Google Sells Out Freedom of Speech

Another project by the Students for a Free Tibet.

Tibetans, their supporters, and Google users worldwide are outraged by Google’s recent decision to join hands with the Chinese government in its propaganda efforts. Google has custom built a web search platform that blocks access to unbiased information about Tibet, human rights and other topics sensitive to Beijing. In doing so, Google isn’t just helping the Chinese authorities by censoring “sensitive topics,” it is enabling the Chinese government’s propaganda by returning search results tailored to Beijing’s repressive policies. For example, searching on “Dalai Lama” will only bring results portraying him as a “splittist.”
Under China’s totalitarian regime, the internet is a critical tool for Chinese citizens and Tibetans to improve their political situation. Google has become an active partner in the Chinese government’s efforts to repress their own citizens along with Tibetans, Uighurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and anyone else standing up to Chinese authorities and demanding human rights and self-determination.
Please speak out against Google’s actions by sending the letter below and forwarding the new Google logo (brought to you by SFT) to your friends and family.
Letter of Appeal to Google:
“I am outraged at Google’s hypocritical decision to join hands with the Chinese government in its propaganda efforts. Google’s decision to custom-build its search platform to Chinese authorities’ specifications is more than just censorship. It’s active participation in the Chinese government’s efforts to repress and undermine Tibetans, democracy advocates, people of faith, and anyone working for freedom and human rights.
By censoring search results on critical topics such as “Tibet,” you are promoting Beijing’s wildly distorted version of history and truth. This is indefensible.
Under China’s totalitarian regime, the internet is a critical tool for people seeking justice. Your decision to help the Chinese government thwart this effort renders your motto “Don’t be evil” an ironic joke.
Please re-read your “Ten Things” company principles and do the right thing by ending your partnership with the Chinese government.”

– ActionNetwork.org (send this message to Google here)

Chinese Google Filter Only Works If You Can Spell

As this blogger points out, the new Chinese search engine, Google.cn, doesn’t quite live up to Google’s reputation either for technical wizardry. If you search for “Tiananmen,” you get peaceful photos of the Beijing square — but if you search for common misspellings like “Tienanmen,” “Tianenmen,” or “Tiananman,” you get photos of tanks.

Students cry foul over Singapore sexuality workshop

(DPA)
29 January 2006

SINGAPORE – A workshop at a Singapore junior college sparked uproar among students for rejecting contraception, abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, The Sunday Times reported.

Anderson Junior College engaged the church-based Family Life Society to hold the four-hour workshop for all second-year students.

Complaints have been posted on Internet diaries, or blogs, and an online forum started by a disgruntled student attracted at least 120 comments. School officials also received negative feedback.

Those conducting the workshop “did not clearly state the source of their opinions and instead attempted to spread their beliefs to everyone attending by asking everyone, regardless of their individual’s beliefs or religion, to write down things like, ’I must condemn masturbation and in-vitro fertilization,’” Tay Wei Kiat said in his posting.

“It seemed like I was being brainwashed,” said another student going by his online moniker Cygig.

The workbook the students were given appeared to promote the organization’s beliefs rather than present fact, he wrote.

Regarding contraception, the programme workshop was cited as saying, “The sterilized sexual act is not much different in its meaning from an act of mutual masturbation whereby the couple seeks to use each other to derive sexual pleasure.”

Under Ministry of Education guidelines, schools are expected to provide eight hours of sexuality education to upper secondary students and four hours to tertiary students. Many schools hire external vendors to conduct the sessions.

Woo Soo Min, vice-principal of Anderson Junior College, told the newspaper that the Family Life Society was chosen because it focused on abstinence and approached the topic “using one’s values and beliefs as the basis,” but conceded that the tone might not have been suitable.

The society defended its programme, maintaining that it never imposed any ideas on the students and kept its content entirely secular.

While some content may have been “moralistic,” the presentation was never “religious,” Andrew Kong, senior executive of the group, was quoted as saying.

