Internet threatened by proposed new rules, while blogger prosecuted over video of himself speaking in public
Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about proposed criminal code amendments designed to encourage online self-censorship and to enable the authorities to prosecute bloggers living abroad. The organisation also condemned the imminent prosecution of opposition member Yap Keng Ho for posting a video of one of his public addresses online.
"These new measures aim to impose the same rules on Internet users as journalists," the press freedom organisation said. "This is not good news for those aware of the lack of media independence in Singapore. The government's response to the development of the Singaporean blogosphere is repression, as the blogosphere has introduced an unprecedented degree of diversity of views in the city state."
Reporters Without Borders added: "The government is also sending a message to the many Singaporeans living abroad, especially students, reminding them of the need to censor themselves when writing about their country."
The amendments affecting the Internet are part of a major, government-proposed overhaul of the criminal code that will come before parliament at the beginning of 2007. According to the South-East Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), the new rules aim above all to control online content. Bloggers who post content that is libellous or disrupts "religious harmony" could get heavy fines or prison sentences.
The proposed criminal code amendments come after several cases involving bloggers. For example, Jiahao Chen, a student finishing his studies in the United States, was forced in April 2005 to close down his site after being accused of defamation for criticising a system of university grants administered by a governmental agency, A*STAR (see http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=13486).
The SEAPA said the proposed rule changes would affect Internet users posting information online from abroad, which would seem to be a direct response to the problem caused by Jiahao.
Meanwhile, Yap Keng Ho of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has been accused of posting a video of himself speaking in public on his blog (http://uncleyap-news.blogspot.com). After questioning him on 6 November, a judge ordered him to remove all the documents relating to his public address. His blog is still accessible and the video is still online, but he is to be tried shortly.
No meeting of more than four people can take place in Singapore without police permission. According to the SEAPA, one of the criminal code amendments proposed by the government would restrict the "right of assembly" even more.
14 Nov 2006
Reporters Without Borders / Internet Freedom desk