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Tan Kin Lian criticizes Singapore’s defamation laws amidst political dispute

Amid an escalating political feud involving Lee Hsien Yang and two Singapore ministers, Tan Kin Lian, former CEO of NTUC Income, has criticized the country’s defamation laws as ‘unjust and deplorable’, drawing from his personal experience and calling for reforms.

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SINGAPORE: Tan Kin Lian, former CEO of NTUC Income and former presidential candidate, has entered the fray of an evolving political controversy in Singapore. This dispute involves two of Singapore’s ministers and Lee Hsien Yang (LHY), brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Tan expressed his sympathy for LHY and shared his personal experience with defamation suits in a recent Facebook post.

Approximately 15 years ago, Tan found himself threatened with a defamation lawsuit over allegations he republished concerning a land banking company.

In his post, Tan drew parallels between his past predicament and the current situation faced by LHY, criticizing what he describes as “outdated and unjust” defamation laws.

“I find it unjust and deplorable,” he wrote, arguing that the law enables the wealthy and influential to bully their opponents and ordinary people.

Tan’s comments came in the wake of recent legal threats against LHY from Ministers K. Shanmugam, the Law and Home Affairs Minister, and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Foreign Affairs Minister.

The issue originated from a Facebook post by LHY, where he discussed matters related to properties rented from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA)—an agency that Mr Shanmugam oversees as Minister for Law, the felling of trees, and state-funded renovations at 26 and 31 Ridout Road. The ministers, both tenants of these properties, interpreted LHY’s comments as defamatory allegations.

In response to the ministers’ threats to sue, unless he retracted his comments and issued an apology, LHY stood firm.

He argued that he was merely stating facts already in the public domain, not accusing the ministers of acting corruptly or for personal gain. Adding another layer to the situation, LHY challenged the ministers to sue him in the UK, where his original post was made.

Moreover, Tan called on Mr Shanmugam – ironically, the same law minister threatening to sue LHY – to modernize defamation laws, making them more equitable for individuals who may not have the means to engage expensive lawyers for their defence.

Earlier in the week, under the instructions of Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) office issued a directive for LHY to issue a correction notice about his Facebook post.

Despite compliance, LHY defended his original comments, insisting they were not misleading.

In his original post that was subject to the POFMA directive, LHY leveled criticism against the People’s Action Party (PAP), accusing the current administration, led by his brother, of squandering the public trust inherited from their late father, Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore.

 

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