PAP Hits Back At Chiam

TO those who like their political debates sharp and hard, the upcoming election promises some fireworks if early exchanges are any indication.

A day after his attack on the People’s Action Party (PAP), Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) chairman Chiam See Tong got a taste of his own medicine. Mr Chiam had said that though the PAP was criticising the Workers’ Party’s (WP) manifesto, it was no different from promises made in the ruling party’s own founding manifesto.

On Friday, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Charles Chong hit back. “I would suggest Mr Chiam be more up-to-date and not look back at 1954. Since then, things have moved and times have changed,” he said.

Mr Seng Han Thong, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, took issue with Mr Chiam’s claims that by cutting employers’ CPF contributions during the 1990s recession, the PAP had “reneged on promises” to the workers.

Said Mr Seng: “Wage restructuring was a worldwide phenomenon, not unique to Singapore. We were one of the economies which recovered sooner than the others because of right policies … which were supported by workers.”

Veteran MP Tan Cheng Bock, who has served in Parliament for the last 26 years, added: “If we had not delivered what we promised, we would be in trouble at every general elections … I don’t see why we should apologise for what we have been doing consistently.”

The PAP MPs also called on Mr Chiam to take a stand on the issues under debate.

Mr Chong wanted to know what Mr Chiam’s position on the specific issues on which the PAP had rebuked the WP was. In his parting shot, Dr Tan said: “If they (the Opposition) can’t form the Government, what’s the use of talking about all this?”

As with all elections, the drama continues as each party attempts to be more vitrolic than the other. For a veteran, the parting shot was much to be desired.

SAVETENZIN.ORG

I never heard of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk incarcerated by the Chinese, until I noticed his stencil face appearing on the streets of Manchester, with a ‘savetenzin.org’ slogan beneath. The website reveals that the man was actually arrested in April 2002 and faced grievous charges that warranted his death penalty. Fortunately however, due to international pressure, his sentence was reduced to life inprisonment in January 2005. Today, there is still mass support and belief in his innocence evident in ongoing petitions and the Amnesty International report. The challenge now is to support the release of an innocent man. So spare a thought and some time if you may, to send a message to the government of China for his release.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a highly respected Buddhist monk from eastern Tibet, was sentenced to death on December 2nd, 2002 on charges of involvement in a series of unsolved explosions. His co-defendent, Lobsang Dhondup, was executed shortly after. The two-year suspension of Tenzin Delek’s sentence expired on January 26th, 2005, and Chinese authorities, under intense international pressure, commuted his sentence to life in prison. Human rights organizations around the world believe Tenzin Delek was framed because he is viewed by the Chinese government as a threat to their control of Tibet. Tibet has been occupied by China for more than fifty years.Tenzin Delek is known for his dedication to preserving Tibetan religion and culture and protecting the environment. He built many schools, monasteries, and orphanages in his area, and is an advocate of the Dalai Lama’s philosophy of nonviolence. Because of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s influence in his community and his efforts to preserve Tibetan identity, he was an obstacle to the Chinese authorities’ control in the region. Over the course of a decade, he was the target of harassment, intimidation, and control by Chinese officials.
The Chinese government did not present credible evidence against Tenzin Delek Rinpoche or any of the Tibetans detained in connection with this case. They were denied access to independent lawyers and did not have a fair trial. A life sentence in a Chinese prison, where torture and mistreatment are commonplace, is a death sentence of a different kind. Students for a Free Tibet and other organizations around the world are calling on China to release Tenzin Delek Rinpoche immediately.
Please help free Tenzin by sending a message to the Chinese government today. You can also click here to find other ways to help save this innocent man’s life.
Savetenzin.org is a project of Students for a Free Tibet.
Related:

Blogging During Elections

The poll to the left [correction: the other left] has been set up by an unknown person, I merely copied and pasted the code for it in the side bar. It will remain in the side bar until after the elections. Please leave comments regarding the list of options etc.. in the comment section for this post. As far as I can make out you can only vote once in the poll. The result is displayed in a pop up window once you have voted.

