Singapore authorities must lift arbitrary edict blocking Asia Sentinel website

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an immediate and unconditional end to Singapore’s arbitrary, two-week-old blocking of access to Asia Sentinel, a California-based independent website specialising in Asian news coverage, because of an article that was not to the government’s liking.

Asia Sentinel has been inaccessible throughout the city state since 2 June as a result of blocking orders issued by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), a Singaporean governmental agency.

The site is accused of failing to comply with an IMDA “correction instruction” regarding a 24 May article that was headlined “Singapore kills a Chicken to Scare the Monkeys” in reference to a Chinese proverb used to describe intimidation techniques, including techniques for intimidating the media.

The article contained many “lies,” according to the Ministry for Home Affairs, which demanded a correction under Singapore’s Prevention From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), a 2019 law that was heavily criticised by RSF because of its totally arbitrary and even totalitarian nature.

“By censoring Asia Sentinel in such a blatant manner, Singapore’s government has revealed its true face, it has shown that it wants to act as a Ministry of Truth, accepting no criticism and tolerating only courtier journalism. We call on home affairs minister K. Shanmugam to immediately withdraw his ‘correction instructions’ and restore access to the site, so that the city state’s citizens can read freely and independently reported news.

Daniel Bastard
Head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk

RSF contacted the article’s author, Asia Sentinel co-founder John Berthelsen, who insists that all of its content was perfectly sourced. One of the cases it refers to is that of Andy Wong, a financial analyst and occasional blogger who was forced to leave the city state after being harassed by the authorities over an article he wrote in 2021 for the website of the Japanese magazine Nikkei Asia.

“Corrections” demanded

Wong’s story established links between organised crime, the use of illegal prostitution venues and the spread of Covid-19 in Singapore. After being contacted by Wong at the time, RSF checked his sources and was able to confirm the accuracy of his claims.

Singapore’s POFMA is designed to suppress “misleading” or “false” content by forcing websites to post a “correction” over the offending story and then, within the story itself, to “correct” statements that are not to the government’s liking.

It has been used more than 60 times, above all to suppress criticism of the Singaporean authorities. The licence of The Online Citizen, one of the city state’s only independent news sites, was permanently cancelled at the IMDA’s behest in October 2021.

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