Athletics: High Court dismisses Soh Rui Yong's appeal against defamation decision

Soh Rui Yong at the State Courts in January. Soh was in September ordered to pay Ashley Liew $180,000 in damages. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Soh Rui Yong's appeal against the district court's decision to award former national marathon teammate Ashley Liew $180,000 in damages for defamation was dismissed by a High Court judge on Monday (March 28).

Last September, District Judge Lee Li Choon had ordered Soh to pay Liew the sum, which includes $120,000 in general damages and $60,000 in aggravated damages, for five statements he made about an act of fair play by Liew which he disputed.

In Monday's High Court hearing, which took place over video-conferencing platform Zoom, Justice Valerie Thean upheld the decision and also ordered Soh to pay $18,000 in costs for the appeal hearing. This is in addition to the $125,000 in costs and fees Soh had in February been ordered to pay for the district court trial.

While Justice Thean also upheld District Judge Lee's decision to grant Liew's request for an injunction for Soh from repeating the offending comments, remove them, and retract the statements he made, the judge ruled Soh does not need to publish an apology on his Facebook and Instagram pages.

Soh is currently based in London, where he is pursuing a law degree. 

Liew, who is no longer a national athlete, said he and his family were relieved.  “We are glad that this marathon of a case is finally over,” he added.

“We sincerely appreciate (lawyers) That.Legal LLC for their tireless efforts these few years, as well as the unwavering support of family, friends, and (management company) ONE Management.

“We pray and hope all parties involved will heal and move forward, and that this would bring this arduous episode to a close.”

His lawyer, Mark Teng, said they were pleased with the outcome and added: “Contrary to popular belief, the damages ordered are well supported by judicial precedents.”

The dismissal of the appeal draws a line under the long-running legal dispute between the former national teammates that began in June 2019 when Liew filed proceedings against Soh.

The district court trial started in September 2020 and ended in June last year.

Liew, 34, had sought a total of $240,000 in general and aggravated damages - in equal amounts - over the five defamatory statements by Soh, 30, the first of which was made in October 2018.

The statements appeared in the form of two blog posts, two Facebook posts, and one Facebook comment. In them, Soh had disputed Liew's account of the latter's act of fair play during the 2015 SEA Games marathon.

Liew, a chiropractor, said that he had slowed down to allow other runners to catch up after they missed a U-turn and took the wrong path. He finished eighth, while Soh won the race.

Liew later received two awards for his act of sportsmanship from the Singapore National Olympic Council and the International Fair Play Committee - which awarded him the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy - as well as praise from Cabinet ministers.

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