From Yawning Bread…

My guess is that most bloggers do not know that certain laws restricting what can be said over the internet kick in once a parliamentary election is called. Some bloggers will be surprised that some of the things they say about Singapore politics may expose them to prosecution.

The last time there was a parliamentary election (also called a general election) in Singapore, which was on 3 Nov 2001, blogging was not yet a household word. Some of today’s most prolific bloggers were probably not yet out of school.

In 2001, websites offering political content were relatively few, and news about the amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act, amendments which specifically dealt with internet communications, were still fresh in webmasters’ minds, having been passed only in August of the same year.

Today, blogging has exploded, and unlike webmasters in the early days of the internet, most bloggers are writing without looking over their shoulders at Big Brother. While the Sedition Act is no doubt well known among bloggers due to the publicity about the 3 guys recently charged and sentenced, their offences related to foul language stirring up race and religious hate, not political news or commentary.

The coming general election will thus be the first time that bloggers will have to watch what they publish with regard to electoral politics. It may also offer a test as to the boundaries of the law, for, in my opinion, the law is poorly drafted. In a number of ways, it is not appropriate to the nature of the internet.

Needless to say, it is much too sweeping, and thus injurious to Singapore’s political maturity. If some bloggers respond with civil disobedience, we’re in for some interesting times.

* * * * *

The Parliamentary Elections Act

The law in question is the Parliamentary Elections Act, particularly Sections 78A, B, C and D.

Section 78A devolves to the ‘minister’ — I think the specific minister is the Prime Minister — the power to make detailed regulations. Since these regulations would be made pursuant to the law, they would have the same force as the law. Yet the Regulations are nowhere to be found on the freely accessible part of the government website.

I sent an email enquiry to the Elections Department on a Monday, asking them to point me to the Regulations. Four working days later, when I commenced writing this article, I still had not received a reply.

It was only through the assistance of a lawyer friend of mine that I obtained a copy of the Regulations. He found it on Lawnet, a database generally accessible only to lawyers.

No election advertising

Section 78A of the Parliamentary Elections Act says,

78A.—(1) The Minister may make regulations —

(b) regulating election advertising and the publication thereof during an election period on what is commonly known as the Internet by political parties, candidates or their election agents and relevant persons, including prescribing the features that must or must not appear or be used in any such election advertising.

(2) Any person who contravenes any regulations made under subsection (1) (b) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.

The bold italics have been put in by me, since these terms will be explained below. These explanations are based on the definitions contained within the same Act.

Election advertising:

This is a very broad term to mean any material that can reasonably be regarded as intended “to promote or procure the electoral success … for one or more identifiable political parties, candidates or groups of candidates”, or may “enhance the standing of any such political parties, candidates or groups of candidates with the electorate in connection with any election.”

This seems to suggest that even praise for a candidate’s wit, eloquence or sartorial flair would fall within the meaning of this term, let alone more substantial discussion that makes a party or candidate look appealing and vote-worthy.

Election period:
This is the period beginning with the day the writ of election is issued by the President for an election and ending with the close of all polling stations on polling day.

Relevant persons:
In the Act, the definition is very wordy, but basically it means every person or group of persons (other than political parties, candidates and election agents) who publishes anything on the internet.

As I’ve mentioned above, Section 78A devolves the details to the Regulations. So now, let’s take a look at what the Regulations say.

6. For the purposes of section 78A (1)(b) of the Act, no election advertising may be published or caused to be published on what is commonly known as the Internet during the election period by or on behalf of any relevant person.

— Parliamentary Elections Act (Chapter 218, Sections 78, 78A and 102) Parliamentary Elections (Election Advertising) Regulations

That’s it! And since the definition of “election advertising” is very broad, and “relevant person” means you and me, there’s not a lot that we are allowed to say!

No election advertising on polling day

Next, let’s look act Section 78B of the Parliamentary Elections Act. This section is titled “Election advertising ban on polling day”.

