SINGAPORE - The Online Citizen (TOC) will not comply with a demand to remove an article and Facebook post which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said contained "false allegations" against him with regard to the 38 Oxley Road property.
Chief editor Terry Xu revealed in a Facebook post on Wednesday (Sept 4), that TOC had responded to the letter of demand sent from the Prime Minister's Office on Sunday, as at 6pm on Wednesday.
Wednesday was the deadline given for Mr Xu to remove the article and post, and publish a "full and unconditional" apology, or face legal action.
The article in question was removed from the TOC website on Sunday evening, but reappeared on Wednesday. The Aug 15 post continues to be on Facebook.
In the letter to PM Lee, Mr Xu said that he was "of the opinion that the contents of the article are not defamatory".
He said the contents of the article constituted "fair comment" as it contained statements made publicly by PM Lee's siblings, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, "who would have been privy to the events and the issues of public interest that arise".
"For the avoidance of doubt, I was merely republishing the words uttered by your siblings," said Mr Xu.
He, however, apologised for causing possible misinterpretation by readers, with his suggestion that PM Lee was removed as executor of the will of Mr Lee Kuan Yew only after the issue of the gazetting of the property came up.
"It was not my intention to suggest that your removal as an executor in the will of Mr Lee Kuan Yew occurred after 2011. Neither did I intend to suggest that your removal as an executor and trustee of the will was a result of the issue of the gazetting of the 38 Oxley."
Adding that he recognised the possiblity of the misinterpretation, Mr Xu said: "In this regard, I offer my apologies."
In a letter addressed to Mr Xu on Sunday, PM Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said the article and Facebook post repeated several false allegations against PM Lee that were previously made by his sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling.
"In particular, they allege that PM Lee misled his father, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, into thinking that the 38 Oxley Road property had been gazetted by the Singapore Government, and that it was futile for Mr Lee Kuan Yew to keep his direction to demolish it."
Also, the article thereby alleged that PM Lee caused Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who had originally wanted to demolish the house, to consider other alternatives to demolition, and to change his will to bequeath the house to PM Lee, said Ms Chang, describing these as allegations that are completely without foundation.
She added that in July 2017, after his siblings made similar allegations, and accused PM Lee and his government of abuse of power, PM Lee had given a full explanation on these matters in Parliament.
"He reaffirmed that Mr Lee Kuan Yew's personal wish was for the 38 Oxley Road property to be demolished after his passing. However, after hearing Cabinet's unanimous views that the property should not be demolished, Mr Lee eventually came to accept that the Government was likely to preserve the property in the public interest," wrote Ms Chang.
She said PM Lee was consequently prepared to be flexible and contemplate options short of demolition.
"With the rest of the family's knowledge, he approved plans to redevelop/renovate 38 Oxley Road to remove the private spaces.
Mr Xu, however, said the intent of the article was not to raise doubts or misunderstandings about the technicalities surrounding the allegations over the exact time at which PM Lee was removed as an executor and trustee of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's will.
"Rather, the focus of the article was on the bigger picture relating to the allegations of abuse of power and the state of the relationship between the late Mr Lee and his son," said Mr Xu.
"I solemnly and sincerely believe that it is this aspect, and not the technicalities that you take issues with, that concern many Singaporeans as it relates to the values of Mr Lee Kuan Yew."
Besides removing the article and post, PM Lee also asked Mr Xu to publish a full and unconditional apology, plus an undertaking not to publish any similar allegations, prominently on TOC's website and on its Facebook timeline.
Ms Chang said that if Mr Xu did not comply, "PM Lee will have no choice but to hand the matter over to his lawyers to sue to enforce his full rights in law".
She explained that PM Lee has chosen thus far not to sue his siblings, pointing to his remarks in Parliament that doing so would further besmirch his parents' names, and was therefore not his preferred course of action.
She added that PM Lee had also made clear to Parliament that under any other circumstances, he would have sued immediately, and that his decision not to sue his siblings then did not mean that he would not ever take legal action, should this become necessary.
"However, PM Lee's restraint in suing his siblings should not be misinterpreted by others as free licence to repeat and spread false and defamatory allegations against him, as the article and post have done," said Ms Chang.
"He has to rebut and deal publicly with such scurrilous attacks on his integrity and character, if necessary through legal action. This is especially as such attacks are also directed at his fitness to hold office as Prime Minister and to lead the Government."
In his letter on Wednesday, Mr Xu added that while he was aware that the costs from a possible legal suit from PM Lee may be "hefty", he stands by his decision.