CNN reported last Wed (21 Nov) on the seizure of computer equipment and mobile devices from the residence of Terry Xu, TOC Editor ('Singapore news portal on "hiatus" after computers seized by police').
Earlier, TOC announced that the news site will be on hiatus for the time being as all the electronic equipment associated with the production of its online content has been seized by the police to assist in its investigation into an alleged criminal defamation offence. No confirmed date of return has been given but the police has confirmed with CNN about the seizure.
"The Online Citizen (TOC) article ... made serious allegations that the government's highest officers are corrupt and that the constitution has been tampered with," the emailed police statement to CNN read. "The Police are investigating this, for the offense of criminal defamation. Electronic equipment such as laptops and (cell)phones were seized in relation to the case."
The critical article which resulted in the lodging of a police report against TOC, entitled "The takeaway from Seah Kian Ping's Facebook post", has since been removed from TOC's website.
Human rights groups slammed the move to seize Terry's property, arguing that it amounted to a "constriction of freedom of expression," according to Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson.
"Singapore's rights abusing constriction of freedom of expression was on clear display in the police raid," Robertson said in a statement. "Seizing computers and equipment is over-the-top harassment that will unfairly prevent the TOC from publishing its independent stories that critically scrutinize the government."
He shared in a tweet that the seizure of Terry's equipment was intended to "intimidate independent media (and) human rights advocates".
"When it comes to freedom of press, Singapore is just as bad as Laos, Vietnam, (and) Cambodia. Bad company to keep for a 'democracy'," Robertson added. He also thought that the Singapore government's real agenda is to muzzle TOC.
CNN also noted that journalism advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Singapore at 151 out of 180 countries for press freedom. RSF also states that the Singaporean government "reacts quickly to criticism from journalists and does not hesitate to sue them, apply pressure to make them unemployable, or even force them to leave the country."
Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are ranked 170, 175 and 142 by RSF respectively, CNN further observed.
TOC back in business
Meanwhile, TOC wrote yesterday (26 Nov) that it would continue to publish alternative news after it has received much supports from the public.
"While we leave the investigation into the allegations to the police, TOC will continue its publication from today as new hardware has been purchased with the aid of helpful members of public and readers," said the grateful TOC Editor Terry Xu.
"Other than purchase of new hardware, a number of kind hearted individuals have signed up as supporters on Patreon or subscribers to the site. In light of such support, we cannot but to continue our work to repay their kindness."
"We would like to express our thanks to all who have contributed so far, whether it is in monetary or in contribution of article and information," he further added.
TOC said it would be raising fund soon to "prepare and expand our team so as to deal with the election next year" as well as to deal with the possible situation that Terry may be jailed over the alleged offence.
"As there is the risk of me being arrested and put to jail, there is an urgent need to ensure that the publication is able to run even with me behind bars especially during the election period," he said.
Terry pledges to continue publishing alternative news till the day TOC has exhausted all available resources or is forced to stop all its operations.
He opined, "Democracy is best served by having an informed and involved citizenry that has access to a wide range of sources of news and views and an open and vibrant environment in which to share and to debate ideas and opinions."
And rightly so. As a saying often attributed to Voltaire, a famous French Enlightenment writer and philosopher during the times of French Revolution goes, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."