You may wonder why there needs to be a special section that bans election advertising on polling day when it is already banned since the notification of elections.

This is because the ban effective since the notification of elections is only on “relevant persons”, i.e. you and me. Political parties and candidates can still transmit election advertising during the election period except on polling day.

In that sense, Section 78B does not really affect those who aren’t standing for election, but there is still something there that may interest us, for it limits the meaning of “election advertising”.

Section 78B (2) provides a few permissible communications on polling day. These include:

(d) the transmission by an individual to another individual, on a non-commercial basis on what is commonly known as the Internet, of his own political views;

(e) the publication of any news relating to an election in a newspaper in any medium or in a radio or television broadcast;

If these are permitted on polling day, it stands to reason that they should be permitted on all other days through the election period, despite the broad definition of “election advertising”. This suggests that you should be able to express your own political views or report on rallies and what candidates have said in their speeches (being “news”)

But don’t write in a such a way that looks as if you’re helping to promote them. This is easier said than done though; see the section ‘Ridiculous’ below.

Sections 78C, D and E

Section 78C of the Parliamentary Elections Act says “No person shall publish or permit or cause to be published the results of any election survey.”

This can reasonably be assumed to forbid any online poll on your website or blog.

Section 78D extends the ban to exit polls from polling booths on polling day.

Section 78E softens the law somewhat by saying that if you have exercised due care and taken reasonable steps to comply with the law, or if the breach happened due to circumstances beyond your control, you can use those as your defence.

* * * * *

Ridiculous

The extremely broad meaning of “election advertising” will no doubt have a chilling effect, once again, on speech. Its catch-all meaning is ridiculous. What if you really, really agree with a particular party’s position? Can’t you express those personal views?

What if you think another party is talking rubbish? If you point out that the party is spouting rubbish, won’t you in effect be promoting their opponents?

What if you report on what you saw first-hand at a political rally, and described how the audience was huge, cheering every word of a certain political candidate? This may be factual, but the transmission of these facts will naturally tend to “enhance the standing” of the candidate or party, which is covered within the meaning of the disallowed “election advertising”.

What if you had a hyperlink to someone else’s blog, which contains an online poll?

There are so many areas where the law flies in the face of reasonableness, let alone free expression.

The way the law is worded, it seems to be based on a model of politics where political parties and their candidates may speak, but ordinary folks can only listen. The spoken-to should more or less gag themselves. It’s kind of the like the model Confucian classroom, where the teacher may speak but all the kids have to keep quiet or simply recite after the teacher. By banning the expression of analysis and commentary, the effect is to delegitimise analytical thought.

Is this the best way to encourage political awareness and participation? Will citizens feel engaged or disengaged as a result?

In any healthy democracy, citizens try to persuade each other of the course to take and the leaders to favour. This naturally includes persuading each other whom to vote for. It is absurd that this is against the law in Singapore.

Pushing the envelope

Some bloggers may want to push the envelope, and indeed, Singapore will be better off if brave souls expand the space for political expression.

It is possible to exploit some grey areas in the law, though at what point taking advantage of a grey area becomes civil disobedience is difficult to discern.

One grey area I can immediately think of comes out of the time-fence of “election period”. If you write anything that is ardently in favour of a certain party or candidate before the election is called, it should be fine.

Yet, blogs often contain an archive of postings. What if you had written a political commentary before the election is called, but it still remains accessible during the hustings?

Others may take this grey area further. They may write their commentary after the election is called but change the time-stamp to before the election period. Of course they will need to be smart to do this. For one, they will have to ensure that the article does not reference any event or statement that only occurred after the election is called, for that will be proof that it was written within the election period. For another, they will need to reserve some item numbers before hand, because even if one changes the time stamp, the item numbers still run in chronological order. Naturally it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this can be achieved by writing a short, non-political item now (before the election is called), and then later editing the item to hold the future political commentary.

