Reporters Without Borders today expressed support for a student in Singapore forced to shut down his blog on 26 April for fear of a libel action by the head of a government body and warned that "such intimidation could make the country's blogs as timid and obedient as the traditional media."
"Threatening a libel suit is an effective way to silence criticism and this case highlights the lack of free expression in Singapore, which is among the 20 lowest-scoring countries in our worldwide press freedom index," it said. "We especially support bloggers because they often exercise a freedom not seen in the rest of a country's media.
The threat of prosecution came from Philip Yeo, chairman of the government's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), which grants research scholarships, who claimed it was libelled in a blog (www.scs.uiuc.edu/~chen6/blog) by Jiahao Chen, a Singapore student finishing his studies in the United States. Writing under the pseudonym of Acid Flask, he criticised Yeo and the A*STAR scholarship system. He also agreed to his remarks being reproduced in the online Electric New Paper (http://newpaper.asia1.com.sg). Yeo sent him several e-mails demanding that he delete all blogs mentioning him or A*STAR and threatening legal action if he did not.
A few days later, Acid Flask shut down the blog and posted a message of apology to Yeo in its place. Other Singapore blogs that had reproduced the remarks quickly afterwards posted apologies or themselves closed down.