Old rules apply in cyberspace

By Isabelle Chan, ZDNet Asia
Thursday , January 25 2007 06:28 PM

There is a clear legal line when it comes to blogging, and those that spread false information electronically may land themselves in legal hot water, lawyers say.

Commenting on the recent case where two Malaysian bloggers were sued for defamation by the New Straits Times, Singapore-based lawyer Vijai Parwani at Parwani & Co, said: “It must be remembered that defamation is a legitimate action in most Commonwealth jurisdictions. The only country which champions free speech over defamation is the United States, where the law requires proof of ‘actual malice’ in order to succeed where the party defamed is a public figure.

“So, it is not surprising that the action in Malaysia has taken its current course,” Parwani added.

Be it publishing in a traditional medium like print, or the Internet, the same rules apply.

IT lawyer Bryan Tan at Keystone Law Corp said: “Blogging is just like publishing, and just because it feels like you are writing your diary does not mean it is like your diary. A blog is a publication open to the whole world.”

Mark Lim, director of law firm Tay Peng Chin, also noted an area where there is still a lack of definition. “Jurisdictional issues are still evolving”, he said, noting that Web sites cross geographical boundaries, but “the law is still unclear in this area” of cross-border legislation.

Another potential legal issue pertains to third-party comments on blogs. Parwani noted: “Some blogs allow a third party to post comments, and this is where it gets complicated. To what extent would the blogger be liable for the contents posted on the blog by a third party?”

According to lawyers, disclaimers only go so far.

Parwani explained: “Certainly a disclaimer clause would aid the blogger in a claim against defamation, but common sense dictates that a disclaimer clause surely cannot be the panacea for the blogger if he knows the contents posted on his blog are defamatory of someone, but chooses to do nothing about it.”

He added: “I am not aware of any recent case where the courts have held that a disclaimer clause would absolve the blogger of all liability, and I dare venture to add that the courts would not allow a blogger to take absolute refuge behind the cloak of a disclaimer clause if the issue were to arise.”

And what about media companies that host blogs written by third parties who are not full-time employees? Well, they can still be liable, said Tan.

“I think if it is non-staff, these companies can claim they are like network service providers who enjoy protection under section 10 of the Electronic Transactions Act,” he explained. “But their liability starts once they have notice of these offensive postings.”

He added: “Companies running blog sites should remove blogs when requested to do so either by the authorities or the courts.”

Parwani said a dose of common sense and taking responsibility for their blogs will help bloggers go a long way in avoiding a potential defamation lawsuit.

“Even if the claim is thrown out by the court at the end of the day, you certainly do not want to go down the road of having to defend the matter and incurring unnecessary legal costs along the way,” he added.

For those who want to stay on the right side of the law, Parwani advised: “Keep the blog about yourself and your thoughts without having to make specific references to any particular individual.

“If you have to make reference to someone, then ensure that it is the truth and nothing but the whole truth,” he added.

to continue reading…


Singapore. Break the law now.

To paraphrase Rocky – The world is a nasty place and it ain’t about how hard you hit but how hard you can be hit, be willing to take the hits and move on. Take the hits and take what you are worth, go out and get what you want.

I feel rather invigorated after reading the article below.

A wonderful addition to the Singapore blogosphere. May I introduce Singapore Dissident. Gopalan Nair

Sunday, January 21, 2007
Singapore. Break the law now.
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I say break the law now. This certainly may be an unacceptable statement in most other circumstances, even a criminal one, but in the case of Singapore, I say it, and say it deliberately. I am not referring to laws such as murder and other violations which are criminal by any standards. I am referring to Lee’s unjust laws, politically motivated laws to silence dissent, laws intended to keep Lee and his family in perpetual political grip over Singapore, such unjust laws as requiring a permit to speak in public where even if applied for by a political opponent will automatically be denied, laws such as requiring a permit to assemble which again is automatically denied when applied for by the opposition, unjust laws such as requiring a permit to form an association which is a means to keep surveillance on all political activities, all the unjust illegal laws enacted for the political advantage of the dictator Lee Kuan Yew and his family.

