The owners of The Real Singapore were hit with seven charges of sedition for publishing material that promotes “ill-will and hostility between groups of people in Singapore.”
Four of the seven alleged hostile items were from letters from the public and not from the editorial staff of TRS.
Singapore has never been known as a bastion of free press or freedom of expression.
Freedom House ranks Singapore as Partly Free for its politics.
The opening paragraph of the civil liberties section in the most recent Freedom House report sums it all up:
The government maintains that racial sensitivities and the threat of Islamist terrorism justify draconian restrictions on freedoms of speech, but such rules have been used to silence criticism of the authorities. Singapore’s media remain tightly constrained. All domestic newspapers, radio stations, and television channels are owned by companies linked to the government.
Singapore media are ranks as NOT FREE by Freedom House. Again, a summary paragraph speaks volumes:
Freedoms of speech and expression are guaranteed by Article 14 of the constitution, but there are restrictions on these rights. The Newspapers and Printing Presses Act, the Defamation Act, the Internal Security Act (ISA), and articles in the penal code allow the authorities to block the circulation of news deemed to incite violence, arouse racial or religious tensions, interfere in domestic politics, or threaten public order, the national interest, or national security. The Sedition Act, in effect since the colonial period, outlaws seditious speech, the distribution of seditious materials, and acts with “seditious tendency.”
The battle for press and civic freedoms in Singapore are not new. The structure of Singapore’s economy is such that people are used to making choices for themselves in the economic sphere. Almost immediately, people began wondering why they are able to make their own choices for work and consumer purchases but not make their own choices for political leadership. And with that wondering came the natural inclination to criticize the government and other aspects of society.
Freedom House notes there has been movement on the political front.
There were several signs in 2013 that the ruling party’s monopoly on power was weakening. The opposition Workers’ Party increased its presence in Parliament by winning a January by-election, and citizens mounted a number of demonstrations—some of them unusually large—on issues including government plans on immigration, new internet regulations, and gay rights.
But progress is slow and the laws in place still allow for actions that could place a pair of twenty-somethings in jail for more than 21 years, for just reporting what is going on and letting people have a say in a public forum.
And, just for fun, let us not forget this is the country that sentenced a teenager to caning for deliberately scratching cars, that banned chewing gum because people were not disposing of their gum the proper way and the place that put signs in the reflecting pool around a major government building that said “Do not walk on the water”.