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.
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.
Islamabad, May 8 (AP/UNB) — Pakistani media say Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row, has left Pakistan for Canada to be reunited with her daughters.
Wilson Chawdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association told The Associated Press on Wednesday he received a telephone text message from a British diplomat stating simply that "Aasia is out." A close friend of Bibi also confirmed that she had left the country, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 after a quarrel with a fellow farmworker. She spent eight years on death row until the Supreme Court last year overturned her conviction. She has since been in protective custody.
Islamic extremists have rioted over the case and threatened to kill her.
Lahore, May 8 (AP/UNB) — A suicide bomber attacked security forces guarding a famous Sufi shrine in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore on Wednesday, killing at least eight people and wounding 23 others, police said.
Officials said it was not clear if the target was the shrine itself, known as Data Darbar, or police outside guarding it. Hundreds of pilgrims were inside and outside the shrine, where a local Sufi saint is buried, when the blast took place.
Sufism refers to a mystical strain of Islam that often involves reverence for local holy figures and shrines. Sunni extremists view Sufism with hostility and have carried out attacks on Sufi celebrations and shrines across the Muslim world. In Pakistan, militants carry out near-daily attacks targeting security forces.
Lahore police chief Ghazanfar Ali said five police and three passers-by were killed in the attack, adding that the toll could rise as some of the wounded were in critical condition.
Raja Basharat, a senior provincial minister in the Punjab government, said the bomber might have caused more casualties if he had managed to enter the shrine. "Our police officers sacrificed their lives to save innocent people," he said.
"The fasting month of Ramadan began yesterday and this act of terrorism shows terrorists have no religion," he added.
Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar, the governor of Punjab province, told reporters that those who carried out Wednesday's attack were the "enemy of Islam and humanity."
"God willing, the security forces with the cooperation of whole nation will defeat these terrorists," he added.
Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the bombing.
Pakistanis in large numbers visit the shrine, where a pair of suicide attacks in 2010 killed and wounded dozens of people.
Lahore is the capital of eastern Punjab province, which has seen similar attacks in recent years.
New Delhi, May 7 (AP/UNB)— With India's general election inching toward the finish line, the battle for one seat in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh is being examined to see whether the scion of India's most important modern political dynasty can retain his seat and revive his party's fortunes.
After 15 years in politics, Rahul Gandhi is beginning to articulate a vision for India that some observers say is making him a more credible leader. But it's unclear whether Gandhi, who is president of the opposition Congress party, has rallied enough support in time to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Gandhi, 48, has often been the object of derision from political rivals, who accuse him, despite his pedigree, of being a lightweight. In contrast to Modi, a tea seller's son who went on to become India's leader, Gandhi inherited his power, making him an easy target of charges of nepotism and dynasty politics.
For years, Modi and other leaders of his Bharatiya Janata Party have referred to Gandhi as the "shehzada," or prince. Critics accuse him of being aloof, a cosmopolitan elite detached from the harsh realities of India's legions of rural poor.
After Congress' hold in Parliament collapsed from 206 of 543 seats to a mere 44 seats in 2014 elections, Gandhi's political obituary was all but written.
But with small businesses and farmers hurt by some of Modi's signature policies, and mob attacks on Muslims on the rise, Gandhi and the inclusive, secular politics the Congress party has long represented are starting to resonate.
Gandhi is seeking re-election for a fourth consecutive time in the Uttar Pradesh town of Amethi. The general election, which is being held in seven phases, ends May 19, and vote counting begins on May 23.
"In finding his feet in politics, Gandhi has become a perfect foil for Modi," said political commentator Seema Mustafa. "He comes through as humble, democratic and responsive, and plays on love, peace and humanity as against hate and aggression. The smile against the wagging finger, the embrace against the threat — it is all now part of a persona, natural and yet crafted."
If Gandhi came across as a reluctant politician, the reasons are not hard to find. His family, starting with his great-grandfather, Jawahalal Nehru, has produced three prime ministers. Two of them, his grandmother Indira Gandhi and father, Rajiv Gandhi, were assassinated in office.
"In my life, I have seen my grandmother die, I have seen my father die, I have seen my grandmother go to jail, and I have actually been through a tremendous amount of a pain as a child," Gandhi said in a 2014 interview with an Indian TV channel.
Even after becoming a lawmaker, he distanced himself from political life, refusing to even call himself a candidate for prime minister. In 2014, he was re-elected in Amethi, considered a Gandhi bastion, by only a thin margin.
Yet, under relentless public scrutiny, Gandhi has honed his public speaking and leadership skills. He now comes across as more confident, forceful and credible, according to political analysts. And he is also starting to come across as a vigorous and even pugnacious campaigner.
In Parliament, where he's represented Amethi since 2004, he had been a backbencher, leaving the party reins largely to his mother, Sonia Gandhi.
But he's started to hit back. One recent barb in particular struck home — he taunted Modi for wearing a monogrammed suit worth $14,400, saying that Modi's "suit-boot" government was only for the rich.
Perhaps most important, Gandhi has shown he has the stomach for a fight, even challenging Modi, a much more experienced politician, to a public debate. Modi has ignored the challenge.
Gandhi's biggest political triumph in 15 years was easily Congress' win in assembly elections in December, wrangling power away from Modi's BJP in the states of Rajasthan, Madya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Suddenly, the BJPs' preferred Gandhi jibe — "pappu," Hindi for greenhorn — began to fall flat.
Suhsmita Dave, head of the Congress party's women's wing, said she has known Gandhi well for a decade and he's basically the same man. The only difference, she said, is that earlier, he held back out of respect for protocol, letting his mother run the party and Manmohan Singh lead the Congress-controlled government.
"He let them get on with their jobs. This gave the BJP a chance to paint him as a reluctant politician," Dave said. "But the truth is that he was never a leader in a hurry. He waited his turn. When it came, he took the bull by the horns and has been vocal and aggressive. There is no point firing your gun until the time is right."
Still, critics say there's a long way to go.
Gandhi brought his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, into the party, appointing her to oversee a post in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh that includes Varanasi, the Hindu holy city where Modi is up for re-election as a member of Parliament. Her popularity has drawn huge crowds to campaign events, but it may not be enough to counter her brother's perceived sluggishness.
Gandhi has been criticized for his low attendance in the last Parliament, showing up just over half the time; for being abroad at critical moments; for describing power as "poison"; for not cultivating a younger generation of Congress leaders; and for failing to fulfill a promise to overhaul his party's hierarchy.
He also was unable to forge an alliance with two important opposition parties in vote-rich Uttar Pradesh to wrest power away from the BJP in the current election. In New Delhi, too, he was unable to tie up with the ruling party to combat the BJP.
Whatever the result of the election, Gandhi is now seen as a feisty opponent, most recently in an interview with the daily Indian Express newspaper.
"That destruction of the idea of an invincible Mr. Modi, that destruction of the lie of Mr. Modi, is primarily the work of the Congress party," he said.