Dr. Chee has correctly quoted Gandhi and Martin Luther King having said that there are just laws and unjust laws and that it is the right of a free man, nay not just right, but his bounden duty to break that law and in doing so, in breaking that law, he is in fact being even more law abiding than another who complies with them.

There is no doubt on it. Lee stays in power by breaking laws. He shows such disdain and arrogance over his fellow citizens that he feels he can do anything and get away with it.

The pillars of any state are it’s public institutions such as the judiciary, the civil service, the military, the police force, the media, the education system. These institutions need to be kept strong and independent for a country to continue to thrive and advance, but in Singapore, Lee has deliberately denied these institutions to function independently under the rule of law, making each of these institutions weak and entirely beholden to him and him alone. These are clearly illegal acts in violation of the law which has undermined the stability and strength of the country so much so that Singapore is turning into a failed republic before one’s very eyes.

He has blatantly interfered with the independance of the judiciary, requiring judges to use their office not to administer the rule of law, but to destroy his political opponents. From the early 1970s till date the list of his victims at the hands of his enforcers in the judiciary goes on. JB Jeyaretnam, the former opposition politician repeatedly sued, charged with criminal offenses, thrown in jail, stripped of lawyer’s license, forced to pay millions of dollars in illegal court awards and impoverished.

Mr. Tang Lian Hong, charged and sued for criminal and civil cases of defamation after the 1988 general elections, made to pay millions of dollars, bankrupted and hounded out of the country to Australia where he now lives. Mr. Francis Seow similarly dealt with, arrested detained and tortured by the dreaded Internal Security Department beaten, battered and assaulted with serious injuries, then released, for him only to escape to the United States to avoid further beatings, all because he contested the elections against Lee as he was entitled to do. The Marxist Conspirators, so labelled by Lee, 12 civic minded citizens who dared to speak against Lee between 1987 and 1988. Again, they were arrested severely tortured with sleep deprivation and other criminalities, detained for many days, beaten, their confessions obtained under torture, publicly made to confess as being communists and released. I can go on but I will stop. Lee is guilty of breaking the law. The law that makes it illegal to interfere in the independence of the judiciary.

Lee breaks the law by illegally interfering in the independence of the civil service. The civil service is required to carry out their work in accordance with the rule of law in fairness to all under the constitution. But they cannot do it, because Lee requires the civil service to be used as an instrument to oppress and destroy his political opponents. The Official Assignees office ensures Lee’s opponents unable to pay Lee’s unjust court awards are bankrupted and dealt with very harshly while others are dealt with leniently. Opposition politicians who become bankrupt find it impossible to discharge their bankruptcies and will remain so for life. Since bankrupts cannot contest elections, Lee uses bankrupting his opponents as a means to prevent them from challenging him ever. JB Jeyaretnam who has been bankrupted by Lee has never got out of it. He will die a bankrupt. He is 82 years old.

Dr. Chee has been sued, ordered to pay half a million dollars and being unable to pay has been made a bankrupt. And what did he do? All he did was to ask Lee Kuan Yew as to why he paid Dr. Suharto, the former Indonesian dictator, 17 million dollars and under what authority did he do it. I think he also told Mr. Goh Chok Tong, the former prime minister that he could run but may not be able to hide. Statements completely innocuous and normal in any other country. But under the instructions of Lee Kuan Yew, the Singapore judges beholden to him obediently turned it around and made it defamatory and criminal, ordering Dr. Chee to pay a mammoth crippling half a million dollars to Lee Kuan Yew and friends and unable to pay, he has been bankrupted by Lee’s civil servants.

Lee has made the police force directly answerable to him. At his orders, they arrest anyone and everyone, harass them, keep surveillance on them, tail them, and make it very difficult for anyone who challenges Lee.

