Singapore bans Far Eastern
    Economic Review

  Agence France Presse
September 28, 2006

SINGAPORE has banned the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine after it failed to comply with regulations on foreign publications sold in the city-state, the government said.

It said the monthly magazine's sale and distribution rights had been revoked immediately for failing to abide by an earlier deadline to appoint someone authorized to accept any legal notices on the magazine's behalf.

In its press release, the government added that it was now also an offense to import or possess copies of the Hong Kong-based magazine, known by its initials FEER, for sale or distribution in the city-state.

The government said it took the action after the magazine failed to comply with conditions under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act.

On August 3 the ministry had announced it was re-instating conditions imposed on the Review and some other foreign publications.

It notified the Review that, effective September 11, it would have to appoint a person "within Singapore authorized to accept service of any notice or legal process on behalf of the publication."

It was also required to submit a security deposit of S$200,000 (US$125,000).

"FEER had not complied by the 11 September 2006 deadline, nor has it complied till today, despite a reminder sent to FEER on 14 September 2006," the government said.

The provisions, re-implemented because of what the information and communication ministry said was a changing media landscape, had also applied to Newsweek, Time, the Financial Times, and the International Herald Tribune.

They took effect after FEER, a Dow Jones publication, ran an interview with local pro-democracy activist Chee Soon Juan, who is secretary-general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party.

The article entitled Singapore's 'Martyr,' Chee Soon Juan, describes Chee's battle against the ruling People's Action Party and its leaders. It also touched on Singapore officials' success in libel suits against critics.

Two weeks ago, Singapore court officials and the magazine's editor revealed that Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, had filed defamation suits against FEER over the Chee article.

The Lees filed the lawsuits in August against editor Hugo Restall and Hong Kong-based Review Publishing, alleging they were defamed.

The Lees alleged in the writ seen by AFP that the article "contained sensational remarks and/or allegations" which had "gravely injured" their characters and reputations.

The FEER magazine has had skirmishes with Singapore's ruling party since 1987 when it was gazetted as a foreign newspaper, thereby restricting its circulation, after the government deemed an article as interfering in domestic politics.

Singapore leaders have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages as a result of defamation suits against critics and foreign publications, which they say is necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded attacks.

International rights groups, however, argue the use of lawsuits is intended to suppress freedom of expression and silence opposition parties.

Roby Alampay, executive director of the Bangkok-based media freedom watchdog Southeast Asian Press Alliance, said the FEER ban came as no surprise following recent moves by Singapore against Internet bloggers and other foreign media.

"Singapore has always been notorious if not in fact quite proud of its tradition of stifling foreign media," Alampay said.

"This new chapter of reasserting their control on the foreign press however really makes an abhorrent situation all the more troubling," he added.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) last year ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its annual press freedom index, alongside the likes of Egypt and Syria.

Lee Kuan Yew said in April he would not allow foreign journalists to tell his country what to do on domestic issues.