Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


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

Written for The Diplomat

Singapore’s netizens have a new legal weapon to defeat the “trolls” of the Internet after Parliament recently approved an anti-harassment law.

Under the new law, anti-social acts such as cyber harassment, bullying of children, sexual harassment in the workplace, and stalking are now deemed illegal. A person found guilty of unlawful stalking will get a fine of up to S$5,000 ($3922.00) or a jail term not exceeding 12 months. Repeat offenders may face a fine of up to S$10,000 and/or a jail term of not more than two years.

Harassment is already a crime in Singapore under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act but online harassment is not clearly defined. Hence, many welcomed the passage of the anti-harassment law since it would give more protection to ordinary citizens, including children who are using the Internet. The law also extended protection to public sector employees such as healthcare workers and railway personnel.

Legal experts noted that the new law gives victims of cyber bullying the option to avail of civil remedies. Victims may apply for Protection Orders requiring harassers to desist from causing further harm to them. The Protection Order also requires the harasser or a third party to remove the offending material which caused harassment.

A person wishing to correct wrongful online personal information can invoke Section 15 of the law to convince the court to order the correction of the publication.

Perhaps to avoid misinterpretations, the law provided explicit examples of harassment and stalking

X and Y are classmates. X posts a vulgar tirade against Y on a website accessible to all of their classmates. One of Y’s classmates shows the message on the website to Y, and Y is distressed. X is guilty of an offense.

Meanwhile, these acts are acts associated with stalking of X by Y:

(a) Y repeatedly sends emails to Y’s subordinate (X) with suggestive comments about X’s body.
(b) Y sends flowers to X daily even though X has asked Y to stop doing so.
(c) Y repeatedly circulates revealing photographs of a classmate (X) to other classmates.

Hri Kumar, a Member of Parliament, believes that the law rightly makes people accountable for the crimes they commit online: “If we agree that a person should be made accountable for causing harm to another by making hurtful statements and uttering falsehoods in the physical world, why should he obtain a free pass because he does it on-line, and anonymously?”

But he is worried that the measure might not be effectively implemented since there are no clear guidelines on how to ascertain the identities of anonymous offenders.

Another Member of Parliament, Pritam Singh, supports the measure. But he warned about how the provision against stalking can be used to undermine the critical work of journalists and bloggers: “I am concerned that the Bill may be subject to abuse especially by individuals who seek to use the law for illegitimate reasons like avoiding or strategically delaying public scrutiny which some journalists or bloggers may seek to pursue.”

He also reminded the government that the issue of school bullying is a complex problem which cannot be adequately resolved through legislation. He wanted policymakers to be more lenient to children.

“I do hope we can address the issue of bullying in schools outside the legal domain, with this Bill employed as a last resort on students who are at a stage in their life where mistakes are made and poor judgment is exercised, a reflection of youthful folly,” he said.

Surprisingly, MP Zaqy Mohammad of the ruling party declared his support for the measure on the condition that it won’t be used to suppress criticism: “I support this as long as it’s not a tool to be used in any manner to censor information and responsible views, alternative as they may be, on the Internet.”

Indeed, the law must be strictly implemented to end the harassment activities of bullies, trolls, and unlawful stalkers. It must not be used to harass government critics and those who are aggressively speaking on social and policy issues.

Cambodia’s Draft Cyber Law Threatens Free Speech

Written for The Diplomat

A leaked draft of Cambodia’s anti-cybercrime bill has human rights groups worried about several provisions that could be used by authorities to further suppress free speech in the country.

The Phnom Penh Post, Cambodia’s premier English-language newspaper, has reported that the bill was drafted by the Cybercrime Law Formulation Working Group of the Council of Ministers. The London-based media advocacy group Article 19 was able to obtain an unofficial English translation of the document.

The government first announced its intention to pass an anti-cybercrime law in 2012; although it has been advocating for stricter Internet regulation since 2010. In 2011, it was accused of ordering internet service providers to block certain websites that are critical to the government.

Cambodia’s proposed cyber law is ostensibly designed to improve safety for Internet users and protect “legitimate interests.” Similar to the cybercrime laws of other countries, Cambodia’s bill also has specific provisions on data interference, computer fraud, illegal access, and child pornography.

But activists have highlighted article 28 of the bill as a concern. The provision would criminalize web content that “hinders the sovereignty and integrity of the Kingdom of Cambodia.” If this is not vague enough, the same provision penalizes any online publication that “generates insecurity, instability, and political cohesiveness.” What exactly is the crime of “political cohesiveness?”

Another criminal offense is the publication of Internet material that is deemed to be “non-factual which slanders or undermines the integrity of governmental agencies, ministries, not limited to departments, federal or local levels.” This would clearly discourage criticism of government officials.

As expected, publishing something that is deemed “damaging to the moral and cultural values of society” is prohibited. The bill even specified these harmful values: “Writings or pixilation that display inappropriate activities of persons, copulations between humans or animals; or devalue the moral of family values and pixilation that displays domestic violence.”

The aim of this particular provision is to prevent political cartoonists from using cyberspace to spread their message.

Aside from jail terms of one to three years, those found guilty of committing cybercrimes would face a fine of two million to six million riel ($500 to $1,500). Critics noted that the penalties prescribed in the cyber bill are tougher than they are under existing laws.

The proposed cyber bill was drafted without the benefit of public consultation. Opponents will be hoping that the hostile reaction of advocacy groups and netizens to the content of the leaked draft will encourage the government to revise the document.

But the current political crisis in Cambodia may well mean more online repression. During last year’s election, the opposition successfully tapped the power of social media to recruit supporters and gain more votes. Young people openly criticized politicians and corruption in the government through online platforms. Since TV stations are dominated by pro-government companies, news about the labor strikes and opposition rallies in recent months were reported and widely shared through the Internet.

Is the proposed cybercrime legislation intended to restrict the role of the Internet in spreading dissent? What is clear is that the bill, if passed in its present form, would shackle Cambodia’s burgeoning Internet community.

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