Even though Singapore is set to become a more open society in the future, the government is making no apologies when it comes to suing politicians for defamatory remarks, said Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports.
Speaking to the The Online Citizen (TOC) after the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum held yesterday at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Dr Balakrishnan added that the government takes attacks on accuracy and integrity very seriously, because “establishing a high trust environment” is an advantage that gives Singapore an edge in a competitive global economy.
He said: “We don’t mind political openness, but we don’t want too much of the excitement. To the outsider, when they look at Singapore, they know that politics here is serious, it’s accurate, it’s real and accountable. It’s not a situation you get in other countries. We’re an outlier, but we are outlying because we want to keep our politics honest.”
When I announced that I would be speaking on the minibond issue at Speaker’s Corner (Hong Lim Green), a friend (who previously contested in the election under the Workers’ Party) sent an e-mail to me from Hong Kong. He advised me to be careful and not be say anything that is defamatory that could get me sued to bankrupcy.
He quoted incidences of candidates that were sued for statements that appear to be questioning something that is wrong. A few other people, including a lawyer, also warned me to “be careful”.
If I listened to their advice, I would not be saying anything. It is so dangerous to speak in Singapore. People are so fearful of saying something that can lead to being sued, even if they do not have any bad intent.
I had to look for someone to interprete my speech into Chinese. I asked many people to come forward. Some agreed first, and later declined. They cited “pressure from family members”. It was so diffiicult to get someone, even to interprete for me.
Is this the kind of society that our minister is so proud about? A society where people are fearful to speak up, in case they make a slip and get be sued till bankrupt? We should be ashamed of this sad state of affairs in Singapore.
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