Thursday, May 12, 2005

Looking Down the Barrel

Thanks to the one-sided iron-handed way this affair was played out, the world will never get to know the legality of the bulldozer tactics. But justice has its way of surfacing from the darkest of nights, truth is a blinding light that bleaches all iniquity. Meanwhile we contend with Mr Chen's view of the events, in his correspondence response dated 5th May 2005 to a Valarie Ng of the Channel News Asia:

"I am a first-year graduate student in the chemical physics PhD program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. Until last week, I had a personal blog on my university account, which as far as I understand is not a violation of school policy.On April 22 (Friday), I received the first email from Mr. Philip Yeo, chairman of A*STAR, dated 5:44 am GMT-5 which notified me that he had earmarked a post on my blog (#442) for legal action. Over the next three days he sent me a total of eleven emails which were of a threatening and insulting nature, demanding that I remove "all" the posts on my blog or face legal action for defaming A*STAR and himself.Despite writing to him three times seeking clarification by email, he had refused to elaborate on which specific remarks he had found offensive and reiterated his demand to remove "everything" on my blog. Since my end of semester examinations begin this Friday (May 6), I am sure you can appreciate how I was certainly not in the mood to sift through the 400-odd posts that I had written on my blog and edit or remove anything that was potentially defamatory. Therefore the only choice I had to stem the barrage of emails was to take the whole thing off-line. It was only when I wrote to him, informing him of my taking the blog down that he sent me a final (and twelfth) email last Tuesday, saying that his lawyer would follow up with amendments to my apology posted online. To date I have yet to hear from them so I assume the matter is closed.I cannot reveal the exact details of the communication as Mr. Yeo had also threatened further litigation regarding the disclosure of some of the contents of the exchange.As for legal aspects, I have been told that this is a thorny issue as it is not clear whether US law or Singapore law applies. The university is supportive of my right have a blog on my university account, but I can afford neither the time nor the money to fight it out in the courts in order to find out how the legal intricacies come together for my case. After all, I am not here in the US neither to experience its wonderful judicial system nor to take extended leave from it in order to fight a legal battle back home.I would like to emphasize that I still do not know exactly what I had written that he had found offensive, and that Mr. Yeo had demanded that I remove all posts which mentioned either him or A*STAR, whether directly or indirectly, and cease "running [him] down" on my blog. It\ was impossible to satisfy such vague demands except by taking the entire blog down altogether.Out of over 400 posts on my blog, perhaps ten or so mentioned Mr. Yeo or A*STAR by name. All of these posts were opinionated commentary (based on fact!) on policies made by A*STAR. One of my comments was on A*STAR's scholarship system. A*STAR gives out scholarships to prospective undergraduates to study technical majors both in Singapore and in reputable institutions abroad. Last year A*STAR instituted a new policy requiring their scholars to maintain a 3.8 grade point average (between A- and A average). Having been a scholar at one point in time, I felt that this was unnecessarily draconian and even counterproductive, as this would unduly influence students to pick easy classes over more challenging (and hence more enriching) classes, and said so on my blog.In his previous position as chairman of the Economic Development Board (EDB), Mr. Yeo had also adopted the same strict stance toward such bond-breakers, labeling them as immoral. I can only speculate as to how his ire could be possibly connected to my decision to break my bond (albeit on a scholarship from a different government agency) and a story in The New Paper in early April about my decision to do so. (,4136,86038,00.html) It may also interest you that this was the first time that Mr. Yeo had ever contacted me, and that I had never denied him the right of reply to the conclusions that I had drawn based on publicly available facts. Also, in its 274 days of existence, my blog had seen a grand total of 44,291 visitors, i.e. 162 visitors/day.I spoke out because as a taxpayer and citizen, I cared enough about the policies at hand to make reasoned opinions about them, and in particular to point out what I considered to be possibly counterproductive side effects. I considered remarks made by persons such as Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan and MM Lee Kuan Yew earlier this year, urging young Singaporeans to speak out, as encouragement to do so. As a young Singaporean who tried to speak out and received such an intimidating response, I am disappointed and discouraged that Mr. Yeo had not attempted to correct any possible misconceptions that I may have had over the interpretation of publicly available information, deciding instead to threaten to sue me for defamation. I cannot say that such actions have promoted the cause of getting young Singaporeans to speak out.I have delayed considerations of further blogging until the end of my examinations in mid-May."

A*Star Philip YeoAnd who is this A*STAR Philip Yeo? Samples of his mindset:

May 2, 2005: "I don't want whining Singapore boys. They are not mature even though they have NS and are over 22 years old when they take up undergraduate studies."

May 7, 2005: "Maybe I should give more scholarships to non-Singaporeans who are bright, eager and hungry, and then help them get Singapore passports. The rest, I give to the A-level girls at 19 years old."

May 15, 2005: "A*Star scholars are selected entirely on their merits. I was pinpointing only the immature, whiny boys."