The Online Citizen hounded by Singapore police
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the actions of Singapore’s police in seizing electronic devices from a news website, The Online Citizen (TOC), and interrogating its editor and a blogger who posted a comment on the site. Carried out on spurious grounds, these actions have all the hallmarks of an unacceptable act of intimidation, RSF said.
In a note posted on 26 November, TOC editor Terry Xu reported that that he now fears that he could be arrested any day. It was the first message to appear on the site since five police officers arrived at his home on 20 November, confiscated all of the site’s electronic equipment and took him away for an interrogation that lasted eight hours.
The pretext for this show of force was a comment posted on the site on 4 September by a blogger using the pseudonym of Willy Sum, who criticized “corruption at the highest echelons” of the ruling party leadership and “tampering with the constitution.” He was himself questioned by the police on 26 November on suspicion of “criminal defamation.”
On 18 September, two weeks after the comment was posted, TOC was ordered to remove it within six hours by the Info-Communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), an information ministry offshoot.
Although TOC complied immediately, the police nonetheless used this case a pretext for seizing its equipment two months later, on 20 November. It was only thanks to the support of its readers that TOC was able to acquire new equipment and resume publishing on 26 November.
“Exhuming this old case in order to intimidate The Online Citizen’s editor and deprive it of the means of publishing was a crude harassment ploy,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “These summary interrogations must stop and the confiscated equipment must be returned at once. We call on the Singaporean authorities to stop trying to censor all content that displeases them.”
This is not the first time that TOC has been targeted by the city state’s government. In 2016, RSF expressed concern about the interior ministry’s repeated attempts to get the site shut down on the basis of spurious complaints.
Singapore is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.