Actions against international media

A list of cases of the international media being punished by the Singapore government and/or judicial system. My main source so far has been Garry Rodan's Transparency and Authoritarian Rule in Southeast Asia. Sadly, some of the offending articles have disappeared altogether even from databases like Lexis-Nexis, so I've had to rely heavily on Rodan's book as a secondary source. The list is still in progress, so do not take it as a comprehensive listing. If you have more cases to contribute, feel free to email me with the details.

1971, New York Times

  • Transgression: Stringer Anthony Polsky made inquiries about Singapore's political prisoners.
  • Outcome: Polsky expelled from Singapore.

1974, Newsweek

  • Transgression: Pang Cheng Lian article on unsuccessful defamation suit against PAP MP. Claimed the verdict "did little to dispel the notion long charged by critics that the courts of this country are little more than extensions of the one-party system."
  • Outcome: Pang and Newsweek found guilty of libel.

1977, Far Eastern Economic Review

  • Transgression: Alleged dissemination of state secrets by Ho Kwon Ping in article on Singapore's defence industries and arms purchases from the US. Ho also had notes about the Singapore armed forces. According to Derek Davies, Ho "pointed out that most of the information in the notes was general knowledge and had been published elsewhere."
  • Outcome: Ho was fined $7,500 and resigned.

1977, Far Eastern Economic Review

  • Transgression: Alleged deliberately biased articles by Arun Senkuttuvan in the FEER and the Financial Times that discredited the Singapore authorities and went "to the extent of supporting the communist cause".
  • Outcome: Arrested under the Internal Security Act, interrogated for 3.5 weeks, stripped of citizenship.

1985, Asian Wall Street Journal

  • Transgression: Editorial 'Jeyaretnam's Challenge' on prosecution of J. B. Jeyaretnam.
  • Outcome: Fined $6000. Feature page editor and writer of leader were also fined even though neither had been charged.

1986, Time

  • Transgression: Failure to print reply from James Fu, Prime Minister's Press Secretary, in response to article 'Silencing the Dissenters' on J. B. Jeyaretnam.
  • Outcome: Circulation reduced from 18,000 to 9,000, then further to 2,000 (all per week).

1986, Asian Wall Street Journal

  • Transgression: Failure to publish MAS response to article by Stephen Duthie, 'Singapore Exchange Puzzles Financiers', on establishment of secondary securities market.
  • Outcome: Circulation reduced from 5,000 to 400 (all per day).

1987, Asiaweek

  • Transgression: Refusing to publish un-edited letters from Singapore government sent in response to article on mistreatment of Operation Spectrum detainees.
  • Outcome: Circulation restricted to 400 copies a week.

1987, Far Eastern Economic Review

  • Transgression: Article "New Light on Detentions" by Michael Malik on Operation Spectrum, reporting on S. Jayakumar's speech in parliament attacking Father D'Souza and quoting D'Souza's response.
  • Outcome: Circulation restricted to 500 copies a week, down from 9,000. FEER opted to stop all circulation. According to a 1991 article in the Washington Post, the Singapore government authorized "a local labor union to reproduce the Review — minus its advertising — for circulation on a not-for-profit basis in Singapore. Dow Jones viewed that as illegal piracy of its copyright." Libel suits against FEER won $118,000 for Lee Kuan Yew.

1987-93, Dow Jones publications

  • Transgression: US State Department expressed regret over above restriction on Asian Wall Street Journal's circulation.
  • Outcome: Singapore threatened to eject all American journalists and newspapers. Correspondents of Dow Jones & Company publications not given visas.

1989, The Times of London

  • Transgression: Article by Bernard Levin on harrassment of J B Jeyaretnam containing: "The misuse of law here has been gross… Legality has been twisted into a hideous shape."
  • Outcome: The Times received a letter of complaint from the Singapore High Commissioner in London which it refused to publish in full. The letter contained, among other things, a paragraph alleging that Jeyaretnam was "after all, a criminal". The High Commissioner asked the Times to publish the defamatory parts of the letter with a Singapore goverment indemnity for fines and costs if libel resulted from its publication. The High Commissioner eventually published the letter as ads in the Guardian and the Financial Times.

