DPM Wong confirms true intent behind non-renewal of visas/work permits of Burmese residents in Singapore

September 19, 2008 by · 12 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
19 Sept 2008

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng has confirmed the true intent behind the non-renewal of visas and work permits of some Burmese patriots in Singapore who were involved in peaceful assemblies and demonstrations.

As expected, DPM Wong has affirmed that “persistent defiance of the laws” was the real reason why a number of Burmese nationals working or studying here were asked to leave when their immigration passes expired. (ST, “Myanmar activists ‘defied our laws'”, 18 Sept 2008)

DPM Wong was responding to a question raised in Parliament by Nominated MP Eunice Olsen who had asked if Burma’s military rulers had pressured or requested the Government to clamp down on anti-junta activists and deny them residence in Singapore.

DPM Wong’s statement does not come as a surprise to any of us. The question is, why has the Government taken so long to confirm what we had known all along?

When 6 Burmese patriots were denied renewals of their PR re-entry permits, employment passes, work permits, or social visit passes by the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in July/Aug this year, no reason was provided by the authorities. Even on appeal, no reason was given for the rejections. Why has the Government taken so long to come clean as to the real reason for all this?

DPM Wong said the Burmese nationals disregarded Singapore laws by staging illegal activities, like outdoor protests, to pursue their political agenda.

The purpose of this article is not to judge whether the laws against public assembly of 5 or more persons are just or unjust, or to provide reasons whether this particular law has been selectively applied to suppress dissent. Long time readers know my stand on this.

Rather, I would like to put forward the point that the authorities have displayed a distinct lack of compassion towards the Burmese patriots.

The Overseas Burmese Patriots protested against the murderous actions of the junta against monks and civilians, as well as the sham referendum on the new military-drafted Constitution for Burma. These are just causes that deserve a voice, and these issues affect the lives and families of all Burmese. Why has the Government displayed such insensitivity and lack of compassion by castigating the Burmese who participated in these peaceful demonstrations? These Burmese patriots conducted all their activities peacefully and did not cause any public disturbance or inconvenience, so why are they being judged on the same level as petty criminals?

DPM Wong said that these Burmese “chose to break the law and yet defiantly demand the right to stay in Singapore as an entitlement“.

This statement is loaded and biased. The Burmese patriots never claimed, explicitly or implicitly, that they felt their stay in Singapore was an entitlement. During a press conference on 22 Aug at Peninsula Excelsior Hotel, the host, Mr Myo Myint Maung Marc, emphasized that the Burmese were not seeking special favours, but only the right to be treated fairly.

DPM Wong also said, “They have tried to politicize the issue through the media and through uninformed foreign groups, in the process distorting the actions to remove them from Singapore as being politically motivated.”

In my opinion, it is DPM Wong who is politicizing the issue, not the Burmese patriots. When lives and families are at stake, is it so wrong to go public with the issue so as to make known their plight? If it were a group of Singaporeans who was being victimized in another foreign country, perhaps DPM Wong would also prefer them to remain silent about their plight?

The issue is about civil and political rights, not merely why PCF activity is different from PAP activity

September 17, 2008 by · 6 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
17 Sept 2008

Parliamentary debates sometimes detract from the real underlying issues, with both questioner and responder missing the forest for the trees. This phenomena was again observed during Parliament on Tuesday, 16 Sept 08.

With regards to the PCF event at West Coast Park on 31 Aug 08, Ms Sylvia Lim (NCMP) asked what is the basis upon which a permit was given to enable the Prime Minister to participate in the cycling activity.

Mr Siew Kum Hong (NMP) also asked if there has been any change in the rules and considerations governing the organisation of outdoor events by political parties and organisations affiliated with political parties.

To this, Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs, Associate Prof Ho Peng Kee replied: “The position remains unchanged. Police will not grant permits for outdoor political events. (The) police’s position on outdoor political events is due to the assessed potential for public disorder which politically driven events can lead to, even when this is not intended by the organiser.”

Can this self-serving statement really be taken seriously at all?

