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RSF demands Singapore’s minister K. Shanmugam withdraw ‘correction instructions’ on Asia Sentinel

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international non-profit and non-governmental organization advocating for the freedom of information, has demanded an immediate and unconditional end to Singapore’s two-week-long arbitrary blocking of access to Asia Sentinel, a California-based independent website specialising in Asian news coverage.

Since 2 June, Asia Sentinel has been inaccessible throughout Singapore due to blocking orders issued by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), a Singaporean governmental agency. The blocking was prompted by an article that drew the government’s ire.

The article in question, titled “Singapore Kills a Chicken to Scare the Monkeys,” published on 24 May, refers to a Chinese proverb used to describe intimidation techniques, including those targeting the media.

The Ministry for Home Affairs alleges that the article contained several falsehoods, and thus, required correction under Singapore’s Prevention From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), a controversial law introduced in 2019 that has been criticised by RSF for its arbitrary and potentially totalitarian nature.

The head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, Daniel Bastard, criticized the Singaporean government’s move, saying, “By censoring Asia Sentinel in such a blatant manner, Singapore’s government has shown its true face. It has shown that it wants to act as a Ministry of Truth, accepting no criticism and tolerating only courtier journalism. We call on home affairs minister K. Shanmugam to immediately withdraw his ‘correction instructions’ and restore access to the site, so that the city state’s citizens can read freely and independently reported news.”

RSF defended Asia Sentinel’s credibility, revealing it had contacted the author of the contentious article, co-founder John Berthelsen, who maintains that all the content was correctly sourced.

The article in dispute also referenced the case of Andy Wong, a financial analyst and occasional blogger who was forced to leave Singapore after authorities harassed him over an article he wrote in 2021 for the Japanese magazine Nikkei Asia.

Wong’s story established links between organized crime, illegal prostitution venues, and the spread of Covid-19 in Singapore, a narrative RSF confirmed as accurate after checking his sources.

Singapore’s POFMA has been used over 60 times, primarily to suppress criticism of the Singaporean authorities.

The Online Citizen, one of the only independent news sites in Singapore, had its licence permanently cancelled by the IMDA in October 2021, further accentuating concerns over freedom of information and press in the city-state.

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