Singapore blogger to pay libel damages to PM Lee over 17 years

SINGAPORE, Singapore (UPDATED) – An activist blogger ordered to pay SGD $150,000 ($109,000) in libel damages to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will make payments in installments over the next 17 years, his lawyer said Monday, March 14.

Roy Ngerng, 34, a former government employee, was found guilty in November 2014 of defaming Lee after accusing him in a blog of misappropriating state pension funds.

Ngerng's lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam told AFP that under an agreement with the prime minister, his client would pay SGD $30,000 by Wednesday, March 16, to cover the costs of an assessment hearing.

To pay the actual damages he would then fork out $100 a month for the next 5 years before the amount increases to $1,000 a month until the amount is paid, which would take a total of 17 years.

No interest will be collected but should Ngerng default on any payment, he would have to repay the full sum immediately, added Thuraisingam, who is representing Ngerng for free.

A source familiar with the case told AFP that Ngerng had initially asked to be let off the remainder after paying SGD $36,000. But this was rejected by the prime minister, who agreed to the payment in installments.

In a blog post on Monday, Ngerng asked for donations to help pay off the amount he was due to hand over Wednesday, adding that he has been doing freelance photography and is searching for a job.

"I hope to be able to find a job and make use of my work experience and skills," he wrote. 

"I miss contributing effectively to make positive change."

Ngerng's guilty verdict was the first such ruling in Singapore over a purely online article. 

Singapore has consistently ranked highly in surveys as one of the world's least corrupt countries, but rights groups say its leaders have used financially ruinous defamation suits to silence critics and political opponents.

Singaporean leaders maintain that the lawsuits are necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded allegations.

Ngerng initially offered SGD $5,000 as compensation to Lee, who rejected the amount.

After being sued by the prime minister, Ngerng was fired from his government hospital job for administrative reasons which he did not contest.

He successfully raised more than SGD $112,000 through crowdfunding but the cash ran out during his defense. 

The local media in Singapore is tightly controlled, leaving bloggers and other online commentators as the strongest critics of the long-ruling People's Action Party. –