29 Apr 2005

Student forced to shut down blog after libel threat

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.



bostongradstudent said...

I've been thinking that one of the reasons behind muted political discussion in Singapore is the co-option by the government of the very people who are supposed to have the intelligence and erudition to make commentary.

Libel actions aside, the fact that many of the "best" and "brightest" Singaporeans are or have been to school on various government scholarships which bond them to government service in their adult lives, means that for them, to criticise the government could very well mean criticism of their bosses.

I'm currently studying in a university in the northeast of the United States. A Singaporean big shot came to deliver a speech once - it was one of the most inane, stupid speeches I'd ever heard (at one point, he said that mobile phones ringing in cinemas was an example of westernisation ... there were other such gems). He'd wasted my time, and I wasn't too deferential when I challenged him on a number of things he'd said. Then, one of these scholarship holders asked a question, and he addressed the man saying "Your excellency, sir", this "sir", that "sir", so on and so forth. Another scholarship holder, upon leaving, took leave to beg his leave and say goodbye to this utterly stupid and rude official.

Why the deference? I think these otherwise smart and erudite Singaporean youth, beholden as they are to the government for their livelihoods both as students now and as workers in the future, are perfectly aware of who fills their rice bowls. Either that, or they have been so immersed in officialdom via constant propaganda by the PSC and ther like organisations, that they don't question what to many others is patently ridiculous or contradictory.

Huichieh said...

Trackback: From a Singapore Angle, "The AcidFlask Affair in ether and beyond"

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