SINGAPORE — National marathoner Soh Rui Yong had defamed competitor Ashley Liew with an intention of gaining more followers online, Liew’s lawyer claimed on Friday (11 September).
“I put to you that you said that Ashley did not slow down to increase your social media influence,” said lawyer Mark Teng on the seventh day into the civil suit filed by Liew against Soh.
Soh had also lied in court about the length of time he took to catch up with Liew after missing a U-turn, according to Teng.
Liew is suing Soh over statements that the latter made accusing Liew of lying about slowing down during the 2015 Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) marathon in order to give his competitors – who had missed a turn – a chance to catch up to him.
Soh, the current national record holder, took the stand for the first time on Friday and was subjected to cross-examination by Teng, who asked him about alleged discrepancies in the evidence that was tendered in court.
According to Liew’s version of events on 7 June 2015, he had slowed down after a U-turn at the 5.5km mark to wait for 11 other participants, including Soh. In the first few days of the trial, Liew testified that a majority of the runners caught up with him some two-and-a-half minutes – and around 500m – after they missed the U-turn.
After the alleged act went public, Liew was awarded the Special Award for Sportsmanship by the Singapore National Olympic Council and the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play trophy by the International Fair Play Committee (IFPC).
Soh, who works as a sports ambassador at The Smart Local, later made several statements online, including on his blog and Facebook page, to say that Liew’s sporting act never happened.
One of these statements was a comment on the IFPC’s Facebook post on 13 October 2018.
Posting his comment shortly afterwards, Soh said that the runners who took the wrong turn had taken “quite a while to catch up to him (at least one to two minutes), he certainly did not stop or slow down to wait for us whatsoever” in reference to Liew.
According to Teng, Soh edited his comment on 29 January this year. Soh’s edited comment read, “We took quite a while to catch up to him (about seven minutes)”.
Teng then told Soh that the latter had edited his Facebook comment after he started preparing his evidence for his current suit so that the numbers would “check out”. Teng told the court that the evidence in chief in Soh’s affidavit – a document detailing his version of events – was executed on 21 February. This was less than a month after Soh edited his Facebook comment.
“I put to you that you changed the Facebook comment in the IFPC post so that you could present a consolidated seven minutes to catch up to Ashley before this court today,” Teng said to Soh, to which the latter disagreed.
Teng also argued that Soh’s account of having caught up to Liew at a landmark known as the amber beacon – around 2km away from the missed U-turn – was false.
Said Teng, “I put to you that you edited the IFPC comment to fabricate this tale of catching up to Ashley at the amber beacon.” Soh replied, “(It’s) not fabricated tale. I disagree.”
Teng then said, “I put to you that the truth is that you only took about two to two-and-a-half minutes to catch up to Ashley.” Soh replied that his statement was “absolutely false”.
In response, Teng said, “You know what is funny Mr Soh? There is consistency between your at least one to two minutes and Ashley’s two-and-a-half minutes, and it’s about there. That’s the funny thing Mr Soh.”
Soh stood by his statements that Liew had not slowed to a crawl or slowed down dramatically, even saying it was impossible that Liew had slowed down to let competitors catch up.
“I’m (running) at a constant pace I could tell how far, and if the gap was closing…if you slow down it’s very very obvious,” said Soh.
He said, “I could see every one of them, Ashley included, especially Ashley, because I know him... when I turned around I was happy for him.”
“Ashley has an increased chance of placing well, because now he's got a head start. And he seemed to be capitalising on it by resuming his normal pace, which is fine, you know, as a teammate you want your teammates to do well.”
If everyone else made a wrong turn, and Liew did not, it would be good for him as he had a “better chance of getting a medal”, Soh added.
“So I was happy...Now Singapore has a better chance of maybe getting two medals...There's no such thing as you have to slow down to wait for everyone. I think Ashley recognises that. But the fact that he didn't slow down and now he’s saying he slowed down is absolutely wrong and I don't think this should be something that should be perpetuated.”
Teng also asked Soh about his number of followers on social media accounts, including Facebook and Instagram. Soh’s Instagram followers had increased from around 10,000 in 2018 to 16,000 currently, according to Teng.
Noting that Soh had joined TSL a month after he first made the comment on the IFPC Facebook post, Teng claimed Soh put out his defamatory statements in a bid to gain a larger social media following.
Soh replied with a snort, “How does me talking about Ashley increase my profile?
“Talking about Ashley is not going to gain me more followers. It has caused me more controversy and hurt and I don’t (know) what good can come out of it.” He added that his earnings from several brands were affected after they found out about his ongoing case.
Soh said that he believed his increase in followers came from winning more races and breaking the national record last year. While he gets earnings from posting on social media for brands, his rates were not dependent on the number of followers, he added.
The trial resumes on 24 September.
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