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Government steps up online censorship in run-up to elections

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned rules gagging free expression online, in the same way as for traditional media, in the run-up to parliamentary elections in Singapore.

Singapore Information, Communications and Arts minister, Balaji Sadasivan, repeated on 3 April 2006, the strict rules in force since 2001 on Internet use in electoral periods. The Singapore government has already warned Internet users who are likely to discuss politics online that they are at risk of legal action. No official date has been announced for the elections but they are due to be held in the next few months.

"Once again the Singapore authorities are showing their determination to prevent the holding of a genuinely democratic debate on the Internet," the press freedom organisation said.

During a parliamentary debate on 3 April, Balaji Sadasivan repeated and enlarged on the very restrictive measures applying to Internet use during election campaigns. Bloggers and website managers do not have the right to back a particular candidate's programme.

Outside of election periods, bloggers have to register with the Media Development Authority (MDA) if they want to openly and regularly defend a political line. But during election periods, the fact of being registered does not allow them to express opinions on political issues. Website managers are subjected to the same rules.

These restrictions will now also apply to new Internet technology. The minister specified that use during the campaign of podcasting and videocasting, two new devices for putting audio or video online, will be banned if they carry political content. During the last election campaign, in November 2001, the main opposition party, the Singapore Democratic Party, made use of podcasting.

Sinapan Samydorai, chairman of the freedom of expression organisation Think Centre (http://www.thinkcentre.org), who has been forced to register his website, said that there has been no improvement since the last elections in 2001, during which official party websites were the only authorised source of political news and information.

Another Singaporean blogger, known under the pseudonym of Alex (http://www.yawningbread.org), highlighted the confusion that has been caused by the minister's remarks about the exact limits of Internet users' rights to express themselves politically in his country. "The minister's statements raise more new questions than it provides clarification", he told Reporters Without Borders.

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