Athletics: Marathoner Soh Rui Yong denies defaming former teammate Ashley Liew to gain more followers on social media

SINGAPORE – Marathoner Soh Rui Yong on Friday (Sept 11) denied making defamatory comments about former teammate Ashley Liew to boost his social media following.

The two-time SEA Games gold medallist, who noted that he has “achieved a certain recognition because of my results, not because of Ashley Liew”, was testifying in court for the first time as the defendant in the defamation suit brought against him by Liew.

Under cross-examination by Liew’s lawyer, Mr Mark Teng of That.Legal LLC, who put it to Soh that he published the post “with the intention of gaining more followers on social media, including Instagram”, Soh replied: “Absolutely untrue. How does me talking about Ashley increase my profile?

“My 16,000 (Instagram) followers I built by (performing) well in races and setting records… If anything, it’s divided opinions in the running circle… caused me more controversy and hurt. I don’t know what good can come out of it.”

The dispute between both runners began in October 2018 when Soh, in a comment on a Facebook post by the International Fair Play Committee (IFPC), disputed Liew’s account of an act of sportsmanship that occurred during the 2015 SEA Games marathon.

Liew said he had slowed down to allow other runners to catch up after they missed a U-turn and took the wrong path. He received a special award for sportsmanship at the Singapore Sports Awards in June 2016, and subsequently won the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Trophy in September that year.

On Friday, Teng asked Soh: “I put it to you that you said (Liew) did not slow down to wait for his competitors to increase your social media influence.”

Soh, represented by Mr Clarence Lun of Foxwood LLC, said: “I already told you why it’s completely baseless… I disagree.”

The 29-year-old athlete had, earlier in the day, also said that it was “impossible” that Liew had slowed down.

Teng had asked him: “And that’s because you say that you caught up to him at the seven-minute mark?”

Soh replied: “That’s one of the factors. The second factor is when I turned around, Ashley was 50m in front of me, he was running in the same direction… I could observe everyone in front of me at all points in time.”

The court was also told that he had “updated slightly” his Oct 21, 2018, comment on the IFPC’s Facebook post.

Asked by Teng what he had updated it, Soh replied that while he had initially written that the other runners took “at least 1-2 minutes” to catch up to Liew during the 2015 race, he later edited this to “about 7 minutes”.

Soh explained: “I put at least one to two minutes because the pack was very big and I was not sure exactly at which point (Cambodian runner) Kuniaki Takizaki overtook Ashley… I knew I took about seven minutes but I couldn’t speak for Takizaki.

“I knew he caught up to Ashley earlier. My point was just that he didn’t stop or slow down to a crawl. If he did, we would have overtaken him within 10 to 20 seconds.”

Teng, noting that Soh had amended the comment on Jan 29 this year, then also pointed out that the latter executed his affidavit of evidence-in-chief (AEIC) on Feb 21 this year.

Teng added: “I put it to you that you edited your Facebook comment to the IFPC Facebook post so that the evidence that you tender before this court would consistently say that you took seven minutes, and not at least one to two minutes to catch up to Ashley, do you agree?”

Soh disagreed.

Referring Soh to Liew’s AEIC, in which Liew had said he slowed down for approximately 2½ minutes, Teng said: “This was not far off from your initial estimate on Oct 21, 2018, of at least one to two minutes to catch up to Ashley. So last chance, Mr Soh, did you take two minutes or seven minutes to catch up to Ashley?”

Soh replied: “Seven minutes.”

The trial continues on Sept 24, with Soh expected to return to the stand.

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