Soh Rui Yong quizzed for 4 hours in defamation trial against ex-athletics official

Soh Rui Yong and his father arriving at the State Courts on Jan 11, 2022. ST PHOTO: THADDEUS ANG

SINGAPORE - Four months after losing a defamation suit to former teammate Ashley Liew, Singapore's top marathoner Soh Rui Yong was back in court on Tuesday (Jan 11), and was grilled for almost four hours as the trial for Soh's defamation case against a former athletics official commenced.

Soh is alleging that Malik Aljunied, the former executive director of national track and field body Singapore Athletics (SA), had in August 2019 made defamatory comments in a Facebook post and remarks on the same post's thread.

In the cross examination of Soh by defence counsel Mahmood Gaznavi which turned heated at times, the latter challenged Soh on how seriously he took Malik's comments.

Soh, 30, agreed to Gaznavi's suggestion that he would want defamatory remarks taken down as soon as possible, rather than remain in the public domain.

Gaznavi then quizzed Soh on why he reproduced the alleged defamatory comments made by Malik six times on social media - on Facebook and his own blog - if he wanted to mitigate the damage caused by them.

Soh argued that he had done so to clarify a falsehood and highlight that it was unbecoming of someone of Malik's stature to make such comments, and to "push him to back down or apologise".

But Gaznavi pointed out the difference in the number of likes garnered by Malik's original post (four) - which has since been taken down - and Soh's first re-post (323) which still remains online. Gaznavi suggested the sampling showed more people saw Soh's post and that he had furthered the alleged defamation himself.

"The screenshots were taken at different points, but that's a reasonable inference," Soh said.

Bringing up the issue repeatedly in the public domain through social media "serves no purpose", said Gaznavi, given legal proceedings had been underway.

Soh, the only Singaporean to win two marathon gold medals at the SEA Games, retorted: "But my reputation is an ongoing issue in the court of public opinion."

The exchange between both parties turned fiery as Gaznavi pointed to Soh's reposting of one of the comments along with a reference to Malik as "one last cancer" remaining in SA.

Gaznavi said: "Is this the type of person you are? You think it is funny? You think it is reasonable for a national athlete to say something like this?"

Gaznavi later asserted that Soh was "boisterous" on social media - which he defined as "loud, thinking too much of yourself, playing up all sorts of comments" - because of his two SEA Games gold medals.

This drew a response from Soh's counsel, Gerard Quek, who called them "uncalled for and unnecessary".

Soh later responded saying the medals were "not the be all and end all" of his career, and that national records and other acts through the years have also garnered him attention and support.

"You don't build a career off a gold medal, that's a bit of an oversimplification," he said. "There are lots of athletes that have won a SEA Games gold medal but have not made a career (in sport)."

Two other witnesses for Soh, SA president Lien Choong Luen - who was subpoenaed - and Soh's father Seow Hong took to the stand on Tuesday.

The case is expected to be in court till next Monday, with a number of prominent sports figures like Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) secretary general Chris Chan, former SA president Tang Weng Fei, former national swimmer and SA vice-president Ang Peng Siong lined up as witnesses for the defendant.

The dispute between Soh and Malik began after the comments posted by the latter shortly after Soh was controversially left out of the 2019 SEA Games by SNOC selectors as they cited "numerous instances" where his 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 Court 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".

Soh was also involved in a separate court case against Liew and was in September 2021 ordered by the District Court to pay the latter $180,000 for defamation. 

Soh has filed an appeal in the High Court. 

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.