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A Singapore student said on Monday he has shut down his blog and apologized unreservedly after a government agency threatened to sue for defamation. Chen Jiahao, a 23-year-old graduate student in the United States, told Reuters he closed down his personal Web site after A*STAR, a Singapore government agency focusing on science and research, threatened legal action for what the agency said were untrue and serious accusations. ...
On Sunday he posted the new apology on his "Caustic Soda" blog, saying "I unreservedly apologize to A*STAR, its Chairman Mr. Philip Yeo, and its executive officers for the distress and embarrassment caused to them."
"They sent me an e-mail with these words," Chen told Reuters on Monday by telephone from the United States, where he studies chemical physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Singapore's senior government officials apparently make a habit of suing for defamation in order to intimidate their critics into silence. Normally they target other politicians and larger media outlets, and since the suits are filed in Singapore, the laws allow for a low threshold of proof for damages. This has an obviously chilling effect on debate and criticism in Singapore, and in this case, all the way to the United States. Chen's status as a graduate student in Illinois had no bearing on his case, as he is a Singapore national and would be liable for the damages filed in a lawsuit once he returned home.
Both Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have taken a look at Chen's battle with Singapore's elite. Chen's surrender is certainly understandable, but unfortunate. Less understandable is the acquiescence of traditional media outlets in paying these judgements, as the article implies, and their silence to this point about the practice of Singapore's leaders. Rather than comply with these blatant attempts to stifle free speech, the larger outlets should simply stop reporting from Singapore and give better coverage to the government's opposition movements from bases outside Singapore.
Sometimes I wonder if the Exempt Media understands the stakes in fighting for freedom of expression.Sphere It View blog reactions
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