A blogger stands up to the Singaporean government

Gopalan Nair is being charged for having "insulted" a judge on his blog. According to him, the case is a message from the government to its bloggers, more inclined to self-censorship than the traditional media. Read more...


Gopalan Nair is being charged for having "insulted" a judge on his blog. According to him, the case is a message from the government to its bloggers, more inclined to self-censorship than the traditional media. Read more...

Gopalan Nair, an American lawyer originally from Singapore, risks up to a year in prison and a €2500 fine for a post that questions the autonomy of the Singaporean judicial system. Here he explains the case from his point of view, and condemns the censorship of traditional press and the lack of democracy in the state. Gopalan will answer questions posted on his profile page (in English or in French).

"If the government is paying attention to me, it’s because they sense that things are changing"

Gopalan Nair was born and gained his law degree in Singapore. He now lives in the US.

I thought I'd only be staying in Singapore for a few weeks. I came to watch the case of dissident Chee Soon Juan, which I then wrote about on my blog. The police came for my arrest on 21 August, and then detained and interrogated me for six days.

They accused me of insulting the judge at the head of Juan's case, Belinda Ang, because I said she was "prostituting herself" and was "nothing more than an employee of Mr Lee Kuan Yew" [the former Singaporean prime minister, whose son is now in power]. I didn't use the term "to prostitute" in a sexual way but to demonstrate an abuse of power, which is exactly what I was talking about.

I recorded Chee Soon Juan's case [who's also the opposition leader], which I will try to make the judge following my case listen to. It's quite clear that the judge at that case didn't let the accused speak as all his objections were overruled. The case was not fair.

By accusing me, the state is trying to intimidate other bloggers. My case is being followed by the local papers, which try to discredit me. But if the government is paying attention to me, it's because they sense that things are changing. There are more and more young and educated people who are fed up [with the current system] and are braver than before. Despite the propaganda, many people stop me on the street every day to congratulate me on my fight.

Of course, it's hard for the people who live permanently in Singapore to openly criticise the powers that be. They do after all; have around 70% of the economy, directly or indirectly, in their hands. Many Singaporeans live in homes where the state is their landlord. So the majority are scared of talking about politics.

I left Singapore in order to be able to support my family. I'm an attorney, but as an activist of the opposition, I didn't win any cases and so had no clients. The government couldn't get to me in the States, so they took the opportunity of my visit to Singapore to catch me. I know I'm risking a year in prison, but I don't think they'll go that far, because I'm an American citizen and the US Embassy is watching my case very carefully."

"The public is engaging in chatter that the Singapore elite does not like"

Steven McDermott runs a blog that campaigns against censorship in Singapore and campaigns for the freedom of jailed dissidents.

Arguing that Gopalan Nair's court case is to encourage self-censorship is misguided. This is state censorship.

The widening gap between the promises of ‘opening up', ‘lighter touch' and the events surrounding the oppression of freedom of speech in Singapore is wide enough to see. The perception of the gap is so wide the Singapore government is trying to manage it with its usual method of vacuous consultations (The Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society, 2008). Even before the committee returns with their advice, the government continues to demand, through its influence in the national press and judiciary, that freedom of speech and other forms of political activity be curtailed in the pursuit of economic success. So what's new this time?

In past cases, for example mr.brown in 2006, the Singapore government argued that there was a significant distinction to be made between what was published in the Singapore national press and their ‘lighter touch' approach to publishing on the Internet. The distinction no longer exists.

Gopalan Nair has not published his articles in the national press - he published them on his blog. The warning is clear, what was once considered the idle ‘chatter' of the young and restless, unless seditious, is now taken seriously and may land you in court. How more ‘hard-headed' can it get?

This hard-headed approach is a reaction to the government's fear that Singaporeans, ex-Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans have harnessed new communication technology and are changing the dynamics of the relationship between the government and the public. Recent election events, when bloggers were elected to parliament, in neighbouring Malaysia has roused the old cadre of Singapore, who for too long felt immune to the ‘chatter' of the Kopitiams (coffee houses) and taxi drivers.

The ‘public' as defined by the interactions and postings of the Internet networks and communities, rather than by the state has undermined the Singapore government's reliance on ‘auto' or ‘self-regulation'. Tactics have shifted to supervision and intimidation. The Singapore state has lost its monopoly on deciding on how the public perceives itself and its relationship with state apparatus.

The public is engaging in chatter that the Singapore elite does not like. This is no longer the idle chatter of the young and restless. Attempts to manage it are futile. The apparatus of oppression, although hard-headed may prove to be more effective in the short term.

The fear for the Singapore government is that one day that chatter may erupt into a ‘roar'."