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Singapore probes website for possible 'criminal defamation'

AFP logoAFP 20/11/2018
Singapore has been criticised for restricting political freedoms, including free speech, as well as slapping critics with financially ruinous libel suits © Provided by AFP Singapore has been criticised for restricting political freedoms, including free speech, as well as slapping critics with financially ruinous libel suits

A Singapore political website has suspended publication after police said Tuesday it is being investigated for possible "criminal defamation" over an article alleging corruption among the city-state's top leaders.

The Online Citizen (TOC), which carries news articles and comments critical of the government, said in a Facebook post it will cease publication temporarily after police seized computers and other devices used for the portal.

TOC -- which describes itself as Singapore's longest running independent online media platform -- said the items were taken from the house of its editor Terry Xu.

The portal "will be on hiatus for the time being as all electronic equipment used for the purpose of the website have been seized by the Singapore Police Force," it said in the post, which sparked angry comments online.

"Here we go again... sad state in our country," said netizen Andy Tan.

The Singapore police said investigations are underway after a complaint was lodged over an article published on the website making "serious allegations that the government’s highest officers are corrupt and that the Constitution has been tampered with".

"The police are investigating this, for the offence of criminal defamation. Electronic equipment such as laptops and handphones were seized in relation to the case," police said in a statement responding to AFP queries.

The original article did not mention any names of the alleged corrupt officials or provide evidence of corruption.

Singapore has ranked consistently as among the world's least corrupt countries in international surveys.

But while praised highly for its economic prosperity and clean government, Singapore has been criticised for restricting political freedoms, including free speech, as well as slapping critics with financially ruinous libel suits.

Earlier this month, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said it filed a police report against the author of an online article in another anti-government news website called States Times Review, which it said maligned the central bank's reputation.

The government's media regulator blocked access to the website after it refused to take down the article.

The States Times Review founder, a Singaporean political activist living in Australia, said he plans to close the website.

The local media scene is dominated by pro-government publications, with critical commentary expressed mostly on social media and a few websites.

Officials insist that tough libel laws are necessary to protect their reputation from unfounded allegations.

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