Somehow, we have circled back to the defamation lawsuit between Soh Rui Yong and Ashley Liew again.
If you’re caught unaware about what the defamation lawsuit was about, here’s a quick summary about it below:
Summary of Mr Soh Defaming Dr Liew
In the South-East Asian (SEA) Games Marathon of 2015, Soh Rui Yong and Ashley Liew were both participants in the event.
During the event, most of the participants had missed the correct U-turn except Dr Liew, which placed him in the lead in front of the rest by 50m.
Instead of merely placing his eyes on the prize, Dr Liew chose to slow down instead to let the rest catch up out of fair play before resuming his marathon pace.
Mr Soh proceeded to come in first place with a timing of 2 hours, 34 minutes and 56 seconds, while Dr Liew clutched the eight place with a timing of 2 hours, 44 minutes, and 2 seconds.
This act of sportsmanship also made Dr Liew the first Singaporean to be awarded the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy, a global prize for good sportsmanship .
Dr Liew was further affirmed for his sportsmanship when the Singapore National Olympics Council gave Dr Liew a special award for sportsmanship at the Singapore Sports Awards in 2016, and he was commended by several Singapore ministers.
Despite the general approval of Dr Liew’s sportsmanship, Mr Soh alleged that Dr Liew didn’t slow down during the marathon at all in five social media posts between Jun 2015 to Aug 2019.
Dr Liew proceeded to sue Mr Soh for defamation, arguing that he had twisted and distorted his act of fair play for the sake of obtaining recognition, as well as the awards.
Proceedings at District Court Level
On 22 September 2021, Mr Soh Rui Yong was ordered by the court to pay his fellow marathoner a total sum of S$180,000 for the damages caused.
In that amount, S$60,000 was out of aggravated damages that were incurred by Mr Soh’s conduct and role in publicising the dispute.
After examining Mr Soh’s social media posts before and during the court trial, District Judge Lee Li Choon declared that Mr Soh’s words were defamatory.
She stated that a reasonable reader looking at Mr Soh’s post would assume that Dr Liew had publicly taken a position based on false grounds, and that Dr Liew had dishonourably used this untrue story to gain everyone’s recognition and reward.
For Mr Soh to succeed in his defence of justification, his burden of proof was to show that Dr Liew had fabricated the story of himself slowing down.
Mr Soh relied on his own testimony, his father, his former coach, and a friend to prove his own case.
In response, Judge Lee stated that Mr Soh not seeing Dr Liew slow down doesn’t mean he didn’t slow down, because Mr Soh might not have seen Dr Liew, or Mr Soh was unaware of it.
As for his father and former coach’s testimonies, it was more than likely that they were focused on Mr Soh instead of Dr Liew, thus missing Dr Liew altogether.
His friend’s testimony had been ruled out because he had changed his testimony and it was quite inconsistent with Mr Soh’s perspective.
The Appeal Worsening the Damages
This Monday (28 Mar), High Court Judge Valerie Thean dismissed the appeal that Mr Soh filed against the final ruling made by Judge Lee last year.
Not only did Justice Thean uphold Justice Lee’s ruling, but she also ordered Mr Soh to pay S$18,000 in costs for the appeal hearing.
This is on top of the S$125,000 that Soh was ordered to pay in February for the district court trial.
This includes granting Dr Liew’s request for an injunction for Mr Soh to not repeat his libellous comments and to retract the social media posts and statements he made.
However, Justice Thean spared Mr Soh from the need to publish an apology on his Facebook and Instagram pages, an appeal that Dr Liew chose not to contest.
During the appeal hearing, Dr Liew’s lawyers, led by Mr Mark Teng from That.Legal.LLC had contended that Mr Soh’s public rejection and denunciation of the district court’s decision may warrant additional damages.
Just like the initial court hearing, Mr Soh’s burden of proof remained the same.
Mr Soh’s defence lawyers, Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, reiterated the same arguments at the appeal, stating that Dr Liew didn’t correct the misconception that slowing down had costed him a medal as it was “logically and mathematically impossible” for him to win anything even if he didn’t slow down.
Mr Teng refuted that Dr Liew’s personal best was faster than Mr Soh’s winning time at the 2015 SEA Marathon game.
Moreover, another contestant, a Japanese-Cambodian runner Kuniaki Takizaki, testified that he witnessed Liew giving him the go-ahead sign to him and the other runners who missed the initial turn.
While Justice Thean agreed that Mr Soh’s persistence in repeating the defamatory statements even after Judge Lee’s decision was announced was relevant, she ultimately found that sum given to Dr Liew for the damages incurred were already reasonable.
Likewise, Mr Liew’s lawyers conceded that S$180,000 paid in damages was more than justified.
The initial sum of S$180,000 after the district court hearing had already been paid by Mr Soh in full through crowdfunding.
Hence, with the High Court dismissing the appeal and Dr Liew pushing the defamation suit no further, the curtains to the long and high-profile case have finally drawn to a close.
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Featured Image: Facebook (Soh Rui Yong)