By Jentrified Citizen
Like many fellow Singaporeans I am outraged and deeply saddened. Outraged by how our government seems to treat us like the enemy in the way it keeps trying to suppress and control us and saddened that their oppressive actions have brought so much distress to our people and shame to our country.
Oh sure, we have had many technical accolades of being a clean and green city, an efficient and prosperous country. But many of us know full well, clean and green aside, that we are being mocked by the international community for living with draconian laws and rules that violate our human rights and civil liberties.
The latest oppressive and embarrassing salvo fired by our government was when it announced the new licensing regulations via the Media Development Authority (MDA) on Wednesday. From today June 1, Singapore will be the first country in the world to impose a S$50,000 performance bond on a list of licensed online sites that report on local news, which now includes Yahoo! News. Under the new licensing regime, online news sites (with news defined to cover practically everything) with more than 50,000 unique viewers from Singapore a month will be asked to put up a S$50,000 bond (which can be confiscated if they breach certain rules) and they will have to comply within 24 hours to MDA’s directions to remove content that it deems as “prohibited”.
The criteria for this regulation is so loose and general and the power given by this ruling is so sweeping that technically, it can affect all popular local websites including The Online Citizen, blogs and even comments made by netizens. In response to the public’s backlash, Communications and Information (Control?) Minister Yaacob Ibrahim has tried to make soothing noises that our worries “will prove to be unfounded”. This was promptly dismissed by Singaporeans including blogger Mr Brown who retorted on Facebook :”Don’t worry, I can crush you with my licensing hammer but I rarely use my power one.”
The implications of this ruling has ignited the fury of Singaporeans who interpret, rightly, that our government is doing this to try and control the Internet universe after failing to get our netizens to voluntarily come up with an Internet Code of Conduct. Yaacob also admitted as much that this licensing is to ensure that when people read things online, they are going to “read the right things”! Go figure how this will benefit or damage the development of our people and our country.
This brazen censorship regulation has also shocked the rest of the world. Besides the news being reported by international agencies, it has also been picked up by various media including BBC TV news, Aljazeera and even The Hollywood Reporter!
What an international embarrassment! What a crying shame that our own government would treat its citizens with such disrespect and humiliate our country yet again with their tyrannical ways. We certainly did not trade colonial rule for an authoritarian regime. Or did we?
I won’t go into more details on the licensing regime which has already been covered in depth by various media (read this excellent commentary by ZDNet that points out many dubious areas in the ruling) and bloggers.
Instead I want to focus on one important question – “Why does it feel like our government is treating us like the enemy?”
This may seem like an exaggeration to those who couldn’t care less about politics and civil rights so long as they are living a comfortable life. But to those of us who care deeply and want the freedom to speak up and shape our country’s future, it has been an exhausting journey as we are constantly wary when we comment on the government and flawed national policies. It is like living with the Sword of Damocles hanging over us every day.
In Singapore, our government has broad powers to limit citizens’ rights and to inhibit political opposition. Ever since the PAP came into power, they have used all sorts of methods from educational moulding (such as Social Studies and the new Character and Citizen Education studies) and fear to manipulate us into acquiscence.
Public protests or demonstrations of any form are not allowed, unless a police permit is obtained.Without police permits, such outdoor assemblies (even if it is just one person) are illegal. The only place in Singapore where outdoor public assemblies do not require police permits is at the Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park which is monitored by many CCTVs. Even there, one can expect police presence at most events. Speaking of CCTVs, thousands are in the midst of being installed across the island in some 10,000 public housing estates where most of the population resides.
The PAP-government also used the law, intimidation and power exceedingly well to quash opposition leaders like JB Jeyaratnam and Francis Seow over the decades. Just reading reports on the vicious destruction of those who dared challenged the government, was enough to frighten many Singaporeans away from the topic of politics.
But thankfully, the Internet and social media changed this. They allowed some measure of anonymity and helped unite kindred spirits. It is like oxygen reviving our innate human desire for democracy and freedom of speech. It brought many of us out of the unhealthy shroud of fear.
The Government is well aware of the power of the Internet and how it is fast igniting the people’s conscience and socio-political consciousness. This is why they are trying to cut off our oxygen with more draconian measures. And they are in a position to do so as they have absolute power and control over almost everything in tiny Singapore.
But what is worrying is the trend of our government turning hostile towards civilians, the very people they are elected to protect. In recent years, they have started sending threatening lawyers’ letters to those whom they deem as having crossed the line in criticising them (such as blogger Alex Au), used heavy pressure tactics on activists like Nizam Ismail to muzzle their views and even arrested political cartoonist Leslie Chew for having drawn allegedly “seditious” cartoons critical of the government.
Yes I agree sometimes we can be very critical, but often it is done out of growing frustration that our government is not changing and not listening to the cries of the people. And yet, instead of heeding the feedback and taking the criticisms in the right light, our government seems to be treating us like the enemy. The latest MDA Internet ruling is the clearest sign that sends a chill in cyberspace. Will the government play hardball and root out dissent to ensure it stays in power?
We should all be worried and concerned. To understand how rough and tough this government can get, one needs only recall the sayings of their omnipresent Machiavellian leader – former Prime Minister and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.
“…If I want to fix you, do I need the Chief Justice to fix you? Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac….” – LKY 1997
And rewind back to when LKY was an opposition member in the 1950s, speaking then supposedly against repression :
“Repression, Sir is a habit that grows. I am told it is like making love-it is always easier the second time! The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course with constant repetition you get more and more brazen in the attack.” – Lee Kuan Yew as an opposition PAP member speaking to David Marshall, Singapore Legislative Assembly, Debates, 4 October, 1956
Everything he described about the insidious ways of repression shows just how well he understands how to use it, and use it he did when the PAP came into power. The total control of mainstream media, the weakening of the clans and de-politicising of student unions, the politicising of the grassroots organisations like the People’s Association and the CDCs, the singing of praises by the MSM of the government regardless of what they do and the vicious destruction of leading opposition leaders.
Has anything changed with his son Hsien Loong as PM? Outwardly yes as Lee Junior sports a more congenial manner with his toothy smile. But beneath the light pink shirts lies hard steel says some who know him. And let’s not forget Lee Senior is still very much a force to be reckoned with.
Should we, the little people, be concerned that they are creating a “Them vs Us” situation? Yes. Should we be afraid? No. We cannot afford to be afraid of speaking up when we see the wrongs being done to us as worse will follow if we allow it. We must all start taking a firm stand and defend ourselves if we believe in democracy, and if we want to make Singapore a happier, freer country for us and our future generations.
Do you believe in democracy? I do, as did LKY in his younger years before he came into power.
“But we either believe in democracy or we don’t. If we do, then, we must say categorically, without qualification, that no restraint from the any democratic processes, other than by the ordinary law of the land, should be allowed… If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally. If you believe that men should be free, then, they should have the right of free association, of free speech, of free publication. Then, no law should permit those democratic processes to be set at nought, and no excuse, whether of security, should allow a government to be deterred from doing what it knows to be right, and what it must know to be right...” – Lee Kuan Yew, Legislative Assembly Debates, April 27, 1955
This article was first published in Jentrified Citizen.