FEER ready to fight Lees in Singapore

The Associated Press
06 Oct 06

The editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine on Friday called a defamation lawsuit filed by Singapore’s prime minister and a government ban on the magazine a coordinated attack.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, the city-state’s founding former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, filed a lawsuit on Aug. 22 against Hong Kong-based Review Publishing Company Ltd. and the magazine’s editor, Hugo Restall, over an article it published in July about Singapore opposition activist Chee Soon Juan.

Singapore’s government later banned the Review because it didn’t appoint a legal representative and pay a 200,000 Singapore dollar (US$126,150; €99,430) security bond — new requirements that are unrelated to the lawsuit, but that the Review has called unjustified.

The two requirements are among tighter restrictions Singapore imposed in August on five foreign publications: the Review, Newsweek, Time, the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune.

Restall attacked the Review ban in an editor’s note in the latest issue, published Friday.

“The timing and substance of this move (the new requirements) were in our view no coincidence,” he wrote. “It followed hard upon our refusal to apologize and pay damages.”

“With Singaporean efficiency, the government bureaucracy leaped into action on the Lees’ behalf, imposing conditions with retroactive effect in order to force the magazine to put its head on the block for the Lees to chop off,” Restall wrote.

The Lees’ press secretaries and Singapore’s Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts did not immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment.

Speaking at a Review news conference in Hong Kong to launch a new economic index, Restall said the magazine plans “to defend the defamation lawsuit vigorously, and we look forward to having our day in court in Singapore.”

The Review on Friday launched a new “Barometer of Asian Development” covering the past five years.

Thailand and China scored highest in the debut survey.

Asked why Singapore earned a top score of 5 in the survey’s “openness and tolerance” category, Restall said the indicator doesn’t measure freedom of speech but rather “openness to creativity” — or how suitable a country is for academic or scientific research.

Meanwhile, Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal and Restall’s superior, said the Review has arranged for its more than 1,000 Singapore subscribers to pick up the magazine outside the country or read it online.

The Review and Wall Street Journal are both published by Dow Jones & Co. Inc.

Singapore’s ruling party leaders have successfully sued several opposition politicians and journalists for defamation over the years, saying they were protecting their reputations.

Domestic and international critics, including the U.S. State Department and London-based Amnesty International, have accused Singapore leaders of using such suits to stifle dissent.

Restall said the review, which switched from a weekly news magazine to a monthly opinion journal in December 2004 due to declining advertising revenue, is now profitable, but its circulation is smaller at about 16,000.

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