Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Gopalan Nair pleads Not Guilty and Steven McDermott's commentary

US blogger pleads innocent, to stand trial in Singapore
September 9 2008

SINGAPORE (AFP) — An American blogger charged with insulting a Singapore judge pleaded innocent in court Monday and vowed to contest the allegation.

Gopalan Nair allegedly accused a judge of "prostituting herself" by being biased in favour of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, former premier Lee Kuan Yew, in a defamation case they filed against an opposition politician.

"Not guilty," Nair, who is representing himself, told the Supreme Court when asked to enter a plea after the charge was read out.

The judge, Belinda Ang, had presided over the case against Singapore Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan.

Nair, a former Singaporean lawyer who has US citizenship, allegedly wrote on his blog that she was "nothing more than an employee of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his son and carrying out their orders," according to the charge read out in court.

The 10-day hearing was to have begun Monday but was adjourned for two days at Nair's request to allow him more time to prepare his defence and settle personal matters.

Nair also said he needed to arrange for money to be sent from the United States to pay a 3,000 Singapore dollar fine (2,117 US) issued against him in another case.

Nair was found guilty last Friday for abusive behaviour against two police officers and disorderly behaviour.

Under Singapore law, Nair faces a jail term of up to one year and a 5,000 Singapore dollar fine if found guilty of insulting a public servant.

Nair was to have faced a second charge of insulting another judge, but the state prosecutor told the court the charge would be "stood down." A legal expert said this means that charge would be heard separately.

"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'."

A blogger stands up to the Singaporean government - Report on The Observers