Singapore: Government must end harassment of online news platform targeted over critical article


A news editor facing a criminal investigation over an article that criticized the Singapore government is the latest victim of an escalating crackdown on freedom of expression in the country, Amnesty International said today.

Singapore police yesterday raided the home of Terry Xu, editor-in-chief of The Online Citizen (TOC) news site, and seized all his electronic equipment. Police informed him he was being investigated for criminal defamation over an article published on his website on 4 September. Authorities have also threatened action against the alleged author of the article, Willy Sum.

“The targeting of Terry Xu and Willy Sum is a callous attempt by the authorities to silence and punish peaceful dissent. They are being persecuted solely for daring to publish content critical of the Singapore government,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East and South East Asia and the Pacific Regional Director.

“This is the latest example of the authorities coming down hard on independent media outlets who refuse to toe the line by publishing social and political views. The crackdown on freedom of expression in Singapore must end now, starting with this malicious investigation against Terry Xu being dropped.”

The government’s response to the article, which alleged “corruption at the highest echelons” in Singapore, is the latest in a series of attacks on independent media reporting.

In mid-November at least one other individual, Leong Sze Hian, was threatened with defamation charges unless he publicly apologized for sharing a critical article on his personal Facebook profile.

Tuesday’s raids follow a police report filed against the TOC, one of the few independent political news sites in the country, by the government’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

An IMDA spokesman said: “The Online Citizen article 'The take away from Seah Kian Ping's Facebook post' made serious allegations that undermine the public's confidence in the Government's integrity”.

Terry Xu’s desktop computer, mobile devices and laptops were all seized at his home by five police officers. He was subsequently taken to the police station and interrogated until 11pm on Tuesday night.

He is being investigated for criminal defamation under Section 21 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code Chapter 68.

Willy Sum has also reportedly had his electronic equipment seized by police but has not yet been interrogated. The article has since been removed from TOC website.

Attacks on the press and individuals by the Singaporean authorities have increased since the alternative news site States Times Review published an article linking Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal.

The government has also increased its censorship of other news outlets that are critical of the authorities.

*This article was updated on 22 November 2018 to reflect that Terry Xu has not yet been charged.