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An internet hoax posted by a former Singaporean claiming that the city-state’s founding father and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew had suffered a serious heart attack stirred outrage and protest in the online community. Gopalan Nair, a lawyer and former candidate of Singapore’s opposition Workers’ Party now living in the United States, said Saturday on his blog that Lee, 86, had been put in intensive care in a hospital.
“With the entire country run by this one man, the fear that business leaders and bankers had for a very long time may have finally come true; that such a happening can destroy the business confidence and cause total destruction in the small island city-state,” Nair said.
Nair did not give any source for the information but quoted the “latest reports received from Singapore” while the city-state’s mainstream media kept silent.
The posting from Nair’s blog was picked up by several other blogs and caused some buzz before he admitted Sunday in another posting that the story about Lee suffering a heart attack was a hoax.
“It was a deliberate attempt to highlight how tenuous Singapore really is with all power in the island vested in one man and the dire consequences to the island of his parting,” said Nair, who describes himself as a “Singapore dissident.”
The lawyer, who had been jailed for contempt of court and gave up his Singaporean citizenship in 2005, claimed on his website that he “was harassed and persecuted by Lee Kuan Yew for my political beliefs.”
“If you can stand and protest the system, do it for your own good,” said Nair in Sunday’s posting, noting that “the overwhelming reaction to my humble blog … is gratifying.”
After Nair’s initial post, including the made-up news of Lee’s deteriorating health, only a few internet comments welcomed it, saying it was time “to pop the champagne.”
As the truth came to light, however, the vast majority of Singapore netizens strongly condemned Nair’s action with such comments as “people are sick to create such a hoax” and saying it was in “very bad taste.”
Even writers on Singapore websites known for their critical positions toward the government denounced Nair.
“It is completely tasteless to deliberately lie about someone’s death regardless of how much you despise him,” said Choo Zheng Xi on The Online Citizen website.
Nair’s “abuse of free speech” provided the government “with the best excuse to regulate the internet to prevent such misinformation from spreading,” he argued.
“Whatever political point Mr Nair was trying to make by his despicable joke is likely to be overshadowed by the backlash against Mr Nair from ordinary Singaporeans,” Choo said.
Another strongly worded comment on the Sgpolitics website said Nair “shamelessly wallowed in his own amusement at the expense of others.”
“It is imbeciles like him that allow the government an opportunity to unfairly tar bloggers as unreliable rumour-mongers who are unable to self-regulate,” website editor Ng E-Jay said.
The Singapore government did not comment on the hoax.