You can therefore see that Singapore’s public institutions have lost credibility and their self respect and have been discredited, brought into ridicule and contempt. Recently, in the High Court of Canada, a Canadian company Evernorth have filed suit to prevent the enforcement of a Singapore court judgment against them in Canada, because they claim, and quite rightly so, that the Singapore courts are corrupt and the corruption vitiated the validity of the award. See Oakwell vs Evernorth. These public institutions such as the courts, have lost their fairness and are no longer bound by the rule of law, beholden only to Lee and his personal family members and friends. These are illegal acts of interference by Lee Kuan Yew and his family and friends. Lee Kuan Yew runs Singapore by personal decree. Singapore is no longer run by the rule of law by independent public institutions.

We also know that that under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was run, not by rule of law, but by his personal decrees. He removed and destroyed his opponents by requiring his judges to punish and put to death his political opponents. Lee Kuan Yew does the same. The only difference is one of degree. He tortures his opponests while under detention by sleep deprivation and other brutalities, but stops short of killing them. Only a question of degree. But the political climate is similar in both countries. People dare not criticise, lest they are arrested tortured, charged sued and bankrupted. Example, JB Jeyaretnam and Dr. Chee Soon Juan.

In this climate where Lee Kuan Yew feels he is at liberty anytime to break the law any time he wants, it is about time you took those liberties. And the reality is that if you do not take those liberties and intentionally break these unjust laws, then you can be certain as the sun rises tomorrow, that you will never be free, you will never enjoy a democracy, you will be forever ruled by this dictator and his family, you will never be able to express yourself freely, you will forever only read propaganda, you will never be able to congregate and discuss views as free men. In short you will die as slaves, which you are now anyway.

So I say this to you now. There is no shame in breaking unjust laws. There is nothing illegal in peaceful protest. It is your right as free men. So go ahead and apply for a permit to hold a peaceful protest. When you receive the notice from the government refusing you that permit, which you invariably will receive, write to them that you intend to break that law and break it and hold that protest anyway. They will arrest you but in the eyes of the world, they will look very small.

In the end, you will undoubtedly win and they will lose. Only in this way, by deliberately breaking unjust laws, and telling them in no uncertain terms that you intend to do it, that you will be able to bring about change to your country Singapore.

Lou Thia Khiang and Chiam See Tong will not be able to bring about any change by asking questions, merely for the sake of asking.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914
EMail: goplanair@us-immigrationlaw.com

London Calling

Our Correspondent – Asia Sentinel
22 January 2007

In a stern reversal on a controversial legal case, Singapore’s ruling family finds that its writ does not extend past its borders

With a British court’s vindication of a prominent English neurologist and expert on epilepsy, Singapore’s ruling Lee family has discovered that other countries don’t share the island republic’s – or the Lee family’s – idea of what is legal and proper.

In a written decision adjudicated in December and handed down on January 12, the British High Court effectively ended Singapore’s pursuit of Simon Shorvon, the former principal investigator of a medical research project in Singapore, after a protracted international dispute in which the Singapore Medical Council alleged Shorvon was guilty of professional misconduct. Shorvon is now a professor at the University College, London.

The charges were brought against Shorvon by Lee Wei Ling, a physician, who happens also to be the daughter of patriarch Lee Kuan Yew and the sister of Lee Hsien Loong, the current prime minister. Over the past two to three decades, the Lee family and other Singaporean officials have filed a plethora of writs and lawsuits on various charges of libel and other misconduct against almost anyone who has had the nerve to stand up against them – but almost always in Singapore courts, where they have a 100 percent winning record, particularly against journalists and opposition politicians.

to continue reading…

Beyond Suspicion? – The Singapore Judiciary

Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary

Once again, Francis Seow has revealed, with his usual rigour and attention to detail, a vital part of Singapore’s repressive machinery, this time by placing his spotlight on its judiciary. Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary is essential to understanding the true nature of human rights abuses in that country. Particularly thorough are the chapters dealing with the use of civil defamation suits through the courts by ruling party leaders against political critics. Seow’s meticulous treatment of these suits clearly illustrates that in politically sensitive cases, the Singapore judiciary has not moved to check the Executive’s misuse of the law. Human rights campaigners now and historians of the future will regard it as required reading.”
– Margaret John, Coordinator for Singpaore and Malaysia, Amnesty International Canada

