By Ahmad Osman
TEN members of a committee which organised the first Tamil Language Week in 1995, yesterday won S$265,000 in defamatory damages from Workers’ Party veteran A. Balakrishnan, its leader, J.B. Jeyaretnam, and the party.
The three defendants were also ordered by Justice Goh Joon Seng to pay the legal costs for a 14-day trial and this is likely to amount to at least S$250,000.
He told Mr Jeyaretnam’s lawyer, Mr G. Krishnan, that the WP chief must state why the execution of the judgment should be delayed if he wanted to appeal.
Mr Jeyaretnam is editor of The Hammer, a WP publication which carried an article in the August 1995 issue defaming the committee members who were appointed by 25 Tamil organisations.
Mr Balakrishnan wrote the article in Tamil. It was printed by Misa Press, the fourth defendant, which was also ordered to pay damages and costs.
The defamatory article described the week-long event from April 8, 1995, as “a drama enacted for written judgment by the government”.
It criticised the organisers for failing to ask why Tamil was not offered as a subject in the National University of Singapore.
It said those organising the event to seek political gains should not use Tamil to “prostitute nakedly” for positions for themselves.
The plaintiffs said the words used meant that they were government stooges out to obtain and curry favour with the authorities.
The article, they argued, also alleged that they were incompetent in promoting the Tamil language and were “nakedly prostituting themselves” to seek political gain or office.
In his oral judgment yesterday, the judge rejected the defence that the article did not refer specifically to the plaintiffs who were not named.
He ruled that Tamil readers would know that the article was referring to the people in the committee. He also rejected the defence of fair comment on a matter of public interest put up by Mr Balakrishnan, Mr Jeyaretnam and the WP.
The facts cited did not support this defence by the defendants who had expressed malice, noted the judge who asked them to pay S$30,000 to each of these three plaintiffs – lawyers Nirumalan Pillay, R. Kalamohan and R. Ravindran, who is also an MP of Bukit Timah GRC.
Mr Balakrishnan, Mr Jeyaretnam and the WP must also pay S$25,000 to each of the other seven people who sued them.
They are: Mr Pakir Maideen, a retired school principal; Mr V. Krishnasamy, a computer operations officer in Singapore Airlines, and education officers, Mr V.R.P. Manickam; Mr A.R. Mashuthoo; Mr Naseer Ghani; Mrs Indra Krishnan and Mr Samy Veerasamy.
Misa Press has to pay S$5,000 each to Messrs Pillay, Kalamohan and Ravindran and S$3,000 each to the other seven plaintiffs.
The legal costs that must be borne by the printer is S$5,000.
After the judgment was delivered yesterday, Mr Pillay, the committee’s chairman, noted that the plaintiffs were viciously defamed in the article.
He said: “Today’s judgment by the High Court after a 14-day trial, is a clear vindication of all the good work that has been put in by a group of fair-minded, well-meaning and public-spirited individuals for the cause of the Tamil language in Singapore and what they strived so hard for.”