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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Singapore PM launches defamation suit against blogger

Posted: 29 May 2014 03:09 AM PDT

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (pic) on Thursday filed a defamation suit against a blogger who accused him of misusing public funds, setting the stage for the first court case of its kind in Singapore.

Lee's lawyer Davinder Singh told the High Court that a May 15 post by Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, a 33-year-old government health worker, contained statements that alleged "criminal misappropriation" by the premier.

Lee had earlier rejected an apology and compensation offer from Ngerng, who writes a blog called "The Heart Truths" which had more than 3,300 followers soon after the lawsuit was filed.

In general, civil suits are launched in the Singapore High Court when the value of claims is above Sg$250,000 ($199,000), according to guidelines posted on a government website. The court will have the final say on the amount to be awarded.

Ngerng, who has publicly vowed not to be silenced, is the first blogger taken to court for defamation by a political leader in Singapore.

"The offending words and images, in their natural and ordinary meaning, meant and were understood to mean that the plaintiff, the Prime Minister of Singapore and Chairman of GIC, is guilty of criminal misappropriation of the monies paid by Singaporeans to the Central Provident Fund (CPF)," lawyer Singh wrote in a court filing. 

GIC is a sovereign wealth fund that manages more than $100 billion of the city-state's foreign reserves. CPF is the state pension fund.

Lee had been "brought into public scandal, odium and contempt" and his character and reputation had been "gravely injured" by the accusations, Singh added.

Ngerng has previously said the article was meant to call for greater transparency on how the pension fund is handled.

'calculated and cynical'

On Tuesday, he offered Lee Sg$5,000 as compensation but Lee immediately dismissed it as "derisory" and said Ngerng's earlier apology was "not and never meant to be genuine".

Lee also took offence at subsequent actions by Ngerng, including posting a YouTube video about his legal predicament and sending emails to the media that included alternative links to posts that allegedly carried "offending posts".

In the filing, lawyer Singh described Ngerng's conduct as "calculated and cynical," adding that he acted to "use the libels to promote himself and cause further distress and injury" to Lee.

Singh said Lee was claiming damages, legal costs, and an injunction to stop Ngerng from further defaming Lee, but did not give financial details.

"I will be leaving it to my lawyer M.Ravi to deal with the latest development and the relevant legal procedures," Ngerng told AFP after the court filing.

A pre-trial conference has been set for July 4.

Singapore's local media is tightly controlled, leaving independent bloggers as the strongest critics of the long-ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

Prominent Singaporean activist Alex Au last year apologised to Lee and removed a post after receiving a notice from Singh. Lee did not pursue damages against Au.

Media firms like Bloomberg, The Economist and Financial Times have previously paid damages and apologised to Singapore leaders including Lee and his father, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, for publishing articles found to be defamatory.

International human rights groups have accused Singapore leaders of using financially ruinous libel actions to silence critics and political opponents.

But the Lees and other key leaders of the PAP have countered that the lawsuits are necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded attacks. -AFP

Indian cousins found hanging from tree after gang-rape

Posted: 29 May 2014 01:49 AM PDT

LUCKNOW, India: Two teenage girls have been found hanging from a tree in a northern Indian village after they were gang-raped by five men, police said Thursday, in a brutal attack highlighting the country's poor record on sexual violence.

Police have arrested one man over the attack on the cousins, aged 14 and 15 and from the lowest Dalit caste, who were discovered hanging on Wednesday morning in Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh state.

A post-mortem report indicated the cousins hanged themselves late Tuesday after being attacked, police said. The girls had earlier walked into a field to go to the toilet because they didn't have one in their home when they were set upon, according to local media reports.

"The report suggests ante-mortem hanging, which means the girls probably committed suicide. But we will take into account all aspects before coming to a conclusion," Atul Saxena, Budaun police chief, told AFP.

The attack sparked protests by the girls' families and other villagers, who accused police of failing to act after the bodies were found.

Television footage showed the villagers including children sitting on the ground under the tree in protest with the bodies hanging above.

The families belong to the Dalit caste, previously known as "untouchables", considered on the lowest rung of India's deeply entrenched social hierarchy system.

Saxena said police had arrested one suspect after the girls' relatives registered a complaint against five men for gang-rape, murder and child sexual abuse.

"A team of around 50 police officers is on the lookout for the absconding accused," he added. Saxena could not confirm the exact ages of the attackers, but said they were in their "late teens".