1991, Dow Jones

  • Transgression: Comment on 1987 FEER legal suit that the judgement against FEER was made 'solely because it was read to be critical of Mr Lee.'
  • Outcome: Peter Kann charged with contempt of court. LKY started libel proceedings against him in Singapore and Malaysia. FEER abandoned its appeal against the 1987 judgement and paid all of LKY's costs, in return for LKY dropping cross-appeals and libel suits.

1993, The Economist

  • Transgression: Article 'Psst, Wanna See a Statistic?' expressing dismay that Business Times editor Patrick Daniel and colleagues were prosecuted for publishing an estimate of Singapore's GDP before its official release. High Commissioner of Singapore wrote a response which the Economist at first did not want to publish in full but eventually did so after a "bitter exchange of letters" (Derek Davies' phrase). The Economist also did not want to publish another letter replying to one from Jeyaretnam.
  • Outcome: Circulation cut to 7,500. Restriction removed after reply to Jeyaretnam was published and $200,000 bond was posted.

1994, International Herald Tribune

  • Transgression: Article by Philip Bowring 'The claims about Asian values don't usually bear scrutiny'. Alleged suggestions of nepotism regarding Lee Hsien Loong's career.
  • Outcome: IHT published an apology but High Court still ordered $950,000 of damages awarded to Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

1994, International Herald Tribune

  • Transgression: Article by Christopher Lingle titled "The Smoke Over Parts of Asia Obscures Some Profound Concerns" in response to article in same publication by Kishore Mahbubani, on Asian vs European political trends. Mention of 'compliant judiciary' in some authoritarian regimes in Asia.
  • Outcome: Police seizure of materials from Lingle's office and home. Legal action by the Singapore government for contempt of court. IHT published apology, but civil suits by Lee Kuan Yew for libel followed. Defendants found guilty of contempt of court, ordered to pay government's legal costs, exceeding $100,000. In libel action, $100,000 damages awarded to Lee Kuan Yew. Lingle had fled Singapore by the time of judgment, so the National University of Singapore was told to pay Lingle's salary and savings into court.

2001, The Australian

  • Transgression: Three analyses by Eric Ellis on SingTel's takeover of Australian telecommunications operator Optus.
  • Outcome: Ellis' application for visa renewal resulted in only a six-month extension (one year being the usual).


  • Transgression: Article 'How Far can Singapore Inc. Get Out of Business' by Patrick Smith. Alleged insinuations of nepotism in appointment of Ho Ching as executive director of Temasek Holdings.
  • Outcome: Threatened defamation from Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong. Out-of-court settlement of $595,000 and apology on The article now appears to be completely wiped from the internet.

2004, The Economist

2006, The Economist

  • Transgression: Obituary of Devan Nair claiming that Lee Kuan Yew had told J. B. Jeyaretnam that he would "make him crawl on his bended knees and beg for mercy".
  • Outcome: Press Secretary to Lee Kuan Yew claimed that there was no basis for the claim. The Economist agreed to pay damages and published an apology.

2006, Far Eastern Economic Review

  • Transgression: Article "Singapore's 'Martyr', Chee Soon Juan" based on interview with Chee.
  • Outcome: FEER found guilty of defamation. Appeal rejected. I can find no information on damages awarded, perhaps because the FEER by then had no staff or assets in Singapore, so securing damages would have been difficult.

2007, The Financial Times

  • Transgression: Insinuations of nepotism within Temasek Holdings in September 29 article "Sovereign funds try to put on an acceptable face".
  • Outcome: FT apologised and paid damages to LKY, LHL and Ho Ching.

2008, Asian Wall Street Journal

  • Transgressions: 1) Article (gated) on damages won by Lee Hsien Loong against Chee Soon Juan. 2) Article on International Bar Association's report (pdf) on Singapore.
  • Outcome: $25,000 fine for contempt of court.

2009, The Guardian

  • Transgressions: Not clear, but correspondent Benjamin Bland had reported on "rising crime, the ageing population and business links with Burma".
  • Outcome: Bland's employment visa not renewed.

2010, International Herald Tribune

  • Transgression: Article by Philip Bowring calling the Lee family an Asian political dynasty.
  • Outcome: New York Times (parent company of IHT) threatened with defamation suit, $160,000 out-of-court settlement.