TOC not complying with PM's call to remove article and post

Wednesday (Sept 4) was the deadline given for The Online Citizen chief editor Terry Xu to remove the article and post, and publish a "full and unconditional" apology, or face legal action.
Wednesday (Sept 4) was the deadline given for The Online Citizen chief editor Terry Xu to remove the article and post, and publish a "full and unconditional" apology, or face legal action.PHOTO: ST FILE

The Online Citizen (TOC) will not comply with a demand to remove an article and a 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 yesterday that TOC had responded, as at 6pm yesterday, to the letter of demand sent from the Prime Minister's Office on Sunday.

Yesterday was the deadline given for Mr Xu to remove the article and post, and to 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 yesterday. The Aug 15 post continues to be on Facebook.

In the letter to PM Lee, Mr Xu said he was "of the opinion that the contents of the article are not defamatory".

He said the contents 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".

Mr Xu added: "For the avoidance of doubt, I was merely republishing the words uttered by your siblings."

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 possibility of the misinterpretation, he 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.

 

"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."

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 concerns many Singaporeans as it relates to the values of Mr Lee Kuan Yew."

Besides removing the article and Facebook post, PM Lee had 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 its Facebook timeline.

Ms Chang had 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".

In his letter yesterday, 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2019, with the headline 'TOC not complying with PM's call to remove article and post'. Print Edition | Subscribe