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Singapore / Freedom of expression: UN expert alarmed by sentencing of teenager blogger

GENEVA (8 July 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, today urged Singapore to review the decision to sentence a 16-year old blogger to four weeks in prison for posting a video and a caricature of Singapore’s founder Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

“Condemning an adolescent to prison for expressing his opinion is clearly unacceptable according to international standards for freedom of expression and for the rights of the child,” Mr. Kaye said, while welcoming the release this week of the teenage blogger after having already served more than a month in custody, reportedly under harsh conditions which affected his health.

“The court’s deeply unfortunate decision does not only curb the adolescent’s rights but also exerts a deterrent effect on others in Singapore who criticize public figures or the Government,” the independent expert warned. 

The Special Rapporteur emphasized that international standards are clear in this regard: “The mere fact that a form of expression is considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties,” he said. “More importantly, openness to all forms of criticism is always to be expected in the necessary debate on present or past public figures, no matter how revered by the public.”

“I am also particularly worried at the physical and psychological effect of his time in custody,” Mr. Kaye said, stressing that the detention of the teenager blogger does not meet the standards sent by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“The reported treatment and conditions of detention were particularly harsh and would never meet the minimum standards regarding the imposition of custodial measures for children, which should be used at last resort, only for the shortest possible period of time, only if is in the best interests of the child, and limited to exceptional cases,” the independent expert concluded.

Mr. Kaye’s appeal to the Singaporean authorities has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Dainius Pûras; and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez.

David Kaye (USA) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2014 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UN Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Learn more, log on to:
Freedom of expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx
Rights defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/SRHRDefendersIndex.aspx
Health: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Health/Pages/SRRightHealthIndex.aspx
Torture: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Singapore: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/SGIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Marcelo Daher (+41 22 917 9431 / mdaher@ohchr.org) or Victoria Kuhn (+41 22 917 9278 / vkuhn@ohchr.org) or write to freedex@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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