Singapore government threatens critics and independent media with defamation claims

The Online Citizen logo and copy of summons posted outside the house of Singaporean blogger Leong Sze Hian.

Two separate defamation cases against a news site and blogger in Singapore have put the country’s severe restrictions on free speech back in the spotlight.

The cases, which target blogger Leong Sze Hian and the political news site The Online Citizen, re-raise longstanding concerns about the consequences of criminal defamation laws for freedom of expression. In Singapore, defamation is an offense that carries a maximum penalty of two-year imprisonment and a fine.

Defamation probe against The Online Citizen

The Online Citizen (TOC) is facing a criminal defamation probe for publishing a letter written by Willy Sum, a government critic. Police say the letter is defamatory because it accused top government officials of corruption.

On November 20, police raided the home of TOC editor-in-chief Terry Xu, confiscating computers and other equipment, and forcing the news website to declare a hiatus from publication. Xu was also interrogated by police for eight hours.

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