Firstly, PAP MP house-to-house visits are certainly “outdoor” political events, even though the interview of residents often takes place indoors, but no one has seen the police stopping PAP MPs from carrying out that activity.

Secondly, if politically driven events always have the potential to lead to disorder, why bother to allow Speaker’s Corner to be used for demonstrations? And why bother to allow election rallies to take place in the run up to an election? Surely, going by Ho Peng Kee’s logic, those have much greater potential for disorder compared to, say, cycling events.

Thirdly, why is it that the Government only regards politically driven events as having the potential for disorder? That appears to be just a little bit too disingenuous. Surely other non-political events like pasar malams and marathons also have the potential for disorder.

Fourthly, the Government’s self-given ability to arbitrarily decide which events are political and which are not ultimately gives the Government a blank cheque to abuse its authority.

In response to Sylvia Lim’s question, Ho Peng Kee said, “Let me first clarify that it was not a cycling event but a Family Day Carnival. The only cycling was when the Prime Minister and the other special guests made their entrance by cycling a short distance from where the Prime Minister had alighted from his car to the stage. Secondly, it was not organized by a political party but by a registered charity.”

But isn’t the PCF affiliated to the PAP?

Ho Peng Kee tried to address this sticky issue by saying: “While it is affiliated to the PAP, the PCF has remained completely non-political since its setup in 1986, running kindergartens, child care, student care and aged care centres, charging very reasonable fees. It also offers community health screening with other providers and raises funds for charitable causes.”

My reply to Ho Peng Kee is exactly as before: Don’t try to FOOL the masses, because you most assuredly can’t. Even though the activities of the PCF are non-political, the way it is branded and its use of the PAP logo such as in kindergartens and child care centres is a subtle form of political advertisement for the PAP. The “soft” political message being sent out by the PCF is that the PAP is intimately involved in your child’s life from very young. Most HDB heartlanders can see and feel that.

But I too have digressed far enough from the real underlying issue.

The key issue at stake here is not so much whether PCF should be seen as a political entity, or the merits or lack thereof of assuming that politically driven events have the potential to become disorderly, but rather, whether Singaporeans are being denied their basic civil and political rights.

If the Government has the arbitrary power to deny a political party the right to carry out all outdoor activities simply by using the excuse that any such activity has the potential to lead to chaos, it is an abrogation of citizens’ basic rights, no more no less.

This consideration alone should make all other considerations pale in comparison.

Revelations from Bukit Merah West NPC

September 16, 2008 by · 19 Comments
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Written by Chia Ti Lik
15 Sept 2008

The morning of 9th September 2008, I visited Bukit Merah West Neighbourhood Police Centre.

I had accompanied Jaslyn to have her statement taken for investigation into having allegedly participated in an illegal assembly in Toa Payoh on national day, 9th August 2008.

The police officer tasked to interview Jaslyn and take down her statement was inspector Tan Sin Choon from Tanglin Police Division. A gutsy lady, Jaslyn turned up in her Tak Boleh Tahan T-shirt. None of the police officers present who were visibly surprised by the move even raised any form of protest — pun intended.

The Investigating Officer recognised me and so requested to take my statement as well. I agreed to have my statement taken after hers. incidentally they had been trying to serve on me a letter but they had not been able to do so.

Always up to some mischief, Jaslyn came out of the interview amused, as she always is. When it came to be my turn, I found out from the questions posed by the IO that the Police are now conducting investigations into SDP-related activities on some rather dubious grounds.

I tried to find out whether it was the AG-C or the SPF which was doing this dirty work on behalf of the ruling party but the only answer I got was that the Head of Investigation had instructed Inspector Tan to do so.

Why were the grounds dubious? Because towards the end of the interview, I was asked a question as to whether I knew that the Miscellaneous Offences Act prohibited the participation in an assembly or procession without a permit to promote a cause or a campaign.

When i heard the above, I literally protested to Inspector Tan. Short of whipping out another banner or placard to protest against the arbitrary expansion of a parliamentary statute, I did all I had with my wits in the position of a suspect in an offence being placed under police investigation in a police interview room. I answered Inspector Tan that there was nothing in the Miscellaneous Offences Act which states so. My statement did proudly record my answer which I later found out.