Local police officers have also been suspended from duty for their initial apathy over the crime, he said.

'More and more horrendous'

The attack is the latest to highlight India's dismal record on preventing sexual violence, despite tougher laws after the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi in December 2012 shook the nation's conscience.

Earlier this year, a young girl was gang-raped in a remote village in West Bengal state on orders from tribal village elders who objected to her relationship with a Muslim man.

Women's activist and researcher Ranjana Kumari urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his newly elected government to come good on its campaign pledge to improve safety for women.

"Modi must take a stand and say enough because the attacks are just getting more and more horrendous," Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi, told AFP.

"Police attitudes and actions have clearly not improved (since the Delhi gang-rape). Men are targeting girls from minority groups, poor girls and no one cares," she said.

Modi clinched a landslide victory in general elections this month over the left-leaning Congress, thanks in part to a stunning performance by his right-wing Hindu nationalist party in Uttar Pradesh.

Last month, the head of the state's governing party, Mulayam Singh Yadav, told an election rally he was opposed to the death penalty for gang rapists, saying "they are boys, they make mistakes." -AFP

EU voices 'extreme concern' over Thai coup crackdowns

Posted: 29 May 2014 01:45 AM PDT

BANGKOK: The European Union has voiced "extreme concern" about political detentions and censorship in Thailand, as the military junta chief met officials and began to set out plans for the country's future.

The EU - a key trade partner of the Southeast Asian nation - said only a clear plan for the country's return to democracy could allow its "continuous support" after the Thai military seized power last week and set about rounding up political figures, academics and activists.

"We are following current developments with extreme concern," the EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

"We urge the military leadership to free all those who have been detained for political reasons in recent days and to remove censorship," she added.

The junta on Thursday added nearly 20 more names to the upwards of 250 people it has summoned, with scores of people held without charge at secret locations for up to a week.

Authorities have curtailed civil liberties under martial law and imposed a nightly curfew.

A week after seizing power, Thailand's coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha met central and regional officials and laid out three stages that he envisioned for the country before it could be returned to democratic rule, without giving a timeframe.

The country would stay under "special law" during the first phase and then later set up a national assembly and "reform council", according to army spokeswoman Sirichan Ngathong.

Only then would the country start the process of preparing for elections, she said.

Thailand has seen 19 actual or attempted coups since 1932.

On Thursday the regime freed some 30 people including Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who was caretaker premier at the time of the coup, a day after releasing leaders of the "Red Shirt" movement allied to the ousted government.

It has instructed all those set free to refrain from discussing politics under threat of prosecution in a military court.

Senior members of their rival protest movement as well as former premiers Yingluck Shinawatra and Abhisit Vejjajiva have also been held and since released.

A fugitive former cabinet minister arrested by soldiers who swooped on a press briefing a day earlier was brought before a military court Wednesday to acknowledge charges of denying an order to report to the junta and of "provocation", police said.

If convicted, ex-education minister Chaturon Chaisang could be imprisoned. He had used a press conference to criticise the coup minutes before being detained. 

Army denies Facebook block

Following a threat of a crackdown on social media, Facebook users on Wednesday reacted with alarm to rumours of a "block" of the popular site.

After an outcry on the Internet, the army interrupted national television to deny it had blocked Facebook after the site briefly went down.

But the military has warned against small but persistent daily anti-coup protests, mainly in the capital Bangkok.

Army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said authorities should prosecute demonstrators and could use teargas against the rallies, although he added they would "avoid violence".

The current political turmoil centres on the divisive figure of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's older brother, who was deposed as prime minister by royalist generals in a 2006 coup and now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid prison for a corruption conviction.

His opponents in the establishment, military and among the Bangkok middle classes view the entire Shinawatra family as corrupt.

Anti-Shinawatra protesters staged nearly seven months of protests before the May 22 coup in an attempt to rid the country of the family's influence.

At least 28 people have died in related violence.

Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon turned politician, has broad support among the urban working class and rural communities in the north and northeast, particularly for popular policies including providing nearly free healthcare.

He or his allies have won every election in the country since 2001.

The country has been rocked by increasingly severe political division and street protest since he was deposed in 2006.

More than 90 people were killed and hundreds injured during Red Shirt protests in 2010 that ended with a crackdown by soldiers firing live rounds. -AFP


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