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'Persistently behaved unreasonably': Soh Rui Yong loses defamation suit against S'pore Athletics ex-director

SINGAPORE — National marathoner Soh Rui Yong has failed in his defamation lawsuit against Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied, despite a judge’s finding that the former executive director of Singapore Athletics (SA) had defamed him on Facebook.
National marathoner Soh Rui Yong (right) had sued Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied (left), former executive director of Singapore Athletics, for comments he made on his personal Facebook account in 2019.

National marathoner Soh Rui Yong (right) had sued Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied (left), former executive director of Singapore Athletics, for comments he made on his personal Facebook account in 2019.

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  • National marathoner Soh Rui Yong had sued Malik Aljunied, the former director of Singapore Athletics, for defamation
  • A district judge has now dismissed Mr Soh's claims for S$80,000 in damages from Mr Malik
  • The judge found that Mr Malik had indeed defamed Mr Soh but succeeded in his defence of justification
  • Mr Soh “persistently behaved unreasonably and illogically", showing that his sense of logic and reason had been impaired, the judge said

SINGAPORE — National marathoner Soh Rui Yong has failed in his defamation lawsuit against Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied, despite a judge’s finding that the former executive director of Singapore Athletics (SA) had indeed defamed him on Facebook.

District Judge Lim Wee Ming accepted Mr Malik’s defence of justification, ruling on Wednesday (June 8) that Mr Soh had “persistently behaved unreasonably and illogically” to the extent that his "sense of logic and reason had been impaired".

On Thursday evening, Mr Soh wrote on Facebook that he forgives Mr Malik, and is now reviewing the judgement with his lawyers before deciding if an appeal is worthwhile.

This came several months after he lost a separate defamation suit that former national teammate Ashley Liew had filed against him. The decision was upheld on appeal.

Mr Soh, who is now in London studying law, had to pay Dr Liew, who is a chiropractor, S$180,000 in damages and S$140,000 in costs.

In this present case, Mr Soh, a two-time Southeast Asian (SEA) Games gold medallist, had sued Mr Malik for comments he made on his personal Facebook account in 2019 after Mr Soh was rejected from Team Singapore for the 2019 SEA Games.

Mr Soh sought S$70,000 in general damages and S$10,000 in aggravated damages.

In 2019, Mr Malik posted a photo of himself with two children on Facebook. In the caption, he wrote that he hoped one of the children would take up the 400m hurdles sporting event, and added that they should be “careful” of the marathon as it could “end up messing up with your mind and heart”.

He also stated in a comment that he had observed this in only “one particular runner so far” and that marathons have “drained” this individual of “empathy, compassion, gratitude and the capability to love others”.

He did not mention any names in his comment, but Mr Soh’s lawyers said that the “runner" could only be referring to him.

Mr Malik removed the Facebook post and comment 15 hours later.

During the trial, he explained that a fellow SA management committee member told him that what he wrote was not in good taste.

Mr Malik also agreed with Mr Soh’s lawyer that the words he had used painted a negative and unflattering picture of the athlete.

Mr Soh then offered to withdraw his lawsuit, saying he was satisfied with Mr Malik’s concessions and that he did not wish to put prominent figures in Singapore sports through cross-examination. Mr Malik rejected the offer and the trial continued.

MULTIPLE CONTROVERSIES

In his 32-page written judgement, District Judge Lim set out various controversies that Mr Soh was embroiled in to find that his conduct showed "a lack of empathy, compassion and gratitude”.

This included Mr Soh breaching a “blackout period” around the 2017 SEA Games when he was not allowed to promote personal sponsors that were not approved by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC).

He also went against the wishes of an SA sponsor by cutting holes in his attire, leading to the sponsor terminating its sponsorship.

After Mr Soh won a gold medal during the tournament, SNOC awarded him S$10,000 under its Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme. Mr Soh publicly criticised SNOC’s requirement that he donate 20 per cent of this sum to SA.

Another controversy engulfing Mr Soh was when he accused Dr Liew, his former teammate, in 2018 of lying about slowing down during the 2015 SEA Games marathon to allow other competitors who had made a wrong turn to catch up.

Mr Soh disparaged SNOC and Dr Liew in relation to this incident as well as Dr Liew being awarded an international fair play trophy.

In April 2019, Mr Malik and Mr Ang Peng Siong, then the SA’s vice-president of training and selection, met Mr Soh to counsel him. They explained that he had breached the SA code of conduct and that he could face disciplinary action and withdrawal of sponsor support, among other things.

Mr Soh disputed this account, claiming that the meeting was to discuss preparations for the 2019 SEA Games and that he was never told that he had breached the code of conduct.

Dr Liew sued Mr Soh for defamation in June 2019.

The following month, SA nominated Mr Soh for the 2019 SEA Games but SNOC rejected this, saying in a media release that Mr Soh’s conduct had repeatedly fallen short of its expectations.

In response, Mr Soh published Facebook posts disparaging SNOC's president and calling its actions “akin to primary school playground politics”.

Mr Malik then published the defamatory Facebook post and comment that led to Mr Soh suing him for defamation.

MADE PERSONAL ATTACKS

The charges Mr Malik made against Mr Soh were that his sense of logic and reason has been impaired, and that he was incapable of empathy, compassion, gratitude and the capability to love others.

District Judge Lim found that although Mr Malik’s statements were indeed defamatory, he had succeeded in his defence of justification.

The judge said that Mr Soh had “persistently behaved unreasonably and illogically to the extent that it showed that his sense of logic and reason had been impaired”.

In relation to the 2017 SEA Games, District Judge Lim noted that Mr Soh had promoted his own sponsors and made a personal attack on SNOC officials. He had alleged that many of them “sit on comfortable salaries while policing the social media activity of the very athletes that make them money in the first place”.

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...
District Judge Lim Wee Ming

District Judge Lim said that whatever Mr Soh’s views on the blackout rule were, SNOC officials had to enforce them, and it did not appear he would stand to benefit from this personal attack other than drawing the attention of his supporters.

As for the 20 per cent award dispute, District Judge Lim said that it was “hard to fathom his unnecessarily combative and personal attacks on SA administrators stood to benefit either himself or his fellow athletes”.

Mr Soh also showed a lack of gratitude towards SNOC by focusing on the S$2,000 he needed to donate to SA, rather than the S$8,000 he was receiving, the judge said.

As for the Ashley Liew saga, Mr Soh argued that he had been “motivated by a strong sense of truth and integrity” rather than being illogical and unreasonable.

The judge rejected this, noting issues such as Mr Soh refusing to keep an open mind to the possibility that other witnesses may have seen Dr Liew slowing down, even if he did not witness it himself.

Mr Soh had also sought to rely on his coaching, sharing of his training plan and tribute to a rival from the Philippines, Rafael Poliquit, to show his capability of showing empathy and love for others.

However, the judge said that this did not detract from the other incidents.

District Judge Lim ultimately ruled that Mr Soh’s actions had overshadowed and eclipsed his reputation in relation to his capability to show empathy, compassion, gratitude and the capability to 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.

Defendants relying on the defence of justification must prove that their statements are true both in substance and fact.

Under the Defamation Act, such a defence will not fail if unproven words do not materially injure the plaintiff's reputation, having regard to the truth of the remaining charges.

The judge then ordered Mr Soh’s lawyer Gerard Quek and Mr Malik’s lawyer Mahmood Gaznavi to write in for directions on costs to be paid, if they are unable to agree on the matter.

Related topics

Ashley Liew Soh Rui Yong Singapore Athletics defamation court

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