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    Southeast Asia
     Jan 20, 2007
Page 1 of 4
Singaporean cyber-dissident speaks his mind
By Martyn See

SINGAPORE - Robert Ho is arguably Singapore's leading cyber-dissident. In late 2001, Ho was arrested in his home for allegedly posting "inflammatory" articles online during the general elections, representing the first-ever case of its kind.

In 2002, after an as-yet-unspecified article(s) was posted on the soc.culture.singapore newsgroup, police entered his home, seized his computer and served him a summons to attend an investigation.

Three weeks later, he was forcibly taken to a police station by officers who entered his home without a warrant or a charge. In

2005, on returning from a shopping mall where he had distributed flyers alleging electoral fraud, he was again apprehended and his computer seized.

In all, he has been arrested an additional three times since 2001, and on repeated occasions the authorities have remanded him at a mental institution. He has yet to be prosecuted for any of the alleged offences, although a criminal-defamation case is still pending from 2002.

While other critics, including international publications, have yielded to defamation threats from Singapore's political leaders, Robert Ho has emerged from his arrests and detentions even more recalcitrant against the establishment.

In Singapore's political cyberspace, where fear of surveillance and potential libel suits have compelled many dissident netizens and bloggers to post articles under pseudonyms, Ho continues to stick his neck out by disclosing his real identity online.

He is now a regular contributor to the Singapore Review newsgroup and is a blogger.

Fellow blogger and independent filmmaker Martyn See interviewed Ho via e-mail and telephone last month. A longer version of the interview was first published at the blogspot singaporerebel.

See: In 2001, you became the first person in Singapore to be arrested for posting an article on the Internet. What happened?

Ho: On November 16, 2001, about 11:15am, eight serious stern men rang my doorbell and came into my flat. They quickly searched my entire flat, asked for my computer and took it as well as every single computer-related device from printers, floppy disks, CD-ROMs [and] modems to cables.

They then took me away to the CID [Central Investigation Department] Police Cantonment Complex. Being arrested and having all my entire computer system confiscated was quite unnerving and disconcerting. The handcuffs were locked on so tight I suffered a pinched nerve in my left wrist for weeks after.

At the CID, I was questioned for hours, during which I dictated my statements to [police official] Soh Kien Peng. I finished the statements around 14:05pm, pleading not guilty in summation to the charge of posting in soc.culture.singapore my article entitled "Break the law and get away with it, like PAP", posted on October 19, 2001. This article is also posted in "Singaporeans for Democracy" at www.sfdonline.org. [This was a reference to the ruling People's Action Party.]

After my statements were recorded, edited and signed, I was taken to a cell where I was to spend the night on the bare floor. The next morning, I was driven to the Subordinate Courts, where I awaited my turn for the judge to deal with me. We accused were processed like an assembly line, with each one getting very limited time or attention. Singapore efficiency, if you like.

When my turn came to plead, I tried to tell the judge that I wanted to claim trial and ask for release on bail, since my offense was probably bailable, being merely an [online] posting in a newsgroup. She was impatient, there being about 100 accused to process that morning before her lunch. I spoke into the microphone that she should not treat me on the basis of "once a madman always a madman", but I was sent to the Institute for Mental Health (IMH) for observation anyway.

In IMH, the doctors see us about once a week, so it took about three weeks before the doctor assigned to me could finalize his report, which was "fit for trial", which is another way of saying that I was not mentally ill. The charge against me was "incitement to violence" for asking voters to enter the polling stations without authorization. That this was a trumped-up charge, with very serious jail terms.

At trial, after I was released from IMH ... prosecutor Han Ming Kuang read the psychiatrist's report on me, but only the old historical parts and not the conclusion, which is that I am fit for trial, to show that I was unfit for trial! Who would believe the truth of my mental state: a [public prosecutor] and the Straits Times or the psychiatrist who saw me? I was told beforehand by Soh that the charge would be dropped, and that once released from court I was to avoid reporters and leave the courthouse. So I left the Subordinate Courts, collected my entire computer system back from the CID, and went home without giving any interviews to reporters.

[Prosecutor] Han took so long to read all the old historical parts that the judge told him testily to stop. But Han continued anyway. The next day I knew why. He was reading not for the court, but for the Straits Times reporters present. The next day's Straits Times carried a large report of Han's readings to give the impression that I was mad and that was why the charge was dropped. At that time, Han Fook Kwang was editor, now chief editor I believe, of

Continued 1 2 3 4 

Inconvenient truths in Singapore
(Dec 1, '06)

Singapore's authoritarian rulers tangled in web
(Apr 27, '06)

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