Athletics: Marathoner Soh Rui Yong loses defamation suit against ex-athletics official

Soh Rui Yong (left) had sued Malik Aljunied for damages of $80,000. PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG, ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Nine months after losing his defamation suit against former teammate Ashley Liew, national marathoner Soh Rui Yong lost a second case in the State Courts on Thursday (June 9), after the District Judge ruled against him in his civil suit with former Singapore Athletics (SA) vice-president and executive director Malik Aljunied.

Soh, a two-time SEA Games gold medallist, had sued Malik for damages of $80,000, alleging that the latter had in August 2019 made defamatory comments in a Facebook post and remarks on the same post's thread.

In a written judgement issued on Thursday (June 9), District Judge Lim Wee Ming noted that while Malik's comments were defamatory, he had succeeded in his defence of justification and ruled in his favour.

The dispute between Soh and Malik began three years ago, when Malik made the comments after Soh was controversially left out of the 2019 SEA Games by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) selectors. The SNOC had cited "numerous instances" where Soh's conduct fell short of the standards it expects.

Soon after, Soh filed a defamation writ against Malik in the High Court, but the case was transferred to the State Courts in December 2020 after it was deemed that there was "nothing to support the assertion that (Soh) would be entitled to damages exceeding $250,000".

In his judgment, District Judge Lim said he found the defamation meaning of Malik's original post and comments to be that Soh's "sense of logic and reason has been impaired" and Soh is "incapable of empathy, compassion, gratitude and the capability to love others".

To decide if Malik has proven "the sting of the charges" to deem if his remarks were justified, the judge said the focus was on three key areas. They were the incidents surrounding the 2017 SEA Games, Soh's allegations against Liew's act of sportsmanship at the 2015 SEA Games marathon, and Soh's comments about the SNOC after he was not selected for the 2019 SEA Games.

In all three areas, the judge found instances where Soh had behaved unreasonably and in an illogical manner and/or showed a lack of empathy, compassion and gratitude.

District Judge Lim pointed to three incidents at the 2017 SEA Games that were relevant. The first was the dispute between Soh and the SNOC during the latter's blackout period on sponsors, when Soh promoted his own sponsors and publicly criticised SNOC's officials for implementing the rule. The second was when he cut holes in the attire provided by SA's sponsor and the third was when he publicly protested against the SNOC's requirement for athletes to donate 20 per cent of cash rewards under its Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme to their national sports associations.

In the case of Liew, the judge said he found Soh's conduct to be "unreasonable and illogical". This was because Soh had only raised his allegations about Liew's act of sportsmanship three years after the incident, he did not take up the SNOC's offer to see the statutory declaration of witnesses to Liew's act, and then went on to publish posts criticising the SNOC.

District Judge Lim said: "It appears that (Soh) had already made up his mind that he was in the right and everyone else who contradicted him was wrong, irrespective of what other witnesses had seen."

He noted that Soh had "refused to keep an open mind" and did not consider that even if he had not observed the act of sportsmanship, other witnesses might have done so.

District Judge Lim added that Soh's comments on the SNOC after his non-selection for the 2019 SEA Games "went beyond expressing his objection to not being selected despite meeting the objective criteria".

In his ruling, the judge also took into account personal attacks made by Soh against the SNOC, SA and Liew.

District Judge Lim said in his judgment:"The obstinate and extreme extent to which the plaintiff acted in an unreasonable and illogical manner showing that his sense of logic and reason has been impaired, as well as the instances in which he showed a lack of empathy, compassion and gratitude, overshadow and eclipse (Soh's) reputation in relation to his capability to show empathy, compassion, gratitude and the capability to love others on other occasions."

Both parties will now commence discussions on costs. If they cannot come to an agreement, they will write in for the court to decide.

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