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New web censorship rule bans gay content in Singapore

Websites accessed in Singapore subject to regulations that prohibit 'material [that] advocates homosexuality or lesbianism'
The sun sets on freedom from censorship for websites that report on Singapore

The Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore is introducing a tough new rule that will censor websites that are read from inside the country, even if they are not hosted there.

The new rule, which will come into effect on Saturday (1 June), will require local news websites and those that report regularly on Singapore and get at least 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore over two months to apply for an individual license.

The license will require the sites to comply with existing regulations that include banning 'material [that] advocates homosexuality or lesbianism, or depicts or promotes incest, pedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia'.

Any content found to be in breach of those regulations will be expected to be removed within 24 hours, a statement from government agency MDA said. In addition the sites will have to pay a 'performance bond' of $50,000 (Singapore dollars, $40,000, €30,000).

'It is extremely disturbing,' said gay Singaporean writer and performance artist Ng Yi-sheng to Gay Star News.

'However, there is a chance that the law will be executed very inconsistently (like many laws in Singapore). At this first stage of the law's application, MDA is only going after major corporate news websites. They might decide not to go after [LGBT websites] Fridae, Trevvy, etc, because it'd place them in a too politically awkward situation.'

MDA published a list of the sites they are asking to apply for licenses which includes Yahoo News, Asia One, Business Times and Channel New Asia.

'Ultimately, gay activism won't suffer that much, because a specific issue like this can be easily disseminated via blogs and Facebook walls. It's the more general coverage of human rights abuses here that will suffer,' added Ng.

Jean Chong from LGBT rights group Sayoni said she thinks the new law will be aimed at sites critical of the government. 'It's another censorship attempt by the government and the online community is incensed,' she said.

Veteran gay rights campaigner Alex Au dissected the MDA's announcement on his popular blog Yawning Bread, which could be a victim of the new rule.

'Instead of imposing new regulatory conditions on online media, why not dismantle the straitjackets on offline media?' Au wrote. 'You’d notice that the government is silent on this.'

Opposition parties have also been critical. Singapore Democratic Party and National Solidarity Party both called the new rule a 'regressive' step, Wall Street Journal reports.

In an interview with Gay Star News last December Pink Dot spokesperson Paerin Choa said that existing media censorship laws affecting TV and press were 'the worst' of all the issues LGBT people face in Singapore.

'Content that justifies, promotes or glamorizes gay lifestyle is banned,' Choa said. 'So basically if a gay person finds love and lives happily ever after - that story is banned. Brokeback Mountain is allowed, because the gay person dies and lives a sad lonely life.

'So you have very skewered portrayal of gay people in local mainstream media. It leads to an ignorance about what being gay is about in the general public.' 

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