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.
On Ngerng's claims that he was persecuted
Extract of an exchange in the High Court yesterday when Senior Counsel Davinder Singh (DS) cross-examined Roy Ngerng (RN):
Davinder Singh: You suggest the plaintiff sued you in retaliation for you raising questions about CPF, correct? ...I'm going to read (from your blog post):"...Very soon I won't be able to speak up anymore."
(Did you know) this was false?
Roy Ngerng: I do not think it's false. I'm actually very worried that after today, I'm not able to speak up because I'm not sure what else you will do. That's why I have been rushing to put up a lot of my blog posts in the last one, two months because I'm afraid I might never be able to speak up on my blog anymore. This is something I believe... It doesn't matter if you believe it or not.
DS: But you know that in his judgment, his Honour has held that you can speak up on CPF matters.
RN: Let me be honest...
DS: No, did you or did you not know that ... Yes or no?
RN: Yes, your Honour has, but...
DS: Yes, but despite that...
RN: Let us be honest. (he breaks down) We all know that just because I spoke up about the CPF, I am being persecuted. It is painful when you try to advocate to the Government to be transparent about the CPF and the PM says he has been waiting to sue you...
I have always advocated to the Government and you know it. But you are trying to... say what I said about Government was about the PM. That is not true. It has never been true. I do not hate the PM, and I sincerely apologise to him.
But I believe we need to speak up for the people because otherwise who else will?
The PAP will not take care of the people and that has always been my concern. It is not because I want to defame the PM. I've been sincere and I want to apologise to the PM.
But what I say about the Government and about the CPF is a completely separate thing and that is what my blog has always been about.
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.