"You can express any view that you want, you can form a political party, you can contest the elections, you can have rallies, make speeches, no trouble whatsoever."
- PM Lee Hsien Loong, CNN TalkAsia, Dec 2006
Robert HO is Singapore's leading cyber dissident.
In late 2001, marking the first-ever case of its kind, HO was arrested in his home for allegedly posting "inflammatory" articles online during the General Elections. In 2002, following an as-yet-unspecified article(s) posted on soc.culture.singapore, police entered his home to serve him a summons to attend an investigation. Again, his computer was seized. Three weeks later, according to HO, he was forcibly taken to the police station by officers who entered his home without a warrant or a charge. In 2005, upon returning from a shopping mall where he had been distributing flyers alleging election fraud, he was again apprehended. His computer, purchased after the police failed to return the one seized in 2002, was confiscated. In all, he has been arrested another three times since 2001, and thrice the authorities had remanded him at a mental institution. Oddly enough, he has yet to be prosecuted for these alleged offences, although the criminal defamation case from 2002 may still be pending.
While critics, including international publications, have yielded to defamation threats issued by Singapore's leaders, Robert HO has instead emerged from his arrests and detention an even more recalcitrant heretic of the establishment. In Singapore's political cyberspace where fear of surveillance and libel suits have compelled dissenting netizens and bloggers to post articles under pseudonyms, HO sticks his neck out by brazenly disclosing his real identity online. He is now a regular contributor to the Singapore Review news group and is also a blogger.
Martyn See interviews Robert HO via email and phone in December 2006.
Have you always been a critic of the PAP Government?
Ha, ha. Nobody is born a PAP critic so I must have become one along the way. It would be true to say that LEE Kuan Yew creates his own enemies, through arrogance and unbridled power. I have written that LEE Kuan Yew is the 'most powerful man in the world or even in history' because he has so much total control over his entire population. You know as much, having been hauled up by his police, for essentially nothing. Doesn't that make you even more determined? Or changed you from pro-PAP to anti-PAP? Every time LEE Kuan Yew wrongs one person, he creates 100 critics or even oppositionists. If Dr CHEE Soon Juan had not been unfairly sacked from his university job, he would be there today, still teaching; and not a dedicated oppositionist. Power and abuse of power always create its own resistance which may one day succeed in toppling that power. Newton's Third Law: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
When did I turn anti-PAP? Let me see. I lost my last job in advertising as a copywriter on 10 Jul 92. I was still pro-PAP then and still thought LEE Kuan Yew a 'great man' and all that, thanks to the Straits Times' unending propaganda. Shortly after that, I discovered that LEE Kuan Yew had been keeping me under audio-visual surveillance since I was a teen or even earlier and was releasing all this information to his entire crony system from Straits Times journalists and editors to even foreign journalists and politicos in order to embarrass me and as a publicity stunt [a kind of reality show before there were reality shows] purely to make himself famous, to self-aggrandise and to put on a command performance for the edification of his international audience, especially the Americans. Then I got angry, rightly so, and started to hit back. The whole story is more convoluted than this but this is the essence in summary.