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Marathoner Soh Rui Yong loses appeal against defamation lawsuit, to pay further S$140,000 in costs

SINGAPORE — A High Court judge on Monday (March 28) dismissed national marathoner Soh Rui Yong’s appeal against a lower court’s decision to award his teammate Ashley Liew S$180,000 in damages for defamation, which could mark the end of a long-drawn case.

Marathoner Soh Rui Yong loses appeal against defamation lawsuit, to pay further S$140,000 in costs
Dr Ashley Liew (right) had won his defamation lawsuit against national teammate Soh Rui Yong (left) in September last year.
  • The two athletes have been embroiled in a long-running row over a SEA Games marathon event in 2015
  • Dr Ashley Liew had slowed down after his rivals missed a U-turn and took the wrong path, and was given awards for sportsmanship
  • Mr Soh Rui Yong, who won the marathon, later alleged that Dr Liew did not slow down
  • A district judge found that Dr Liew did slow down and awarded him S$180,000 in damages
  • High Court judge Valerie Thean upheld this decision and awarded further costs

SINGAPORE — A High Court judge on Monday (March 28) dismissed national marathoner Soh Rui Yong’s appeal against a lower court’s decision to award his teammate Ashley Liew S$180,000 in damages for defamation, which could mark the end of a long-drawn case.

Justice Valerie Thean also ordered Mr Soh, a two-time Southeast Asian (SEA) Games gold medallist, to pay S$18,000 in costs for the appeal hearing.

This comes on top of about S$125,000 in costs and fees that Mr Soh was ordered to pay in February this year for the district court trial.

Apart from the monetary sums, the judge upheld District Judge Lee Li Choon’s decision to grant Dr Liew’s request for an injunction for Mr Soh not to repeat the libellous comments, remove the social media posts and retract the statements he made.

However, Justice Thean ruled that Mr Soh need not publish an apology on his Facebook and Instagram pages. Dr Liew did not contest his teammate’s appeal over this.

Following a year-long high-profile civil trial in the State Courts, Soh was ordered to pay Dr Liew S$120,000 in general damages and S$60,000 in aggravated damages in September last year.

Mr Soh, 30, has already paid the full sum of S$180,000 — which was crowdfunded — to Dr Liew.

District Judge Lee, who presided over the trial, had found that Mr Soh had defamed Dr Liew in several social media posts over a SEA Games marathon event in 2015.

The lawsuit was sparked by Mr Soh’s allegations that Dr Liew had lied about slowing down during the event held at East Coast Park in Singapore, after his rivals missed a U-turn and took the wrong path. 

Dr Liew had slowed down to wait for them to catch up — an act that later won him the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy, a global prize for good sportsmanship. It was the first time a Singaporean had received the award.

The Singapore National Olympic Council in 2016 also recognised Dr Liew with a special award for sportsmanship at the Singapore Sports Awards.

He was further commended by several Singapore ministers, including Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam.

He also gave an account to TODAY in June 2015, which formed part of the evidence presented during the trial.

Mr Soh disputed this account in five online posts from June 2015 to August 2019, saying that Dr Liew had not slowed down at all.

Dr Liew proceeded to sue Mr Soh for defamation, arguing his teammate had defamed him by saying that he lied and cooked up his account of the act of fair play to obtain recognition for that as well as the award.

In awarding the sum of S$180,000 to Dr Liew, District Judge Lee also gave aggravated damages partly due to Mr Soh’s repetition of the defamatory comments about Dr Liew in the media and on his social media accounts.

Soh Rui Yong (left) and Ashley Liew (right) in a picture taken in 2015 before the SEA Games.

On Monday, Justice Thean noted that on a detailed examination of Mr Soh’s social media posts, she found that he had gone further than to simply say Dr Liew was undeserving of the fair play award, but in fact had painted a narrative of Dr Liew lying about slowing down.

District Judge Lee had found that Dr Liew did slow down and this judgment was reasonable, the High Court judge said.

While Justice Thean said that Mr Soh’s conduct in repeating the defamatory statements after District Judge Lee’s decision was relevant, she ultimately found that the damages awarded were also reasonable.

Dr Liew’s lawyers, led by Mr Mark Teng from That.Legal.LLC, had argued that Mr Soh’s actions of publicly rejecting and denouncing the district court’s decision may warrant further damages. But they ultimately said that S$180,000 in damages was more than justified.

Mr Teng added: “Before the trial, during the trial, it was a media circus almost — and even after the trial.”

Mr Soh, through his lawyers from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, rehashed arguments in his appeal that Dr Liew did not correct a false impression that slowing down had cost him a medal, as it was “logically and mathematically impossible” for him to win anything even if he did not slow down.

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

In response to this, Mr Teng said anyone in the race could have finished first and that Dr Liew’s personal best was faster than Mr Soh’s winning timing.

Additionally, one of Dr Liew’s witnesses during the State Courts trial, fellow contestant Japanese-Cambodian runner Kuniaki Takizaki, testified that he had seen Liew giving a go-ahead hand sign to him and other runners who had missed the turn.

The High Court hearing took place over video-conferencing platform Zoom. Mr Soh, who is currently in London studying for a law degree, did not appear.

Related topics

Sports court defamation marathon SEA Games sportsmanship Soh Rui Yong Ashley Liew

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