Singapore refuses to renew foreign journalist’s visa

New York, November 19, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Singapore government’s refusal to renew British freelance journalist Benjamin Bland’s work visa and its rejection of his application to cover the recently concluded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting. Bland had planned to report on the summit for the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Bland’s visa renewal application was rejected without explanation by the Manpower Ministry on October 1, according to Bland. When the reporter inquired why the government refused, the ministry’s senior assistant director, Yeo Kim Huat, told him on October 15 that, after internal discussions, officials decided that they could not disclose their reasons for the rejection.

After Bland’s work visa expired on October 20, he received a 30-day social visit pass that stipulated he not work, practice any occupation, or threaten the well-being and security of Singapore at the risk of arrest and immediate deportation. The British High Commission asked the Ministry of Information, Communication, and Arts about Bland’s declined request for accreditation at the APEC meeting, but did not receive a satisfactory reply, the journalist said. 

“The refusal to renew freelance journalist Benjamin Bland’s press credentials again shows the Singapore government’s intolerance of independent and critical reporting,” said Shawn W. Crispin, CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative. “Bland is the latest on a long list of foreign journalists who have been targeted by the government for their news coverage.”

Bland left Singapore to return to his native U.K. on November 14. While based in Singapore, he reported for a wide range of international and local publications, including The EconomistDaily TelegraphFinancial Times weekend magazine, MonocleFar Eastern Economic ReviewAsia Sentinel, as well as Singapore’s Straits Times and Business Times. He also maintained a blog, The Asia File, which featured occasional critical commentary on Singapore, including an entry on official secrecy over death penalty statistics and a reposting of one of his Economist articles on the island state’s controversial efforts to import sand from regional countries for land reclamation projects.

“The impression I got was that the government wanted to force me out of Singapore without attracting adverse publicity by dragging out the process and not giving me any explanation,” Bland wrote CPJ in an e-mail. “I feared that if I spoke out or wrote about my case before leaving Singapore I would be arrested.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The first paragraph has been changed to clarify that the Singapore government rejected Bland’s application to cover the APEC summit. The third paragraph has been corrected: The government did reply to the British High Commission.