SINGAPORE — In mid-October, police questioned an American professor about a newspaper opinion article he wrote that criticized Southeast Asian governments. Within a week, he resigned his position at the University of Singapore and returned to his hometown of Atlanta, Ga., saying he feared arrest.
Singapore police questioned European studies Professor Christopher Lingle in his office for 90 minutes about possible contempt of court and criminal defamation charges arising from an Oct. 7 commentary he wrote, and told him they would come back to confiscate his original manuscript, according to Reuter.
The opinion piece appeared in the Paris- based International Herald Tribune, and was written in response to an Oct. 1 Tribune commentary written by Kishore Mahbubani that described European governments as inferior to Asian governments.
In arguing against specific points in Mahbubani’s article, Lingle referred to Asian states as “intolerant regimes” with “compliant judiciaries”. He described them as oppressive censors of the media, with Asian citizens receiving “diluted or filtered information.”
“This control of information (by Asian states) allows governments to release news on their own terms, basking in their own glory while concealing their failings,” said Lingle’s commentary.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement saying it had been in touch with Lingle over the incident and was disappointed at “the apparent attempt to intimidate Professor Lingle” and the threat to his right to freedom of expression.
The Singapore Foreign Ministry told Reuter it was surprised by Washington’s interest in the case and said the police did not harass or intimidate Lingle in any way.
In an earlier statement printed in the Washington Post Lingle said, “Up to now I’ve been treated with dignity and professionalism by the police, and I’m convinced that if my comments are judged fairly, the matter will go no further.”
A Singapore police spokesman told Reuter that depending on the inquiry’s findings, Lingle may face arrest if he returns to the country.
No charges have been filed to date.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.