EDITOR'S NOTE: This week, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong demanded an apology from a critical blogger who has allegedly accused him of corruption. Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, who is also a healthcare worker, has frequently posted critical commentary on the ruling People's Action Party on his blog, The Heart Truths.
The post that has landed him in hot water--the prime minister's lawyer called it defamatory--explores issues around the government's Central Provident Fund (CPF), a compulsory savings plan for working Singaporeans and permanent residents to help fund their retirement, healthcare, and housing needs.
While Ngerng has taken down the offending post from his blog and removed the links from his social media platforms, he faces enormous legal pressure. The prime minister's lawyer has demanded an apology and has called on Ngerng to make a "written offer of damages and costs"--opening a window into the manner in which critical voices are dealt with in the city-state. Ngerng wrote the following explanation of his situation for CPJ:
I have been a sociopolitical blogger in Singapore for the past two years. During this period, I had written nearly 400 articles and there have been more than two million views on the blog. I have been tireless in advocating on issues that concern Singaporeans, primarily on our wages, retirement funds, healthcare and education. I am not at all surprised that the government has decided to gun down on me. I have been waiting for this for some time now, and am prepared for it to happen.
I was first issued a letter of demand for defamation by the Singapore prime minister late on Sunday night [May 18]. I only saw it on Monday morning when I checked my email. My initial reaction was one of disappointment.
The article that the Singapore prime minister had taken issue with was on Singaporeans' retirement funds (CPF). I had detailed how the Singapore government had siphoned off Singaporeans' retirement funds into two of their investment firms to earn money, which is not returned to Singaporeans. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Lee's lawyer said Ngerng's allegations were "false and baseless," according to news reports.]
Last year, I managed to trawl through the different government websites to finally specifically trace and locate how our CPF is being misused. A few days ago, I had checked back on these government websites for the information. To my shock, the government had removed the information, edited key information which exposes the connection out of the PDF document in question, and uploaded it into a separate link.
Against this backdrop, the defamation suit that I had received from the Singapore prime minister addressed none of this. In the letter of demand, I was asked to apologize for suggesting that the prime minister had "misappropriated" our CPF monies. The lawsuit sidesteps key questions about Singaporeans' retirement monies which was neither questioned nor challenged.
I have dedicated my time to advocate for the rights of Singaporeans. This episode has created much disappointment within me that in this time and age, for a government considered to be of much stature, that such action such as a legal threat is still considered necessary to silence who they deem as opponents.
My only concern is for the well-being and welfare of my fellow people, and if we have a government that does not serve our interests but is evidently consumed at enriching their wealth, more so than protect its citizens, then it is only the right of each and every citizen to stand up to this scourge.
The Singapore government has governed using a blanket cover of fear and silence. I exist as a blip and irritant on their radar, which can threaten to upset their whole fabric of control. And it has--through this court case, the publicity surrounding the case has allowed more Singaporeans to be made more aware of the government's use of our CPF retirement funds to entrap Singaporeans. Ironically, I am grateful that this has happened to allow more Singaporeans to awaken.
Today, I have become another victim of the government's pursuit--another victim who believes in speaking up for what is right, and for justice and freedom, but who has been prosecuted because the government wants to maintain their rule over the people and would choose to use the law, instead of the pen, to engage with its citizens. I have engaged in a civilized discourse with my pen, for the pen is mightier than the sword.
But the axe has befallen on my head. I might bend and I might buckle, but today won't be the end. More people are now made more aware, and I hope more will continue to fight.
For if we want our freedoms, we have to fight for it.