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Singapore official charged with leaking info to journalist

November 10, 2017

A Singapore civil servant was Friday charged with leaking confidential information about a government housing website to a journalist, sparking allegations authorities were trying to “intimidate” the media.

Authorities take a dim view of officials passing information to reporters without permission, and it is rare for it to happen at all in a country where the media is tightly controlled.

Ng Han Yuan, an employee with a government housing agency responsible for the public apartments where most Singaporeans live, faces up to two years in jail if convicted of breaching the official secrets act by passing information to journalist Janice Tai.

The 25-year-old is accused of giving details to Tai in May about an online portal, which will go live in January, where people will be able to resell their government apartments.

Tai, who works for the Straits Times newspaper, approached several organisations including the agency, the Housing and Development Board, for comment and referred to the information she was told, police said.

The housing agency reported the matter to police as her questions referred to information that had not previously been made public.

“It seems this is a major overreach, a chilling device that will negatively impact the freedom of the media,” Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, told AFP.

He said the official secrets act was “broadly written and vague enough so the government can use it any way they want… it’s about trying to intimidate the media”.

The housing portal is meant to speed up the resale process of public apartments but there have been concerns it could threaten jobs at property agencies and valuation firms, financial publication the Business Times reported last month.

Tai has been let off with a warning while Ng will next appear in court on December 15.

In 1993 three economists, a newspaper editor and a reporter were fined under the act for revealing Singapore’s economic growth rate for the second quarter of 1992 before it was officially published.

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