Monday, July 10, 2006

Supporters of suspended Singaporean blogger hold silent protest

Supporters of suspended Singaporean blogger hold silent protest
July 9, 2006

SINGAPORE (AFP) - Supporters of a Singaporean blogger have gathered at a busy subway station for a silent protest at the suspension of his weekly newspaper column after the government criticised his latest satirical piece about high living costs.

At least 30 supporters turned up at City Hall station at 2:00 pm dressed in brown attire in support of the blogger, who goes by the moniker Mr Brown.

"I think most of us feel that it is very important to have an independent voice in the print media," said a 25-year-old man who declined to be named.

He said he was told of the planned protest via a SMS text message on Saturday evening, like many of the others.

"For them to suspend the column is ridiculous," said a 19-year-old Canadian student who only wants to be known as Bronwyn. She was at the subway station with her sister and mother to take part in the silent protest.

The 36-year-old blogger, whose real name is Lee Kin Mun, is aware of the 30-minute silent protest but friends say he is not the organiser.

"We are aware of it but we did not organise it. We are touched by the gesture and we hope that nobody gets into trouble because of us," the blogger's friend Edmund Tan told AFP.

In Singapore any public protest of at least five people without a police permit is illegal. A few policemen patrolled the subway station but no arrests were made.

The Today newspaper's publisher MediaCorp confirmed Thursday it has suspended Mr Brown's weekly column from July 7 but gave no reason.

His latest satirical piece entitled "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!" drew a strong rebuttal from the government who said the writer was distorting the truth.

Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF or Reporters Without Borders) has described the government's condemnation of Mr Brown's column as "disturbing" in light of its already strict curbs on the media.

In April RSF condemned Singapore's restrictions on political discussions in blogs and websites ahead of general elections in May.

Last year the group ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its annual press freedom index.

The photo in this post is taken from a posting by Jeff Ooi of Screenshot, a famous Malaysian blogger. You can read his post at No brownie points for media cops in Singapore.

Here's a report today in the government mouthpiece masquerading as a national newspaper, The Straits Times.

Cops looking into gathering in support of mr brown

By Aaron Low
Jul 10, 2006
The Straits Times

THE police are looking into a gathering of 30 people who turned up wearing brown to support blogger mr brown at City Hall MRT station yesterday afternoon.

Those interviewed said they had come in response to an SMS message that had circulated over the weekend, after the free newspaper Today had suspended his weekly column.

The text message had asked people to wear brown and head for City Hall MRT station at 2pm yesterday, to protest against the 'Government-imposed blackout'.

At about 2pm, The Straits Times found about 30 people standing in groups of four to five, talking and laughing just outside the station. They were mostly in their 20s and 30s, and most had come alone. Also present was a Canadian family of three, a mother and her two teenage daughters.

There were no posters, banners or placards, but artist Zai Kuning, 44, came in a brown T-shirt which said 'I am fed up with progress' on the back.

That was referring to the headline of mr brown's June 30 article, 'Singaporeans are fed, up with progress', that drew criticism from the Government.

Mr Zai said: 'I don't really read mr brown's online postings or his columns but...I wanted to show my support for him because what happened to him was unfair.'

Mr brown is the moniker of full-time writer and blogger Lee Kin Mun, 36. In a letter published in Today on July 3, the Government criticised his last piece on the high cost of living here.

The newspaper then suspended the column, sparking online postings late last week by bloggers and netizens, mostly critical of the freesheet's move.

Yesterday, Mr Lee said through his friend, Mr Edmund Tan, 37, who runs a studio that produces content for mr brown's website, that he knew about the SMS asking people to go to City Hall MRT station but was not the one who initiated it.

'We are touched by the gesture and we hope that nobody gets into trouble because of us,' said Mr Tan.

Some police officers were on patrol at City Hall MRT yesterday but they did not approach any of the people dressed in brown or tell them to disperse. By 2.20pm, people began wandering off, and by 2.40pm, it was over.

It is illegal to organise an assembly of five or more people to support or protest something without a permit.

The police confirmed that nobody was arrested. A spokesman said: 'The police are aware of the incident and we are looking into it.'

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