When I came out of the room, I found out from Jaslyn that she was directed to some website that supposedly says that trying to promote a cause or campaign is one of the prohibited activities. I have since been trying to locate that webpage but to no avail.

Now if what i heard was true, which probably is, I now know that the Parliamentary statute of the Miscellaneous Offences Act has been arbitrarily expanded by the Singapore Police Force or the AG-C.

I entered law school in 1994 and graduated in 1998. I qualified as a lawyer in 1999. Now after 9 years of practice, I discovered something new and something earthshaking — it’s not everyday in practice that that we discover something like this.

This relevation was something out of the ordinary, it was something which I had never expected. Perhaps it was correct that whilst in law school, I had never been an exceptionally bright student. Many a time legal concepts did escape me for awhile before I finally grasped them.

But throughout my training, I thought I had gotten it right all along. That it was Parliament which made statute law and that no one else had the right, mandate or power to do so.

This morning I was confronted with a prospect that the Singapore Police Force and Attorney-General’s Chambers had the power to expand on a Parliamentary statute.

There was no way the Honourable Attorney-General Walter Woon (if he actually knew what was going on and what is being done) could be wrong. For he was my lecturer when i was just a lowly student.

Maybe the authorities are right. I could have missed out something despite all those years of practising law and poring over authorities in law school. I might be dumb. God help me.

It’s official – promoting a cause is illegal: Part II

September 14, 2008 by · 4 Comments
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Written by the Singapore Democrats, 13 Sept 2008.

We reported yesterday how Inspector Tan Sin Choon from the Tanglin Police Division told Ms Jaslyn Go during her interview that promoting a cause or a campaign was considered an illegal activity in Singapore.

We thought Mr Tan had gotten it wrong because the law cannot possibly state that. We thought wrong.

The investigating officer repeated the statement to Mr Chia Ti Lik when the lawyer went down for his interview following Ms Go’s.

“Do you know that the Miscellaneous Offences Act prohibits the participation in an assembly or procession without a permit to promote a cause or a campaign?”

Momentarily stunned, Mr Chia groped for a response. “There’s nothing in the Miscellaneous Offences Act which says that,” the lawyer-cum-accused said when he recovered.

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It’s official – promoting a cause is illegal: Part I

September 13, 2008 by · 4 Comments
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Written by the Singapore Democrats, 12 Sept 2008
Original link

Ms Jaslyn Go walked into the police station on 10 Sep 08 to be questioned for being part of an illegal assembly on National Day this year. The group of activists were distributing Tak Boleh Tahan! flyers at Toa Payoh Central.

So what did Ms Go wear for the interview? The Tak Boleh Tahan T-shirt. It certainly caught the attention of the officers manning the reception counter.

After being greeted by Inspector Tan Sin Choon, Ms Go was ushered into the interview room. When the Inspector started with his questions, Ms Go started with her note-taking.

“You don’t have to take notes while I’m questioning you, you can copy later. I’ll show you the statement at the end,” Inspector Tan said.

When he was done with the questions, Ms Go asked why it was illegal on some occasions to distribute flyers and not on others.

“Pamphleting is not illegal but promoting a campaign or a cause is illegal,” replied the Inspector.

What? Real or not? Since when did promoting a cause or a campaign become illegal? How do these guys come up with such things, anyway?

“Go and ask a lawyer,” the officer said. “Or go to the AG Chamber’s website. Next time if you are unclear go to the police post first and get clearance on whether something is illegal or not before you support it.” Ms Go was beginning to wonder if she was Pyongyang.

Apparently perturbed by her taking down his every word, the officer quickly showed her the section of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, citing that promoting a campaign and cause is an offence. (We’ll talk more about what the Act says in Part II.)

Asked why the police have not taken action against other political parties conducting similar activities, the officer replied that it was because the police did not receive any calls about them.

