Singapore, May 9 (AP/UNB) — Singapore reportedly has passed a law criminalizing publication of fake news and allowing the government to block and order the removal of such content.
The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill passed Wednesday night by a vote of 72-9, a lawmaker with the opposition Worker's Party, Daniel Goh, said on Twitter.
The law bans falsehoods that are prejudicial to Singapore or likely to influence elections and requires service providers to remove such content or allows the government to block it. Offenders could face a jail term of up to 10 years and hefty fines.
Opponents in Parliament said it gave government ministers too much power to determine what was false and broadly defined public interest.
The Strait Times newspaper reported Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the orders to correct or remove false content would mostly be directed at technology companies, rather than individuals who ran afoul of the law without intent.
Human Rights Watch sharply criticized the law. It is a "disaster for online expression by ordinary Singaporeans" and a "hammer blow" against the independence of online news portals, said Phil Robertson, the group's deputy Asia director.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month defended the proposed law, saying many countries had them and that Singapore had debated the issue for two years. He rejected criticism the law could further stifle free speech in Singapore, which already has stern laws on public protests and dissent.
"They criticized many things about Singapore's media management, but what we have done have worked for Singapore. And it is our objective to continue to do things that will work for Singapore. And I think (the new law) will be a significant step forward in this regard," he said on a visit to Malaysia.
Speaking at the same news conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad warned such laws were a double-edged sword that could be abused by governments to stay in power.
Malaysia's own fake news ban was rushed into law by the government Mahathir's coalition ousted in a shock election result in 2018. Mahathir has promised to try to repeal the law, though a first attempt to do so failed.
Johannesburg, May 9 (AP/UNB) — South Africans voted Wednesday in presidential and parliamentary elections, with signs of a relatively low turnout and voters saying they were disillusioned by widespread corruption and unemployment.
Despite the demise of apartheid 25 years ago, South Africa remains divided by economic inequality .
The African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela that has been in power since 1994, is likely to win a majority but it will face a difficult challenge to match the 62% of the vote it got five years ago.
The party has been tarnished by corruption scandals and a national unemployment rate of 27%. President Cyril Ramaphosa, who leads the ANC, has campaigned on promises to clean up his party, an acknowledgment of the problems that forced out his predecessor last year.
"Corruption got into the way," Ramaphosa said after voting, saying graft has prevented his party from serving the people.
Selina Molapo, a 38-year-old resident of Tembisa township in eastern Johannesburg, agreed with him, complaining the ANC has not delivered on its promise of jobs.
"In 2014, we voted for the ANC but our situation has not changed," Molapo said. "I am voting for a different party."
Firebrand opposition leader Julius Malema voted in his home area of Polokwane in northern Limpopo province and said he expects a good turnout for his party, the populist, leftist Economic Freedom Fighters .
"If the people want to continue unemployed, if the people want to continue landless, then they can continue voting for the same party," Malema said, referring to the ruling ANC. "But if you need change, the EFF is the way to go!"
Young voters make up about 20% of the electorate and largely support Malema, who broke from the ANC six years ago. However, registration of voters under 30 was relatively low.
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, was one of the first voters at the Dobsonville polling station in Soweto, Johannesburg's largest black township.
"Soweto represents to me the home of the struggle against apartheid and it is where we are now struggling against corruption and for a new government," Maimane said. Black support for his party is limited because it is generally perceived to be run by whites.
The ANC has vowed to embark on a program of seizing white-owned land without compensation, for which it needs a 67% majority to change South Africa's constitution.
In the most likely scenario, the ANC will need to form a coalition government with another party to get the votes needed. That is likely to be the EFF, which supports land seizures.
If the ANC's share of the vote slips below 60%, Ramaphosa could be vulnerable and his party could oust him and choose a new leader.
More than 40 smaller parties also are vying for power in the balloting.
Neither the president nor the parliament is elected directly. Voters cast ballots for a national party and the number of votes won by each party determines how many representatives are sent to the legislature. The president is the leader of the party that gets the most votes.
At the polling station in the overwhelmingly white, upscale Parkhurst suburb of Johannesburg, a lanky young man hustling as one of the city's "car guards" — the ubiquitous youths who offer to keep an eye on a vehicle while the driver is away — paused to say he had given up on the ANC and was voting for the Democratic Alliance instead.
"They ate a lot of millions," 26-year-old Anthony Molele said of the ANC's many corruption scandals.
At a lonely-looking table for the populist EFF, party agents and domestic workers Marie Lekgothoane and Sophie Tsoai watched the arrival of mostly white voters.
Lekgothoane described how she and her 13-year-old daughter must wake up at 5 a.m. daily to commute more than an hour by minibus to Parkhurst, where she works and once lived before being asked to move out.
