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Defamation trial: Marathoner Ashley Liew says allegations by Soh Rui Yong were ‘out of the blue and unprovoked’

SINGAPORE — Singapore athlete Ashley Liew took to the witness stand on Tuesday (Sept 1), as the court heard a civil lawsuit filed by him and his lawyers against fellow runner Soh Rui Yong for defamation.

Marathoner Ashley Liew (right) in a photo taken with fellow runner Soh Rui Yong in 2011.

Marathoner Ashley Liew (right) in a photo taken with fellow runner Soh Rui Yong in 2011.

  • Athlete Ashley Liew is suing marathoner Soh Rui Yong for defamation
  • Mr Soh has alleged that Dr Liew lied about slowing down during a race to let runners catch up over mistake
  • Dr Liew is seeking S$120,000 in damages from Mr Soh for five defamatory statements he made
  • Mr Soh’s lawyer said he will seek to prove that Dr Liew was lying about the events that led to him winning the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy


SINGAPORE — Singapore athlete Ashley Liew took to the witness stand on Tuesday (Sept 1), as the court heard a civil lawsuit filed by him and his lawyers against fellow runner Soh Rui Yong for defamation.

Responding to Mr Soh’s persistent allegations against him for lying about giving way to marathoners during a race in 2015, he said that what Mr Soh did was “out of the blue and unprovoked”.

The dispute between the two men has been ongoing for a while now, blowing up in October 2018 when Mr Soh took to social media to cast doubt on Dr Liew’s act of sportsmanship during the 2015 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

This was shortly after the International Fair Play Committee called Dr Liew a role model for fair play in a Facebook post.

Dr Liew, who is also a doctor of chiropractic at the Family Health Chiropractic Clinic, is now seeking S$120,000 in damages for defamation.

In their opening statement, Dr Liew’s lawyers, Mr Mark Teng and Mr Lim Tianjun of That.Legal LLC, said that there were five instances in which Mr Soh, 29, had defamed their 34-year-old client through his writing on social media accounts and blog posts.

These defamatory statements alleged that Dr Liew was untruthful about his account of events during the men’s marathon final on June 7 at the 2015 SEA Games, which led to him winning the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy — a global prize for good sportsmanship.

Mr Soh’s team of lawyers from Foxwood LLC, on the other hand, said that everything their client had written should be seen as fair comment because they were made in the interest of the public.

Mr Clarence Lun, who led the team, said that there was no reason for Mr Soh to speak up unless “there was something fundamentally untrue that pricked his conscience”.

“We will seek to prove the act of Fair Play did not occur, and what the plaintiff says (were) lies,” Mr Lun said.

Even if Dr Liew’s account is accurate, the lawyer said he will prove that the defence of justification will hold — which means Mr Soh should not be liable for slander as his statements are “true in substance”.  


During the race in 2015, Dr Liew found himself leading the 12-runner race in the men’s marathon after his rivals missed a U-turn and took the wrong path. He then slowed down in order to wait for them to catch up — an act that Mr Soh is disputing.

Mr Soh eventually claimed the gold medal when he finished the marathon at 2hr 34min 56sec, while Dr Liew came in eighth at 2hr 44min 2sec.

What Dr Liew did was widely publicised and earned him praise from many Singaporeans. 

He was recognised by the Singapore National Olympic Council in 2016 with a special award for sportsmanship at the Singapore Sports Awards.

In October that year, he was awarded the accolade in the category of “Act of Fair Play” by the International Committee for Fairplay, which recognises acts of fair play by athletes or sports teams.

The first of Mr Soh’s statements disputing this account of the race event was made in a blog post on June 22 in 2015 and the fifth and final post put up online was on Aug 6 last year.

On April 9 last year, Mr Teng sent a legal letter to Mr Soh saying that his publicised statements about Dr Liew had “hurt and disparaged” his client’s professional image as a doctor of chiropractic and his reputation as a competitive marathon runner. These had also caused Dr Liew “financial and reputational loss and damage”.

The letter demanded that Mr Soh pay S$120,000 in monetary damages to Dr Liew for defamation, remove all “false” public statements and issue a public apology.

Mr Soh, who has also issued a defamation writ and statement of claim against track-and-field governing body Singapore Athletics for a separate spat, did not back down.


On Tuesday during the hearing, Dr Liew was the only person to take the witness stand.

Cross-examined by Mr Lun, Dr Liew conceded that Mr Soh was a better runner than he was, which prompted the lawyer to ask why the “best runner” in Singapore would make the contested allegations against him.

“I wouldn’t know that myself. I was very shocked,” Dr Liew said, adding that they were “out of the blue and unprovoked”.  

When Dr Liew was asked what values he stood for, he replied that they were sportsmanship, integrity and humility.

Mr Lun then questioned why there was a Facebook post by one Kelvin Ng that not only highlighted what happened during the marathon, but called for Dr Liew to be given a sportsmanship award.

Dr Liew explained that the man was his chiropractic mentor and was one of his close confidants, and Dr Liew wanted to let Dr Ng know what happened since “so much time was spent on talking about the U-turn incident”.

He did not expect Dr Ng to put up a Facebook post about it.

“If you are so humble, why didn’t you ask this Kelvin Ng to take down the post? This is telling the whole world,” Mr Lun asked. 

Dr Liew said that he was not aware of the sportsmanship award back then, and felt that he should not correct someone else’s opinion.

Mr Lun then suggested that Dr Liew had asked someone to highlight his “hollow achievement” on social media, to which Dr Liew again repeated that “people are entitled to their opinions”.

“Then why are you getting your lawyer to try to get my client to take down (his posts) if you are not stopping others from giving you that (bit of) glamour that you were looking for?”

Mr Lun went on to repeatedly grill Dr Liew about the details of what happened on the race day. 

These included Dr Liew’s exact position during the race before the U-turn incident, and when the rest of the runners caught up with him and who was around him when they did.

Dr Liew said he remembered only that he was in the middle of the pack and that the race “somewhat resumed” when Mr Kuniaki Takizaki, who was representing Cambodia, ran ahead of him and the rest of the pack were within seconds of each other.

The trial continues on Wednesday.

Related topics

Ashley Liew Soh Rui Yong SEA Games defamation court

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