We are deeply concerned that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has sent a Letter of Demand to Mr Roy Ngerng for his 15 May 2014 article, ‘Where Your CPF Money is Going: Learning from the City Harvest Trial’, on his blog, ‘The Heart Truths–To Keep Singaporeans Thinking’.
Mr Lee considers certain statements in the article “a false and baseless allegation and constitutes a very serious libel against [him which] disparages him and impugns his character, credit and integrity”. His lawyers assert that “the Article was published maliciously”. Mr Lee’s letter demands removal of the article, apology, and payment of damages.
The right to free expression is enshrined in Article 14 of our Constitution and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Freedom of expression facilitates useful comment on public policy matters, crucial for the betterment of society. It is also an important tool to build a culture of transparency and accountability. In view of these benefits, public officials charged with the administration of our nation should tolerate a greater volume and depth of criticism.
Defamation actions do not address the concerns that Singaporeans have. Mr Ngerng’s article, touching on issues like CPF and retirement funding, has sparked important questions that Singaporeans wish to be answered.
The Prime Minister’s threat of legal action, and the accompanying demand to remove the entire article, will eliminate dialogue and engagement on these questions when they should be debated and rebutted in public. This would permit Singaporeans to think for ourselves and make up our own minds about serious matters of governance.
While the freedom of expression is not and should not be unqualified, public officials should expect scrutiny and indeed encourage it for the betterment of public policy. The threat of legal action is an oppressive tool with undue chilling effects on public discourse. It should have no place in a modern, open democracy.
We urge the Prime Minister to withdraw his threat of legal action and publicly respond to the claims made by Mr Ngerng.