"We struggle a lot," Lekgothoane said, adding that she has put her faith in the EFF and its promise of change.
"I like this party with all of my heart," she said. "I like the way they talk."
When South Africa held its first all-race elections in 1994 after the end of the harsh apartheid system of racial discrimination, voters waited in long, snaking lines. Few such scenes were evident Wednesday, except in the poor Diepsloot township north of Johannesburg.
Voter apathy could be trouble for the ANC.
Winston Rammoko, 41, did not vote because he said he did not believe it would be significant.
"We all know that the ANC is going to win the elections so I do not think mine will make any difference," said Rammoko, who sells tires in the eastern suburb of Kempton Park. "They have won since 1994 and it will happen again."
Tracy van Tonder, 20, is one of the younger South Africans who did not register to vote.
"By the time I got interested in voting, the deadline to vote had already passed," she said while accompanying her older sister. Van Tonder is one of the nearly 6 million eligible voters under 30 who did not register.
Some 26 million people of South Africa's population of 57 million are eligible to vote, and the day is a national holiday to encourage turnout. Most of the 22,900 polling stations opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 9 p.m. (0500 to 1900 GMT).
Preliminary results will be announced from the electoral commission in the capital, Pretoria. Final results are not expected for 48 hours.
Washington, May 9 (AP/UNB) — The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, escalating the Democrats' extraordinary legal battle with the Trump administration over access to special counsel Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia report.
The vote capped a day of ever-deepening dispute between congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump, who for the first time invoked the principle of executive privilege, claiming the right to block lawmakers from the full report on Mueller's probe of Russian interference to help Trump in the 2016 election.
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York declared the action by Trump's Justice Department a clear new sign of the president's "blanket defiance" of Congress' constitutional rights to conduct oversight.
"We did not relish doing this, but we have no choice," Nadler said after the vote.
The White House's blockade, he said, "is an attack on the ability of the American people to know what the executive branch is doing." He said, "This cannot be."
But Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said it was disappointing that members of Congress "have chosen to engage in such inappropriate political theatrics."
Barr made "extraordinary efforts" to provide Congress and the public with information about Mueller's work, she said.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said neither the White House nor Barr "will comply with Chairman Nadler's unlawful and reckless demands."
Late Wednesday the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee issued his own subpoena to the Justice Department for the full Mueller report, as the confrontation intensifies.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, whose committee had previously requested the documents, said he has "no choice" but to compel the department's compliance. He warned that if it continues to "ignore or rejects our requests," the panel could take legal action.
Kupec declined to comment.
Though the White House initially hesitated on invoking privilege, Trump told his staff and political advisers in recent weeks to refuse to cooperate with Democrats, believing the party's goal was simply to damage him politically going into his re-election campaign. The coming legal battle could stretch to 2020, and the White House is aiming to tie up congressional probes until Election Day.
Executive privilege is the president's power to keep information from the courts, Congress and the public to protect the confidentiality of the Oval Office decision-making process.
The president's decision was weeks in the making, the next inevitable escalation between the White House and Congress over a number of probes. The White House has rejected all efforts to probe Trump's business dealings or tax returns as well as the West Wing's security clearance procedure.
The committee voted along party lines, 24-16, to recommend the full House hold Barr in contempt, but only after some five hours of heated and, at times, emotional testimony.
Democrats made their case that Congress was at a historic juncture as it confronts what they consider Trump's stonewalling of lawmakers' ability to conduct oversight of the administration. Republicans portrayed the majority as angry and lashing out at Barr after the special counsel did not find that Trump colluded with Russia to swing the 2016 election.
Said Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas: "The president now seeks to take a wrecking ball to the Constitution of the United States."
And Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana said the road ahead may be "messy" but Democrats must fight to "protect our democracy." Other Democrats called the standoff a "serious" and "grave" moment.
However, the panel's top Republican, Doug Collins of Georgia, said Democrats were manufacturing a crisis and rushing the process to "sully Bill Barr's good name."
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a Trump ally, said the Democrats were trying to "delegitimize" the president and biding time before they try to impeach him.
"Get over it," Gaetz said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the next step will be consideration by the full House. Nadler said that will happen soon.
If approved by the House, where the Democrats hold a solid majority, the contempt resolution would almost certainly move to an unusual, and potentially protracted, multi-pronged court battle with the Trump administration.
The contempt finding could be referred to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, a Justice Department official who would be likely to defend rather than oppose Barr. Democratic House leaders could also file a lawsuit, though the case could take months or even years to resolve. Some committee members have suggested they also could fine Barr as he withholds information.
Nadler said Wednesday the Trump administration's refusal to provide the special counsel's full Russia report to Congress presents a "constitutional crisis."
