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Singapore bloggers slam shutdown of website deemed ‘anti-foreigner’

May 4, 2015

A group of bloggers on Monday urged Singapore’s media regulator to rescind an order to shut down a website accused of fanning anti-foreigner sentiment, calling it a “brutal attempt at censorship”.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) on Sunday ordered Singaporean Yang Kaiheng, 26, and Japanese-Australian Ai Takagi, 22, to shut down The Real Singapore online forum (TRS), saying it threatened “public interest, public order and national harmony”.

The FreeMyInternet Movement — comprised of about 50 bloggers as well as the socio-political websites The Online Citizen and Temasek Review Emeritus — described the regulator’s ruling as “arbitrary”.

In a statement it said there were no clear guidelines from the media regulator regarding objectionable content, and called for MDA’s order against TRS to be “revoked immediately”.

It also questioned whether it would have been sufficient to ask the website operators to take down the specific articles rather than close the entire portal.

Yang and Takagi are facing sedition charges for articles on the website deemed as fanning racial hatred and xenophobia in the labour-starved nation of 5.5 million people, 40 per cent of them foreigners.

The portal and its related social media accounts went offline late Sunday after the MDA’s order.

“As it is, we can only view MDA’s action against TRS as nothing short of a poorly conceived and brutal attempt at censorship,” the group said.

The media regulator said Sunday it had suspended Yang and Takagi’s “statutory class licence” to operate the website.

It said the website “has deliberately fabricated articles and falsely attributed them to innocent parties”.

“TRS has also inserted falsehoods in articles that were either plagiarised from local news sources or sent in by contributors so as to make the articles more inflammatory,” the regulator said.

The bloggers’ group said that while not all of its members may agree with the website’s content or editorial direction, the reasons given were not enough to shut it down.

Yang and Takagi, described by local media as a couple based in Australia, were charged on April 14 with seven counts of sedition over articles on the website and a Facebook page between October 2013 and February this year.

They were also charged with withholding documents on the website’s finances from police.

Charge sheets said articles flagged as seditious derided Chinese nationals and other guest workers in Singapore, while one post on the website “falsely asserted” that a Filipino couple instigated a fracas at a Hindu festival in February.

Singapore’s sedition law makes it an offence to promote hostility between different races or classes in the multiracial country.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.