Reporters Without Borders today expressed support for a student from Singapore forced to shut down his blog on 26 April for fear of a libel action by the head of a government body and warned that "such intimidation could make the country’s blogs as timid and obedient as the traditional media."
"Threatening a libel suit is an effective way to silence criticism and this case highlights the lack of free expression in Singapore, which is among the 20 lowest-scoring countries in our worldwide press freedom index," it said. "We especially support bloggers because they often exercise a freedom not seen in the rest of a country’s media.
The threat of prosecution came from Philip Yeo, chairman of the government’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), which grants research scholarships, who claimed it was libelled in a blog by Jiahao Chen, a Singapore citizen currently studying in the United States. Writing under the pseudonym of Acid Flask, he criticised several government policies, including the A*STAR scholarship system and Yeo’s justifications of them. He also agreed to his remarks being reproduced in the Electric New Paper. Yeo sent him several e-mails demanding that he delete all blogs mentioning him or A*STAR and threatening legal action if he did not.
A few days later, Acid Flask shut down the blog and posted a message of apology to Yeo in its place. Other Singapore blogs that had reproduced the remarks quickly afterwards posted apologies or themselves closed down.