Monday, May 16, 2005

Muzzled in Singapore

A week has gone by since I last posted. The relentless barrage of noise from the demolition next door continues to make coherent thought impossible, and I have been watching, with increasing disquiet, the recent cases of Singaporean bloggers being threatened with lawsuits by those who disagree with their postings.

It certainly has a chilling effect, since one is unable to determine in advance what will provoke the ire of the authorities. In Singapore, these invisible boundaries are referred to as "OB markers" or out of bounds markers. You can say anything you want unless you cross the boundary. The trouble is, nobody can figure out what the boundaries are in advance. The resulting self-censorship is extremely effective in limiting debate.

A group of filmmakers wrote a letter to the Straits Times asking for clarification on what is permitted, as yet another film was pulled from the local film festival for "being political". It turns out that it is illegal to make a film that involves party politics, and the subject of the film was the leader of one of the opposition parties.

The problem of course is that "politics" is never defined. It seems to be whatever you are doing that the authorities disapprove of. If you want to lobby for a speed bump on your street, and talk to your neighbours to gain their support, is that politicking? If you express an opinion on a blog which can be read by others, is that politicking?

If you are not a Singapore citizen, but a permanent resident or visitor, things are even more dire. As the head of the SIA pilots union discovered, you can go from being a respected long term resident to undesirable alien over night.

today's Straits Times (May 16, 2005) had this gem of a quote from an unnamed government official at the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The spokesman reiterated the Government's stand that politics in Singapore is reserved for Singaporeans.

Foreigners like Mr Moser-Puangsuwan 'with no stake in the future of Singapore and of Singaporeans will not be allowed to interfere in Singapore's domestic politics, much less to instigate, agitate and promote civil disobedience among targeted segments of society, against the laws of the country'.

The spokesman said foreigners who abuse privileges given to visitors here, and who seek to meddle in domestic politics, 'are not welcome here'.

Quoting from the Straits Times article again,

This (workshop) was aimed to teach Singaporeans how to wage a non-violent campaign of civil disobedience against the Government so as to liberate and expand civil rights of Singaporean citizens who, he deludes himself to believe, are living under dire oppression and injustice.

One would hazard a guess that if Singaporeans did not feel that they were "living under dire oppression and injustice", Mr. Moser-Puangsuwan would be unlikely to find an audience and would therefore be talking to himself, hardly posing a threat to the stability and continued existence of Singapore.

One wonders what would happen to a Singaporean who decided to offer a workshop on civil disobedience. Luckily, the Internal Security Act is available to deal with any such threats.

Time to go back to the shopping malls, where there are no politics, and both the customers and the air are conditioned.

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