Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written for The Diplomat

Singapore’s new licensing scheme for news websites has ignited a flurry of criticism from netizens, press freedom advocates, and human rights groups, who have quickly denounced it as a draconian censorship measure.

On May 28, the Media Development Authority (MDA) announced that news websites reporting on Singapore that receive at least 50,000 views from unique IP addresses per month must secure a license. Further, according to a media statement, they must “put up a ‘performance bond’ of $50,000 and ‘comply within 24 hours to MDA’s directions to remove content that is found to be in breach of content standards’.”

So far, the government has identified ten websites, including Yahoo! Singapore, which are covered by the ruling. Besides Yahoo, all websites listed by the MDA are partly government owned.

Although the license is purportedly limited to mainstream news websites, some netizens who have initiated a petition against it worry that the vague wording in the new ruling “leaves the door open for blogs or any other site to be forced to license in the future without any change in the law.”

Singapore’s leading sociopolitical bloggers and commentators have also warned about the possible impact of the regulation “on fellow Singaporeans’ ability to receive diverse news information.”

An article in The Online Citizen added: “The new licensing regime has the very real potential to reduce the channels available to Singaporeans to receive news and analysis of the sociopolitical situation in Singapore and it is in the interest of all Singaporeans to guard against the erosion and availability of news channels that Singaporeans should rightfully have access to.”

For Siew Kum Hong, who once served as counsel for Yahoo in Singapore, the new regulation is a mistake since it “reinforces the perception that Singapore is a repressive place — which is precisely the wrong message to be sending to a globalised and networked world, when you are trying to build an innovative and creative economy where freedom of thought is so essential.”

Responding to the uproar online, the MDA assured the public that the license scheme is actually fair and will not undermine internet freedom. It reiterated that blogs are exempted from the regulation: “An individual publishing views on current affairs and trends on his/her personal website or blog does not amount to news reporting.”

In addition, it clarified that the content take-down clause revolves around “core content concerns that would threaten the social fabric and national interests of our country.” The MDA added, “Examples include content that incites racial or religious hatred; misleads and causes mass panic; or advocates or promotes violence.”

Despite the MDA’s assurances, netizens remain unconvinced. A movement called “Free My Internet” has been organized specifically to push for the withdrawal of the license scheme, which has already been successfully annexed by the MDA as a subsidiary legislation. Critics have also called for a public gathering at Hong Lim Park this Saturday to pressure the MDA and parliament to scrap the measure.

For unifying Singapore’s often divided netizens and inspiring a rare democratic protest, perhaps the MDA should be commended for issuing a controversial ruling.

Vietnam: Bloggers Arrested, Accused of Spreading “Anti-State” Propaganda

First published by Global Voices Advocacy

Truong Duy Nhat, Pham Viet Dao and Dinh Nhat Uy are three prominent bloggers who have been arrested in Vietnam in less than a month’s time. All are accused of spreading anti-state propaganda.

Truong Duy Nhat was arrested May 26 in Danang. Pham Viet Dao was detained in Hanoi on June 13. On June 15, Dinh Nhat Uy was taken into police custody in Long An province.

Vietnam has imprisoned 46 bloggers and democracy activists in 2013. The high number of arrests of hardline government critics or individuals that the government sees as “enemies of the state” could be related to the recently concluded confidence vote in the National Assembly.

The Prime Minister survived the country’s first-ever confidence vote but 30 percent of the National Assembly members voted against him.

Human rights groups and press freedom advocates immediately denounced the arrests. Many suspect that authorities are working to silence activists and dissident journalists who have been actively exposing corruption scandals involving top government officials.

Reporters without Borders warned that Vietnam could expect a global backlash if persecution of news providers is to continue:

We warn the authorities against any increase in the persecution of news providers. After the European Parliament’s recent resolutions condemning Vietnam’s arrests of bloggers and the international community’s calls for more freedom of information and expression in Vietnam, it should be clear that maintaining the policy of terror against bloggers and cyber-dissidents will only sideline the country internationally, including within intergovernmental mechanisms.

The abuses suffered by bloggers highlight the need to review some of the laws which the government of Vietnam has been using to silence its critics.

Article 88 of the Criminal Code which bans anti-state propaganda is often used to detain individuals who oppose the government. Article 258 of the Criminal Code punishes misuse of “democratic freedoms to attack state interests and the legitimate rights and interests of collectives and individuals” and carries a sentence of seven years in prison. The Prime Minister also issued a directive last year that ordered a crackdown on “reactionary” blogs.

Vague provisions in the law have allowed authorities to make some arbitrary arrests. For example, Dinh Nhat Uy is accused of posting “erroneous and slanderous” information about the communist government. Further, he allegedly posted photos and articles on his blog that “distort the truth and defame state organizations.”

A month ago, blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh—who blogs as Me Nam (Mother Mushroom)–was briefly detained in Khanh Hoa province for handing out copies of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was reportedly arrested because she did not have a proper permit for distributing such materials.

Truong Duy Nhat, who blogs at “Another Viewpoint”, asserted that he is neither a criminal nor a reactionary:

I am neither a criminal nor a reactionary. There is nothing propagandistic or reactionary about the articles I post on ‘Another point of view.’ The police investigations, summonses and interrogations should be targeting reactionaries, anti-patriots and the interest groups gathering in banks, these insects who devour the people.

Regardless of their political opinions or critiques of the government, bloggers’ universal human right to freedom of expression should be upheld in Vietnam. Global Voices Advocacy will continue to follow these stories as they unfold.

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