In a letter Wednesday to Trump , Barr explained that the special counsel's files contain millions of pages of classified and unclassified information. He said it was the committee's "abrupt resort to a contempt vote" that "has not allowed sufficient time for you to consider fully whether to make a conclusive assertion of executive privilege."
Barr told Trump he should assert privilege now, "pending a full decision on the matter."
Talks with the Justice Department broke down over the committee's subpoena for an unredacted version of the report.
Barr released a redacted version of Mueller's 400-plus-page report to the public last month, but Democrats subpoenaed the full document , along with underlying evidence.
The department has rejected that demand, while allowing a few top lawmakers from the House and Senate to view a version with fewer redactions. That version blacks out grand jury information, which needs a judge's approval for release, and it doesn't include the report's underlying evidence. Democrats have said they won't view that version until they get broader access.
Almost half the report's pages contain some type of redaction including those around the Russian influence campaign, presidential pardons and other topics.
Barr has refused to testify in public to the committee after a disagreement over the Democrats' demand that he answer questions from a staff attorney in addition to lawmakers. The committee is in talks for Mueller himself to appear May 15, but there is no agreement yet, and Trump has said Mueller should not testify.
Nadler also has threatened to hold former White House Counsel Don McGahn in contempt of Congress if he doesn't testify before the committee later this month. Nadler rejected a White House claim that documents McGahn refused to provide despite a subpoena are controlled by the White House and thus McGahn has no legal right to them.
Pelosi, who has tamped down calls from her liberal flank to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump, said in a Washington Post interview Wednesday that the president, by obstructing Congress was becoming "self-impeachable."
Mueller, in his report, said he could not establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but he did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided there were not grounds to charge Trump with obstruction.
Washington, May 9 (AP/UNB) — Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that the Trump administration intends to challenge the right of federal district courts to issue rulings blocking nationwide policies, arguing that such injunctions are obstructing President Donald Trump's agenda on immigration, health care and other issues.
In a speech at the Federalist Society conference in Washington, Pence argued that nationwide injunctions issued by federal judges "prevent the executive branch from acting, compromising our national security by obstructing the lawful ability of the president to stop threats to the homeland where he sees them."
He said the administration will seek opportunities to put this question before the Supreme Court "to ensure that decisions affecting every American are made either by those elected to represent the American people or by the highest court in the land."
Top administration officials have often complained about the proliferation of nationwide injunctions since Trump became president, so the idea of pushing back is not new.
Indeed, the administration has asked the Supreme Court to deal with nationwide injunctions in the past, including in the travel ban case. But the court never addressed the nationwide extent of the injunction against the ban issued by lower courts because the justices upheld the ban in its entirety.
For the Supreme Court to issue a definitive ruling on nationwide injunctions, it would first have to rule against the administration on the underlying merits of the case before it. Only at that point could the court consider whether a lower court order should apply nationwide or only to the people who are challenging an administration policy.
A nationwide injunction has the effect of stopping "a federal policy everywhere," the administration told the Supreme Court in the travel ban case. The more common practice is for a judge to issue an order that gives only the people who sued what they want.
A White House official said the administration would be looking for potential relevant cases to press the issue, and said Pence also discussed it at the end of the Cabinet meeting convened by the president on Wednesday.
In his remarks, Pence quoted from an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, who joined the majority opinion upholding the Trump travel ban last June, but also wrote separately to say nationwide injunctions "are legally and historically dubious" and that the high court would have to step in "if federal courts continue to issue them."
Trump has long railed against district courts, especially the 9th Circuit, for blocking his initiatives, including efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration system.
At a re-election rally Wednesday night in Florida, Trump said, "Activist judges who issue nationwide injunctions based on their personal beliefs undermine democracy and threaten the rule of law."
But Trump won a 2-1 ruling from the 9th Circuit on Tuesday that allows the administration to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico for immigration court hearings while a court challenge continues.
Seoul, May 9 (AP/UNB) — North Korea has described its firing of rocket artillery and an apparent short-range ballistic missile over the weekend as a regular and defensive military exercise and ridiculed South Korea for criticizing the launches.
Pyongyang's state media on Thursday carried a statement by an unnamed military spokesman who called Seoul's criticism a "cock-and-bull story." Seoul's presidential Blue House and Defense Ministry have raised concern that Saturday's launches went against the spirit of an inter-Korean military agreement reached last year to cease all hostile acts.
A separate statement by a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman described the launches as a "routine and self-defensive military drill."
The launches were a likely sign of Pyongyang's frustration at stalled diplomatic talks with Washington meant to provide coveted sanctions relief in return for nuclear disarmament.