Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has threatened to pursue libel charges against the editor of an online publication that ran allegations about the city-state’s founding family.
In a letter to Terry Xu, the Chief Editor of the Online Citizen, Lee’s press secretary requested the immediate removal of an article from the outlet’s website and Facebook page, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The letter also asked for a “full and unconditional apology” from the Online Citizen, a blogging platform that is known as one of the few alternative political news sources in Singapore.
If the editor does not comply by Wednesday, “PM Lee will have no choice but to hand the matter over to his lawyers to sue,” the letter, says, while accusing the site of spreading “false” and “libelous” allegations.
The Online Citizen article in question is a commentary about why Lee’s wife shared a Facebook post about “toxic family members,” reports AFP.
According to AFP, Lee has been mired in a public feud with his siblings over the future of a family home following the death of their father, Singapore’s founder Lee Kuan Yew. The late Lee had wanted the house destroyed after his death. But the current Prime Minister’s siblings accuse Lee of blocking the demolition to capitalize on their father’s legacy for his own political aims, reports AFP.
Wealthy Singapore places strict limitations on civil liberties and freedom of speech, and public figures have previously been accused of using criminal defamation suits to silence critics.
Last year, the government charged Xu with criminal defamation over a separate article alleging corruption among the city’s highest officials.
The city-state ranked 151st out of 180 countries—below Myanmar and the United Arab Emirates— on the Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
In May, Singapore passed controversial legislation against fake news which Human Rights Watch called a “disaster for online expression.” The law is expected to come into force later this year.