By Howard Lee
International Press Freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has issued a media release criticising Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for the legal action he is taking against blogger Roy Ngerng, which the organisation sais is "designed to silence whistle-blower and warn off others" from questioning the PM on Central Provident Fund issues.
RWB claims that the PM "is now trying to rush the case through the courts to prevent a full examination of the evidence" by calling for a summary judgement of the case.
The press freedom group also called for "urgent action by all netizens to support Roy Ngerng", by circulating the original blog post made by Ngerng. RWB has shared available links to the post on its website.
It also called upon online users to support and share the I Support Roy Ngerng website, contribute to Wikipedia’s articles on Singapore’s CPF system, contribute to Ngerng’s legal defence fund, and voice support for Ngerg on his media channels and voice their displeasure with the CPF Board and on the PM's Facebook page.
“The case brought by the prime minister against Roy Ngerng is nothing but a diversionary tactic and a deterrent,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific Desk.
“It is based on the fact that a blogger works alone and does not benefit, for example, from the support of the news organization he works for, and on the desire to divert public attention from the scandal surrounding the Central Provident Fund, which he has written about. The disproportionate resources deployed by the prime minister shows he wants to issue a warning to all Singapore citizens who might publish any information that directly or indirectly challenges the government."
“We urge Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong purely and simply to withdraw his case.”
RWB said that Ngerng is a victim of a method of censorship called Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). "It is designed in the first place to deny the blogger the ability to publish or the chance to defend himself."
SLAPP is also meant to discourage other news workers from publicising Ngerng's writings, and is also a tactic to divert public attention from what Ngerng has uncovered. "It is a procedure designed ultimately not to win the case but to publicly exhaust the blogger psychologically, financially and physically."
The lawsuit, in effect, caused alarm to Ngerng and forced him to issue an apology that was meant to minimise damage. "Reporters Without Borders subsequently learned that the apology was actually drafted by Lee’s lawyers and not by Ngerng, despite the repeated public references to Ngerng’s so called admission of guilt."
RWB also took issue with PM Lee demand for Ngerng to remove further articles. It also cited the statement of endorsement by the Ministry of Health following Ngerng's dismissal by his employer, Tan Tock Seng Hospital over the pending lawsuit with the PM, and a letter by the PM's press secretary, Ms Chang Li Lin that criticised the Economist for a story it ran about the libel suit.
"The letter was widely criticized in online posts questioning the involvement of government officials in a private matter and, in a reference to the health ministry’s statement, voicing concern about the possibility that the government had intervened directly against Ngerng," said RWB.