While we all know by now that national marathoner Soh Rui Yong lost a defamation lawsuit against fellow marathoner Ashley Liew earlier this year, here’s something about Mr Soh that you might not know about.
Yup, he lost another defamation lawsuit again.
This time, he lost the case to the former executive director of Singapore Athletics (SA), Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied.
This was even though a judge found that Mr Malik had indeed defamed Mr Soh on Facebook.
Here’s what happened.
What Led to the Lawsuit
After Mr Soh was not chosen to represent Team Singapore for the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, Mr Malik had apparently made several comments about Mr Soh on his personal Facebook account.
Hence, Mr Soh, a two-time gold medalist at the SEA Games, decided to sue Mr Malik.
At that point in time, Mr Soh sought $70,000 in general damages and $10,000 in aggravated damages.
However, things did not end there.
Second Facebook post by Malik
Later on, in the same year, Mr Malik posted a photo of himself and his two children on Facebook with a caption that apparently referred to Mr Soh.
In the caption, he brought up his hopes for one of his children to participate in the 400m hurdles sporting event, and also said that one should be “careful” of the marathon since it might “end up messing up with your mind and heart”.
In a comment, he also added that he had only seen this issue in “one particular runner so far”, and that marathons have “drained” this individual of “empathy, compassion, gratitude and the capability to love others”.
The post and comment were removed 15 hours after they were posted.
Although Mr Malik did not explicitly state who he was referring to, Mr Soh’s lawyers argued that the “runner” in his posts could have been referring to Mr Soh.
Soh Offered to Withdraw Lawsuit, But Malik Refused
During the trial, Mr Malik admitted that another SA management committee member had told him that the opinions that he had written about were not “in good taste”.
Apart from that, he also acknowledged the point that Mr Soh’s lawyer brought up, which was that his writings had created a poor image of the marathoner.
Thereafter, Mr Soh offered to withdraw his lawsuit since he was “satisfied” with how Mr Malik had recognised his mistakes.
Mr Soh also said that he did not want to put well-known individuals in the local sports scene through cross-examination.
However, Mr Malik declined the offer, hence continuing the trial.
Soh’s Multiple Controversies
In the 32-page-long written judgement, District Judge Lim Wee Ming pointed out the multiple controversies that Mr Soh has gotten involved in over the years, and concluded that his behaviour suggested “a lack of empathy, compassion and gratitude”.
One of the controversies involved him cutting holes in the attire given to him by an SA sponsor, which resulted in the sponsor withdrawing the sponsorship.
2017 SEA Games Controversy
Additionally, Mr Soh was noted to have gone against the regulations of a “blackout period” sometime near the 2017 SEA Games.
Mr Soh was not permitted to engage with personal sponsors if they were not approved by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC).
In court, District Judge Lim pointed out how Mr Soh not only helped promote his own sponsors during that period of time, but also attacked SNOC officials personally.
Back then, Mr Soh wrote that many such officials “sit on comfortable salaries while policing the social media activity of the very athletes that make them money in the first place”.
District Judge Lim pointed out that SNOC officials had the right to enforce the blackout rule regardless of Mr Soh’s opinions on the rule, and that his public attack would have no positive impact other than to garner attention from his supporters.
Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme Controversy
After winning the gold medal in the 2017 SEA Games, Soh was given $10,000 under SNOC’s Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme.
However, he was required to donate 20% of his award to SA based on the programme’s rules.
He proceeded to write a protest letter to express his dissatisfaction at this rule.
District Judge Lim responded to this incident by saying that it was “hard to fathom his unnecessarily combative and personal attacks on SA administrators stood to benefit either himself or his fellow athletes”.
He also pointed out that Mr Soh’s fixation on the $2,000 that he was required to donate to SA instead of the $8,000 he got to keep revealed his ungratefulness towards SNOC.
Ashley Liew Controversy
Of course, another controversy regarding Mr Soh involved him accusing former teammate Dr Ashley Liew regarding the latter slowing down during the 2015 SEA Games.
At the 2015 SEA Games, Dr Liew was apparently the only marathoner in his race to have turned at the correct u-turn, causing everyone else to fall behind.
Instead of going on to win the race, Dr Liew decided to slow down in order to give the other competitors a chance to catch up.
Mr Soh ended up winning first place in that race while Dr Liew took eighth place.
To reward his sportsmanship, Dr Liew was presented with an international fair play trophy after the race.
However, Mr Soh stepped up in 2018 and accused Dr Liew of lying about slowing down during the race.
After Mr Soh’s remarks, Dr Liew sued him for defamation in June 2019.
Mr Soh insisted that he was “motivated by a strong sense of truth and integrity” and not trying to be illogical or unreasonable.
However, the judge opposed his statement by highlighting various loopholes in Mr Soh’s logic.
For example, Mr Soh was unwilling to be open to the possibility of other individuals in the area witnessing Dr Liew slow down during the race.
Mr Soh ended up having to pay Dr Liew $180,000 in damages and $140,000 in costs.
Was Apparently Counselled by SA in 2019
Mr Malik and Mr Ang Peng Siong, the vice-president of training and selection of SA at that time, decided to sit down with Mr Soh in April 2019 to counsel him.
During the session, they allegedly told Mr Soh that he had breached the SA code of conduct.
As a result, he could be penalised through a series of actions, such as disciplinary action or the termination of his of sponsorships.
On the other hand, Mr Soh opposed this account and said that he only met the pair to talk about preparations for the 2019 SEA Games.
He also claimed that he was never informed about him breaching SA’s code of conduct.
Mr Soh’s Facebook Post After Being Rejected from 2019 SEA Games
One month after the meeting, SA chose Mr Soh as their nominee for the 2019 SEA Games.
However, SNOC rejected the nomination and explained in a media release that Mr Soh’s behaviour had constantly “fallen short of its expectations”.
After SNOC’s decision, Mr Soh wrote on Facebook to condemn the actions of SNOC and even said that its actions were “akin to primary school playground politics”.
This led to Mr Malik posting the defamatory Facebook post, which in turn caused Mr Soh to sue him for defamation.
Malik’s Statements Were Defamatory, But Successful in Justification
In court, Mr Malik accused Mr Soh of having his sense of logic and reason impaired, and that he was unable to have empathy, compassion, gratitude and the capability to love others.
Hence, even though District Judge Lim acknowledged that Mr Malik’s Facebook post and comment were defamatory, he still ruled that Mr Malik was successful in his defence of justification.
He also echoed similar sentiments as Mr Malik, saying that Mr Soh “persistently behaved unreasonably and illogically to the extent that it showed that his sense of logic and reason had been impaired”.
District Judge Lim then ruled on Wednesday that Mr Soh’s actions had “overshadowed and eclipsed” his reputation with regards to his ability to show empathy, compassion, gratitude and love others on other occasions.
“Weighing the proven allegations against the unproven, I find that the plaintiff’s reputation is not materially injured by the allegation that the defendant was unable to prove, taking into consideration the remaining charges that the defendant succeeded in proving,” the judge said.
For those unaware, defendants who are relying on the defence of justification must be able to prove that their statements are true both in substance and fact.
Under the Defamation Act, such a defence will not fail if the unproven words do not materially injure the plaintiff’s reputation, having regard to the truth of the remaining charges.
Afterwards, the judge ordered both Mr Soh and Mr Malik’s lawyers to write in for directions on costs to be paid if they are unable to agree on the issue.
After the ruling on Thursday (9 June) evening, Mr Soh, who is currently studying law in London, posted on Facebook that he forgives Mr Malik.
He also revealed that he and his lawyers are currently reviewing the judgement before they decide if they will be appealing against the decision.
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