Singapore: Leaders again resort to lawsuits to muzzle press critics
September 14, 2006 12:00 PM ET
New York, September 14, 2006— The Committee to Protect Journalists denounces the defamation suit brought by the Singapore leadership against the publisher and editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review over an article about an opposition politician in the tightly controlled city-state.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, former premier turned Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew, filed the suit August 22 against the Hong Kong-based Review Publishing Company Ltd. and Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) editor Hugo Restall.
Parent company Dow Jones & Co. Inc. said the lawsuit centers on a July piece about Chee Soon Juan, an opposition politician in Singapore. FEER’s publishing company and Restall have until September 25 to appear at Singapore’s High Court.
Singapore’s political leadership, which bristles at any criticism, has resorted to the courts on numerous occasions to silence political opponents, often bankrupting them through damages and legal fees.
“Singapore’s senior leaders are once again using the civil courts to silence the media and stifle criticism,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “This legal fig leaf fools no one. The Prime Minister should drop this suit immediately.”
Singapore’s leaders have a history of resorting to the country’s court system to stifle criticism using both criminal and civil law.
In 2001 Chee, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and a strong critic of the government was found guilty of defaming Lee Kuan Yew and then-premier Goh Chok Tong. Chee eventually declared bankruptcy. On Tuesday, Chee and his sister, Chee Siok Chin, were found guilty of defaming the Lees in a separate case.
In May, the two Lees brought criminal defamation charges against politicians responsible for the production of an opposition-run newspaper, The New Democrat, an officially licensed political news publication since the mid-1990s. The case stemmed from an un-bylined story that ran in the latest edition of The New Democrat, which questioned the People’s Action Party-led government’s handling of a recent corruption scandal at the National Kidney Foundation. The story broadly criticizes the government for creating a “secretive and non-accountable system” and contends that higher-level officials should be held accountable. See http://www.cpj.org/news/2006/asia/sing05may06na.html
Lee Kuan Yew has been a long-term adversary of media freedom, and his government has maintained that approach. Of his 1971 role at the International Press Institute’s annual assembly in Helsinki Lee later wrote that, given that editors and journalists were not elected, “Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government.”
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