For the blogger, Leong Sze Hian, this David and Goliath battle began when he received a court summons at his home on 19 November. It was based on a lawsuit that the prime minister had filed against Leong a week before for sharing an article from the Malaysian website TheCoverage.my on 6 November.
The offending article suggested that Singapore’s prime minister could be implicated in the 1MDB money-laundering scandal in Malaysia that contributed to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s fall.
When Leong received the summons, he had already complied with an instruction from the Info-Communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) to take down the Facebook share. Nonetheless, a letter from the prime minister’s lawyers accused him of spreading “allegations” about their client that “impugn his character and integrity.”
“We urge Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to immediately withdraw this utterly grotesque lawsuit,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “It is yet one more example of the insidiously chilling methods used by Singapore’s authorities to silence the few voices that still dare to speak out in the city-state. We salute Leong Sze Hian’s courage and offer him our full support.”
Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, the judge in charge of the case has already ordered Leong to pay all the legal costs – 21,000 Singaporean dollars. A fund-raising campaign has been launched to support Leong during the long legal battle that awaits him. He has filed an appeal against the judge’s decision before the supreme court, but the court has said it will reach no decision before September.
In another example of how Singapore’s journalists are harassed, 19 November was also that day that the police seized electronic devices from Terry Xu, the editor of the independent news website, The Online Citizen (TOC), as a result of a comment that a blogger had posted on the site. Criminal defamation charges were subsequently brought against both Xu and the blogger.
Singapore’s independent journalists and bloggers also feel threatened by the anti-fake news bill that the Singaporean government submitted to the city-state’s parliament on 1 April. It would provide for disproportionate penalties, give the government’s members an almost entirely free hand to control online content, and pose a major obstacle to the freedom to inform both within and outside Singapore.
Singapore is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.