“Francis Seow has not just exposed the judiciary; he has also laid bare the serious limitations of the political system. This is a quite brilliant piece of sustained analysis of how the judiciary is harnessed to political persecution. It is a style and methodology that is more legalistic…., but it is only through this approach that the full magnitude of the judiciary’s emasculation and the PAP’s manic desire to crush the slightest semblance of serious scrutiny become fully clear.”
-Garry Rodan, Director, Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, Western Australia

“This is an extremely valuable record of many significant cases and events that lay bare the dynamics of the Singapore judiciary and its intersection with political personalities and imperatives. It is an impressive work…of scholarly and public policy interest, providing chapter and verse on the politico-legal nexus in Singapore.”
– Christopher Tremewan, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International), University of Auckland, New Zealand

Appeal to the Govt of Singapore on Dr. CSJ’s travel ban

Non-governmental International Steering Committee
The Community of Democracies
10 Jan 07

We, the members of the Nongovernmental International Steering Committee (ISC) of the Community of Democracies are pleased to learn of the release from prison of Dr. Chee Soon Juan by the Government of Singapore.

Dr. Chee, a nonviolent but outspoken critic of his country’s government and Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party, is one of twenty members of the International Steering Committee, a network of democracy activists which expresses the views of civil society organizations and individuals involved in supporting the freedom of people in all parts of the world.

We call on the Government of Singapore to permit him to travel to attend the January 22-23 meeting of the ISC to be held in Taipei, Taiwan and the January 23-24 Round-table on Democracy in Asia.

We appeal to the Government of Singapore to fully respect and restore Dr. Chee’s civil rights including his right to travel abroad without restriction.


Paul Graham,
Chairman, International Steering Committee (ISC)
Executive Director, Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA)

Genaro Arriagada,
Diario 7, Chile

Yuri Dzhiblaze,
Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Russia

Morton Halperin,
Open Society Institute, United States

Oumar Makalou, President,
Nongovernmental Secretariat of the Community of Democracy, Mali

Mohsen Marzouk,
Freedom House, Tunisia

Matteo Meccaci,
Transnational Radical Party, Italy

Gus Miclat,
Initiatives for International Dialogue, Philippines

Ilona Mihaies, Euroregional Centre for Democracy, Romania

Yousry Moustafa,
Arab Human Rights Fund, Egypt

Richard C. Rowson,
Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD), United States

Andrea Sanhueza,
Corporacion Participa, Chile

Vo Van Ai,
Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, Vietnam/France

Dieudonne Zognong,
Fondation Humanus, Cameroon

For Further Information Contact:

Robert R. LaGamma,
Executive Director
Council for a Commuity of Democracies
1801 F St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006
Phone (202) 789-9771 Fax (202) 789-9764

Singapore’s cyber dissident speaks out

An interview by Martyn See of Singapore Rebel Fame.

“You can express any view that you want, you can form a political party, you can contest the elections, you can have rallies, make speeches, no trouble whatsoever.”
– PM Lee Hsien Loong, CNN TalkAsia, Dec 2006

Robert HO is Singapore’s leading cyber dissident.

In late 2001, marking the first-ever case of its kind, HO was arrested in his home for allegedly posting “inflammatory” articles online during the General Elections. In 2002, following an as-yet-unspecified article(s) posted on soc.culture.singapore, police entered his home to serve him a summons to attend an investigation. Again, his computer was seized. Three weeks later, according to HO, he was forcibly taken to the police station by officers who entered his home without a warrant or a charge. In 2005, upon returning from a shopping mall where he had been distributing flyers alleging election fraud, he was again apprehended. His computer, purchased after the police failed to return the one seized in 2002, was confiscated. In all, he has been arrested another three times since 2001, and thrice the authorities had remanded him at a mental institution. Oddly enough, he has yet to be prosecuted for these alleged offences, although the criminal defamation case from 2002 may still be pending.

