FORUM-ASIA expressed its regret at the Prime Minister of Singapore’s threat to pursue legal action against blogger Roy Ngerng, which it views as the latest attempt to undermine freedom of expression in the country. The regional human rights group called on the Prime Minister to withdraw his threat of legal action against the blogger.
(Bangkok, 26 May 2014): The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) expressed its regret at the Prime Minister of Singapore’s threat to pursue legal action against blogger Roy Ngerng, which it views as the latest attempt to undermine freedom of expression in the country. The regional human rights group called on the Prime Minister to withdraw his threat of legal action against the blogger.
In response to a blog-post that allegedly constituted libel, the Prime Minister’s lawyers sent a Letter of Demand demanding an apology, removal of the post and payment for damages or face a defamation lawsuit. The blogger subsequently took down the post and issued a letter of apology on 23 May 2014 (Friday). The Prime Minister has however rejected the offer for no damages and given Mr. Ngerng until 26 May 2014 (Monday) to make an offer of costs and damages, failing which legal proceedings would be commenced. News reports today also reveal that the Prime Minister further demanded the removal of four additional blog posts and a YouTube video, including a written agreement to not publish anything to “further aggravate the injury and distress caused”.
This followed a series of timeworn and strong-arm tactics employed by the Singapore government against legitimate public criticism. More recently, blogger Alex Au, socio-political blog editor Richard Wan as well as cartoonist Leslie Chew have similarly been subjected to punitive legal threats and actions for blog/website posts. Coupled with the restrictive licensing regime of online news sites instituted in 2013, these incidents represent a serious and growing attempt to undermine the democratizing potential of freedom of expression online in Singapore.
“The threat and application of libel laws only serve to discourage critical debate and reporting on matters of serious and valid public interest. While injury to reputation of individuals is a valid concern, public officials and bodies must have a higher threshold of scrutiny and criticism,” stressed John Liu, FORUM-ASIA’s South & East Asia Programme Manager.
FORUM-ASIA noted that the communication of information and ideas about public or political issues between citizens, public officials and elected representatives is essential, and that legal action is absolutely unnecessary especially if there are less restrictive and accessible means of protecting reputation interest, such as in an open dialogue, which Mr. Ngerng has extended to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister however ignored this request.
The regional human rights group also asserted that the threat of legal action against the exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Singapore’s tightly-controlled media environment is not only repressive, but creates a chilling effect on the rest of society which curtails robust debate and fosters even more self-censorship.
“Freedom of expression is a necessary condition for the realization of the principles of transparency and accountability, which lie at the heart of Mr. Ngerng’s posts. The Prime Minister must withdraw his threat of legal action against Mr. Ngerng and desist from demanding damages to be paid. We further call for the repeal of all laws that restrict the exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of expression in Singapore,” asserted Evelyn Balais-Serrano, FORUM-ASIA’s Executive Director.
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