Religious group wins libel case against Singapore newspapers
Associates Press, September 1, 1998
(SINGAPORE) – The Central Christian Church, part of a religious group founded in Boston in 1979, has won a libel case against two Singapore newspapers that called it a cult.
But a Christian magazine whose 1991 article had served as a source for the newspaper stories was vindicated in a Court of Appeal ruling made public Tuesday.
The appellate court judgment, delivered Aug. 28, overturned a lower court ruling last November that has said the two government-controlled newspapers had not defamed the religious group, but had reported fairly and in the public interest.
The three-judge Appeals Court said The New Paper, an afternoon tabloid, and the Chinese evening paper, Lianhe Wanbao, were reporting a comment — that the group was allegedly a cult — as if it were a fact. The ruling also said The New Paper had sensationalized the story under big headlines such as: “CULTS EXPOSED.”
Each paper was ordered to pay legal costs, plus 20,000 Singapore dollars (dlrs 11,560) to the Central Christian Church. The New Paper was also ordered to pay an additional 30,000 Singapore dollars (dlrs 17,340) to a 35-year-old Malaysian, John Philip Louis, who came from London to found the group’s Singapore branch.
The group had sued the two newspapers’ editors and publishers for 2.2 million Singapore dollars (dlrs 1.27 million).
Louis’ work permit had been withdrawn after the newspaper articles appeared in 1991, but it has since been restored and he will return to Singapore to lead the church, spokeswoman Yoke Ling said Tuesday. She said he had been working in some of the church’s other branches in 100 countries.
The Central Christian Church is part of the Boston Church of Christ founded in 1979 and the London Church of Christ founded in 1982. Members are urged to confess their sinful thoughts and acts to each other, recruits from Christian churches are told they must be rebaptized, and the group forms a tight-knit community where friendships, Bible study and free time are supervised by leaders.
The Singapore-published Christian magazine, Impact, for 1 million Singapore dollars (dlrs 578,000) for articles warning local churches about the group’s practice of recruiting among existing congregations and youth groups.
But the Court of Appeals said that Impact was protected by the defenses of fair comment and qualified privilege because its articles were written fairly and it had a duty to publish them within the Singapore Christian community.
The Central Christian Church was ordered to pay Impact‘s legal costs.