Then there may be others who think the easiest way may be to try to slip past the “relevant persons” rule. They may quickly set up an anonymous blog on a foreign server, making very sure that it is not traceable to them, but when the time comes, establish hyperlinks from their known blog to the anonymous blog. That way, they can put fearless election commentary on the anonymous blog, maybe even an online poll.

Of course you can be fearless without going through so much trouble, continuing to write for your own blog. Naturally, you should always take care not to endorse any party or candidate, nor ask readers to vote in any particular way. Write about the rallies you attended; report on the speeches and audience reactions you saw. Declare that as “news!” Stay within first-hand reporting and commentary, the latter being “transmission…. on a non-commercial basis…. of [your] own political views.” If the effect is to make one side look good, so be it. Let the chips fall where they may. Argue, if necessary, that it was not “intended” to promote or enhance, but merely to express your personal views and observations.

Whichever route you wish to take, bloggers, start making preparations now!

© Yawning Bread

Opposition SDA joins in debate over WP’s manifesto

SINGAPORE : The Singapore Democratic Alliance has joined in the debate over the Workers’ Party recent manifesto.

It urged the public not to be swayed by criticisms levelled by the People’s Action Party at the manifesto, saying this is an election tactic.

In a statement issued by SDA Chairman Chiam See Tong on Thursday evening, the SDA said it is not for the PAP to say that it is right and the WP is wrong.

Instead, he said this is a decision for the voters to make at the polls.

Speaking up for the WP, Mr Chiam said it advocates things that are good for the workers, which the PAP had similarly promised in the past but reneged on.

He says these included a cut in the employers’ CPF contribution which he said went against previous PAP manifestos.

Mr Chiam said the WP’s call to have more subsidies for the needy is “relatively mild” compared to what was outlined in PAP’s past manifestos.

These, the SDA Chairman said, detailed the state’s duty to provide for the sick, those who are unable to work for one reason or another, the young, aged or disabled through industrial injuries.

Just last month, the opposition parties had come to an agreement to avoid three-cornered fights in the constituencies they are eyeing for the next general election.

Mr Chiam said: “I think it is to show Singaporeans that the opposition is working together, they are united. The unity of the opposition is what the people want. On our part, we have already got 4 opposition parties to come together. The way the PAP minister attacked one opposition party, I think it is only right we speak up.”

Mr Chiam said the SDA’s own manifesto will be out in due course.

In the past week, the PAP had criticised the Workers’ Party manifesto, saying it contains ‘four time bombs’ that are dangerous to Singapore.

These include abolishing grassroots committees, removing the ethnic quota for public housing, doing away with the Elected Presidency and having more subsidies for the needy. – CNA/de/dt

2005 Birth rates: Slight increase or rebound?

Two ways to view at an objective fact.

On one hand, the national propaganda machine, the Straits Times:

Birth rates show only a slight increase
37,593 babies registered last year but 1.13% rise still below replacement needs
By T. Rajan

MORE babies were born in Singapore last year, but the annual increase was slight despite measures to boost Singapore’s dwindling baby count.

A total of 37,593 babies were registered, an increase of 419 over 2004, according to latest official figures. This is an increase of 1.13 per cent.

At a replacement rate of 2.1, Singapore needs 50,000 babies a year to renew the population.

The 2005 figures from the Registry of Births and Deaths are, however, provisional numbers and may be revised upwards because not all actual births are immediately registered.

Analysts interviewed yesterday feel it is too early to tell if the baby-friendly incentives, introduced in August 2004, have succeeded in convincing Singaporeans to have more babies.

Said Professor Gavin Jones, a researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute:

‘The key point is, it takes nine months for a baby to be produced. Some people take some time to get ready before they decide to have a child.’

However, in August last year, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr Vivian Balakrishnan applauded the 3 per cent rise in birth rates between May and July.

He had called the increase, over the same period in 2004, an ‘encouraging sign’.

Singapore’s birth rate has been falling for the past few years and last year, the total fertility rate dropped to an all-time low of 1.24 children for each woman residing here.

