June 3, 2013 | By Jillian C. York

Singaporean Websites Must Pay To Mention Singapore... And Not Mention Gay People At All

It's been a bad month for Singaporean netizens.  First came the news that the Media Development Authority (MDA), the country's press oversight agency, now requires that websites that have more than 50,000 viewers and that post one "Singapore news programme" (a loosely defined term that basically includes any news about Singapore) per month will have to pay a reported fee of 50,000 SGD to be licensed.

According to a May 29 article in the print edition of the Straits Times (available online here), the MDA has been unclear as to whom the requirement applies. In response to a query from non-profit site the Online Citizen, the MDA gave the hardly reassuring reply: "[The Online Citizen] does not fall within the online licensing framework. If it did, it would be among the sites listed in MDA's statement. Should MDA determine later that it ought to be individually licensed, it will be notified."

Although it is not affected (for now), the Online Citizen called the regulation "unconstitutional," citing the provision of Singapore's constitution that guarantees "freedom of speech, assembly and association."  Singapore has not ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The new provisions will also effectively block LGBT content, as any site applying for a license must comply with existing regulations that include materials that "advocates homosexuality or lesbianism, or depicts or promotes incest, pedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia."  Singapore will join a handful of other secular states with the dubious distinction of specifically censoring online LGBT content.* 

On social media, Singaporeans are fighting back against the draconian regulations.  Using the hashtag #FreeMyInternet, activists are speaking up on Twitter, while a petition calls for the immediate withdrawal of the licensing scheme.

EFF will be paying close attention to new developments in Singapore.

*The others include Belarus, China, and Turkey.

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