower damages: "You would say whatever is convenient to get your way, (like) if you had to say sorry, even if (it was) not genuine."
He also argued Mr Ngerng lied in his sworn affidavits, broke his promises to Mr Lee, and tried to suppress the number of views on his blog to create an impression that the defamatory post was not well-read.
Mr Ngerng had said the post "only garnered 9,122 views" when it was taken down. But this, Mr Singh pointed out, failed to account for the views of the article on the blog's home page - where it could be read in its entirety. Readership spiked after Mr Ngerng posted Mr Lee's demand letter on his blog on May 19, 2014 - two days before he apologised and removed the offensive blog post, said Mr Singh.
All in, the number of views was about 95,000.
All these showed the blogger has not only "shown no remorse, contrition or sincerity", but also went to court "to give a completely false impression, purely to try to avoid or reduce damages", said Mr Singh.
Justice Lee Seiu Kin asked both parties to make written submissions on their respective cases by Aug 31, with his decision reserved for a later date.
This article was first published on July 4, 2015.
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