All it would have taken for blogger Roy Ngerng to avoid being sued was one good apology and true contrition.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this yesterday on the first day of a three-day hearing in the High Court, where his lawyers pushed for a high award of damages in the defamation case against Mr Ngerng.
Instead, Mr Ngerng repeated the libel and even characterised himself as a victim of political persecution for discussing Central Provident Fund (CPF) issues.
Said Mr Lee to a packed courtroom: "You are entitled to discuss CPF, just not entitled to defame...All I needed was one good apology and a follow-through. I did not ask for repeated ones, I did not ask for deeper and deeper ones, I just wanted this matter to be properly and sincerely settled."
In their opening statement submitted in court yesterday, Mr Lee's lawyers had urged the court to award a high quantum of damages to him, citing previous defamation cases involving top government leaders where damages had ranged from $100,000 to $400,000.
This case was particularly egregious, they argued, given Mr Ngerng's malicious actions and continued attacks on Mr Lee.
But Mr Ngerng, who had discharged his lawyer last week to conduct the case himself, disagreed vigorously.
Although yesterday was his turn to cross-examine Mr Lee, he had spent a considerable amount of time explaining his own intentions.
He repeatedly said that he had not intended to defame Mr Lee, though admitting in the same breath that he had done so.
He also said that Mr Lee had misunderstood his online posts, adding at one point: "You are not entitled to decide how I want to conclude (my speech)."
During the session, he also posed all manner of questions to Mr Lee and painted various hypothetical scenarios, at times drawing chuckles from the crowd and swift objection from Mr Lee's lawyer, senior counsel Davinder Singh.
Justice Lee Seiu Kin, though, said he would give Mr Ngerng more latitude, as he was not using a lawyer and was representing himself.
Mr Ngerng was held to have defamed Mr Lee in a blog post last year about the CPF. In making the finding, Justice Lee had said that the post conveyed the impression that Mr Lee had misappropriated Singaporeans' CPF savings.
In the post, Mr Ngerng had likened Mr Lee to City Harvest church leaders facing prosecution for alleged misuse of $50 million in church funds.
At the close of yesterday's session, Mr Ngerng asked if an apology now would suffice.
But Mr Lee said: "I think saying sorry alone would have been plenty, but unfortunately, that's not only what you did."
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