Singapore Prosecutes Anti-Government Critic Under New Internet Curbs

Posted by under News on 2 December 2001

30 November 2001 - A critic of the Singaporean government has been made to undergo psychiatric tests and post bail for his provisional liberty after allegedly posting messages on the Internet urging voters to defy the law.

In the first known case of its kind, Robert Ho Chong posted bail of S$5000 (US$2778) Friday (Nov 30) after being charged with an offence punishable by up to three years in jail.

The 51-year-old former journalist is in trouble for posting articles before the November 3 general elections on an Internet newsgroup forum and a website set up by a group called Singaporeans for Democracy (SFD).

Ho alleged that ruling party stalwarts led by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong broke the law in the 1997 elections by visiting polling places without authority.

"Thus I would encourage all good Singaporeans, who feel indignant about this breach of the law and the subsequent obstruction of justice, to break the same law," he wrote.

Police found the opinion piece on October 24, five days after Ho posted it from home, and classified it as an attempt to incite violence or disobedience to the law that was likely to lead to a breach of peace.

"He was remanded for psychiatric examinations after he was charged about two weeks ago," a police official told AFP outside the court, calling Ho a "madman".

This is the first time a person had been charged for posting unfavourable content online after the government imposed Internet campaigning rules to regulate the use of the web in the run-up to the recent elections.

The rules ban non-party political websites registered with the industry regulator Singapore Broadcast Authority from carrying items which constitute campaigning for any political party or candidate.

It also banned opinion polls and online advertising during the elections that saw the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) sweeping 82 of the 84 seats and extending its unbroken rule since 1959 by another five years.

Ho refused to enter a plea in court Friday. The case has been adjourned for another two weeks but Ho told the judge that he had no plans to engage a defence lawyer.

The arrest has prompted an outcry from Singapore political groups and Internet commentators.

An SFD press statement released in Sydney said: "This is a first case for new draconian internet laws implemented by the government recently."

"Mr Ho is a well-known web-based political commentator... his politically lucid and poignantly brave articles have obviously made him a political target," SFD added.

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