While critics, including international publications, have yielded to defamation threats issued by Singapore’s leaders, Robert HO has instead emerged from his arrests and detention an even more recalcitrant heretic of the establishment. In Singapore’s political cyberspace where fear of surveillance and libel suits have compelled dissenting netizens and bloggers to post articles under pseudonyms, HO sticks his neck out by brazenly disclosing his real identity online. He is now a regular contributor to the Singapore Review news group and is also a blogger.

Martyn See interviews Robert HO via email and phone in December 2006.

Have you always been a critic of the PAP Government?

Ha, ha. Nobody is born a PAP critic so I must have become one along the way. It would be true to say that LEE Kuan Yew creates his own enemies, through arrogance and unbridled power. I have written that LEE Kuan Yew is the ‘most powerful man in the world or even in history’ because he has so much total control over his entire population. You know as much, having been hauled up by his police, for essentially nothing. Doesn’t that make you even more determined? Or changed you from pro-PAP to anti-PAP? Every time LEE Kuan Yew wrongs one person, he creates 100 critics or even oppositionists. If Dr CHEE Soon Juan had not been unfairly sacked from his university job, he would be there today, still teaching; and not a dedicated oppositionist. Power and abuse of power always create its own resistance which may one day succeed in toppling that power. Newton’s Third Law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

When did I turn anti-PAP? Let me see. I lost my last job in advertising as a copywriter on 10 Jul 92. I was still pro-PAP then and still thought LEE Kuan Yew a ‘great man’ and all that, thanks to the Straits Times’ unending propaganda. Shortly after that, I discovered that LEE Kuan Yew had been keeping me under audio-visual surveillance since I was a teen or even earlier and was releasing all this information to his entire crony system from Straits Times journalists and editors to even foreign journalists and politicos in order to embarrass me and as a publicity stunt [a kind of reality show before there were reality shows] purely to make himself famous, to self-aggrandise and to put on a command performance for the edification of his international audience, especially the Americans. Then I got angry, rightly so, and started to hit back. The whole story is more convoluted than this but this is the essence in summary.

We are all collaborators now

Yawning Bread starts January 2007 on a high note in terms of insight and journalistic integrity. The entire article can be accessed here and below are a few extracts that I feel contain many truths.

[…]Another example would be the onus placed on webmasters to police the chatrooms, forums and comment trails of their websites. While the government does have a small crew that trawls through the internet for what they deem as offensive content, mostly they depend on complaints from the public. If any posting has breached any of our numerous laws that proscribe racial and religious hate speech, sexual language and images, defamation (very low threshold here when it comes to political leaders’ egos) or “election advertising”, then unless the webmaster has taken prompt action to remove such postings, he will be just as guilty as the original offender. If the offender is anonymous and untraceable, then the webmaster alone will have to face the music.

Of course, this is not unique to Singapore. Many other countries rely on similar mechanisms of getting the proprietors to police their own turf, and holding them accountable under the law. Nor is it unreasonable.

However, what we should be watchful about is the abuse of this mechanism that arises from Singapore’s democratic deficit. While the ban on smoking is well-justified in the public health interest, what if other laws serve partisan or illiberal purposes? Private citizens would then be compelled by law to act as agents for these aims.

Compelled to serve the government’s interest

I mentioned “election advertising” above. This is the law that forbids anyone from using the internet to promote any candidate or political party during an election campaign [3]. Singaporeans know full well that while the law may in theory be party-neutral, in practice, it favours the incumbent People’s Action Party. Since all our mainstream media are government-controlled, barring the digital media from being a channel for opposing views handicaps the opposition. Thus, when webmasters are expected to implement the law, the government is, in an indirect way, making party helpers of us all.

[…]This illustrates a well-known axiom: that totalitarianism destroys our sense of humanity. People end up, whether for reward or self-preservation, as tools and agents of the state, doing things they might not, in good conscience, want to do, or equally often, refraining from doing what they rightfully feel they ought to do.

[…]If we couldn’t stop the blatantly partisan creation of Group Representation Constituencies by law, if we couldn’t stop the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act and the Broadcasting Act that put all print and broadcast media under the thumb of the government — and foreign media too [6] — what’s to stop another law another day to make censors, informers and enforcers of us all?