To reverse the trend, Singapore revised its pro-baby policy in August 2004 and gave more incentives.

Cash gifts were extended and given to the first and fourth child as well. Other measures include longer maternity leave of 12 weeks, instead of eight, and a lower maid levy.

Thomson Medical Centre says the pro-baby incentives were a factor but not the main reason couples gave for having a baby.

Said its spokesman: ‘The decision on having a baby goes beyond the initial financial outlay of having a baby. The baby bonus is more of a bonus than the main reason to start a family or to have more children.’

The hospital has seen deliveries shoot up by 23 per cent, from 5,393 in 2004 to 6,628 last year.

On the other, Today:

WHEN the last series of statistics on Singapore’s birth rate came out in September, there seemed to be little to smile about.

Announcing a rate of 1.24 children for each Singaporean woman in 2004, it marked a record low for Singapore’s already-troubled birth rate.

Worse still, there seemed to be little indication of any effects from the $300-million Baby Bonus package put into effect in August 2004, following a lengthy study by population committee appointed by then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2003.

But a cacophony of tiny cries from hospitals around the country suggests that the alarming slide may have come to a halt.

According to checks done by Today, most hospitals in Singapore have seen an increase in the number of babies born since 2004 — a rise of between 10 and 20 per cent.

Thomson Medical Centre, for example, delivered 6,628 babies in 2005. This is an increase of 1,235 babies, or 23 per cent, compared to 2004.

Also, from August 2004 to July 2005, the private hospital delivered 6,112 babies — 49.7 per cent of which came from first-time mothers. This was up from 5,313 babies for the period August 2003 to July 2004, of which 48.7 per cent were first-time mothers.

Part of this increase could be due to the Baby Bonus measures.

“We feel that the increase in the number of deliveries at Thomson Medical Centre is attributable in part to the Baby Bonus package. We are very pleased with the Government’s $300-million package and believe that it has and will continue to have a positive effect on the national birth rate,” its spokesman told Today.

There were 1,670 deliveries at the Singapore General Hospital from August 2004 to July 2005. This is a rise from the 1,523 deliveries recorded for the period August 2003 to July 2004.

At the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, the number of first-time visits for outpatient pregnancy consultation has gone up by 5 per cent in the first half of 2005, as compared to the same period in 2004.

Even fertility experts like Associate Professor PC Wong, who is the chief of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology department at the National University Hospital, reported seeing a 30-per-cent increase in couples seeking treatment — from 45 couples before the Government’s pro-baby measures, to 60 couples from Oct 2004 onwards.

Under the package, first-time parents get a cash incentive of $3,000.

There is an additional $6,000 grant for the second child, if the parents co-save the same amount. The Government will provide up to $18,000 cash and matching contributions if the baby is the third or fourth child. Maternity leave was also increased from two to three months.

Understandably, many first time mothers “pooh-poohed” the suggestion that the Baby Bonus made a difference.

One first-time mother said that while the bonus has helped defray the costs of buying basic necessities such as diapers and milk powder, it was not the main motivator.

“I’m enjoying it and I like it, but it was not a deciding factor for me to have a baby. I don’t really think anybody will plan to have a baby because of the Baby Bonus,” she said.

If the numbers do bear out, it will come as a welcome relief to Singapore, which has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, way below the required replacement rate of 2.1.

But National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan is adopting a wait-and-see attitude before breaking out the cigars.

“Well, so far so good, but let’s see if it keeps up and translates into a net gain in fertility,” she said.

But the academic was quick to add that the policy remained an important one as it “positions the family as a key aspect of our society”.

“It sends the message that the state and society are behind parents and hence will be a much-appreciated gesture,” she added.

What I want to know is if hospitals report 20% increases in deliveries, how come a measely 1.13% increase in official birth rate

What I want to know is how an increase of 419 babies born (from 37174 last year) can square with a 20% increase in deliveries

What I want to know is how a 3% increase in March to July 2005… is massively underwhelmed such that the actual rate for the entire year was only 1.13%