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Singaporeans Protest New Internet Law

posted 8 Jun 2013, 07:41 by Mpelembe   [ updated 8 Jun 2013, 07:42 ]

Over one thousand Singaporeans protest against a new Internet law imposed by their government.

SINGAPORE (JUNE 8, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Singaporeans protested against a new internet law on Saturday (June 8) imposed by the government expanding media censorship to the web.

Organisers said about 1450 people rallied at Singapore's only designated public gathering area, also known as the Speaker's Corner. They were voicing their concern against the new licensing scheme which should, a Human Rights Watchobserver said, limit Singaporeans' access to independent media.

Websites that regularly report on Singapore will have to get a license from June 1, putting them on par with newspapers and television news outlets, the Media Development Authority (MDA) said last week.

The MDA identified, a service run by Internet giant Yahoo! Inc, as among 10 sites that would be affected by the new requirement, based on criteria such as having 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore a month over a period of two months.

Conditions for the sites that require individual licenses, which have to be reviewed annually, include a performance bond of S$50,000 (39,700 U.S. dollars) and a requirement that objectionable content be removed within 24 hours when directed by the MDA.

The move has drawn strong criticism from various bloggers and socio-political websites like The Online Citizen.

A group called "Free My Internet" organised an internet black-out on Thursday (June 6, 2013) to push for a withdrawal of the licensing scheme followed by the speaker's corner gathering.

The Online Citizen co-founder and spokesperson for the "Free My Internet" group, Choo Zheng Xi, said almost anything could fall under its new definition.

"The legislation has been framed so broadly as to cover anyone who reports with anything to do with Singapore, weather you are a blogger or a news site, the law now is that almost anything can fall under the definition of a Singapore news program, so the threat of regulation is over everyone's heads," he said

He added he hoped the government would trust Singaporeans to make their own choices.

"We want our members of parliament and we want our government to know that they have to trust their people to consume the information that they desire and to draw the right conclusions by themselves without any sort of regulations," he added.

Protesters from all ages gathered on Speaker's Corner, some holding banners bidding farewell to freedom of speech.

Henry, a semi-retired Singaporean, gets his news from different alternative blogs as well as Singapore's mainstream media.

"Well of course I'm afraid of that, that bloggers stop writing, well all our minds will become mush again," says Henry.

Others say everyone feels threatened by the new legislation.

"If you look at all the people around here, they are here because they feel threatened, they feel that what they want to do, what they are doing is under threat by this new regulation and with good reason when you consider how broad the license is, because it says anybody can be considered a news site," said Mit Kang, a Freelance financial writer.

A government minister was quoted by the local media as saying earlier this week that the new licensing requirement for news website is not a fundamental shift in policy.

Singapore's Straits Times quoted Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim as saying that similarly to the regulations imposed in the physical world, the new regulations for the online space are meant to ensure that people are responsible for their actions, adding that those actions have "real-world consequences".

Reporters Without Borders, in its latest report, ranked Singapore 149th out of 179 countries in terms of press freedom, down 14 places from 2012 and below many of its neighbours.