What about the police statement saying that the Tak Boleh Tahan activity held on 1 May 08, where activists were also distributing flyers at Toa Payoh Central, was legal? Inspector Tan said he was not aware of that and asked Ms Go to send him the information.

Perhaps, the good Inspector should meet with his superiors once in a while and get clued in to what’s going on at his station.

But was the Inspector really so clueless or was he just playing games? When asked the same question by another activist he interviewed, the Inspector revealed that the 1 May TBT event was just distributing flyers. The 9 Aug TBT event is different — it was promoting a cause.

If you’re thoroughly confused at this point, it’s okay, you’re not alone. The inanity of the answer notwithstanding, why did Inspector Tan give two different answers to the same question?

When the questioning was over and the statement finally shown to her, Ms Go started jotting down its content. “You can’t copy my questions, you can only copy your answers,” the officer said.

“How do I know what question I am answering if I don’t copy down the questions especially when most of my answers are ‘Yes’ and ‘No’?”

Appropriately stumped the Inspector reached for his handy-dandy, evade-all-hard-questions, civil-service-manual answer: “It’s the rule.”

That’s the nub of the problem: It’s the rule — real or not, it’s the rule.


September 12, 2008 by · 1 Comment
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Written by See Leong Kit
4 September 2008

Status: rejected for publication

I refer to your article  “A Happy Ending” (Aug 31) on the pathetic ping-pong hoo-haa initiated by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) President-cum-PAP MP Lee Bee Wah and her belated half-baked apology.

As a 60-year old tertiary-educated Senior Citizen, I am outraged, flabbergasted and  disillusioned by its wider implications.

> “Outraged” at the thought of not just one but two female PAP MPs being paid the generous $13,000 monthly part-time MP allowance out of public funds to do what?  To raise the blood pressure of members of the public to unhealthy levels?

Remember how, in the 2006 General Elections, PAP MP Irene Ng had caused a similar tsunami wave of public anger for her dim-witted  “trouble-maker” description of opposition politicians?

Can you really blame justifiably angry Singaporeans for telling these two Malaysian-born imported political talent to  “balek kampong” way ahead of the next 2011 GE?

> “Flabbergasted” at the following glaring disparity and double standards.

On the STTA table-tennis hullabaloo, both Senior Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Junior Sports Minister Teo Ser Luck had devoted nearly one whole week each on damage control and getting the STTA President to say the three simple words of “I Am Sorry”.

Last year, five young national dragon-boaters (age range from 21 to 31) drowned in Cambodia while representing Singapore at an international sports meet.  They were our own home-grown sports talent and truly Sons of Singapore who have completed National Service.

Serving in the Management Committee of the Singapore Dragon Boat Association (SDBA) are Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean (as Advisor),  President Kwek Siew Jin , Deputy President Chng Hee Kok (a former PAP MP) and two current PAP MPs, Dr Lam Pin Min and Dr Fatimah Lateef.

But when the inconsolable grieving parents of the drowned victims sought a simple apology as a form of closure to help them move on, they encountered a deafening dead silence from SDBA officials and the two sports ministers. As a former Navy Chief, surely SDBA President Kwek Siew Jin should know what leadership and accountability are all about?

> “Disillusioned” that, in supposedly First-World Singapore, it seem so difficult for our handsomely-paid public officials to say a simple sorry to the people for fiascos and debacles under their watch.

And this on top of their inability to produce million-dollar solutions to our various national problems to match their million-dollar remunerations.

Instead of addressing the underlying root cause of a national problem, see how they often adopt quick-fix solutions by  “throwing taxpayers’ monies to the problem”.

As in “buying” Olympic medals through handsome rewards for imported sports talent; “buying” voter-support through public-funded HDB upgrading carrots and “buying” babies by dishing out monetary rewards for young couples to indulge in the natural act of procreation.

Are our public officials really aware such approaches will only breed  unthinking  “yes-man” citizens with the crutch mentality of  “me first” and “show me the money”?    Is this good for the long-term future of Singapore (the nation) and Singaporeans (the people)?

Childcare centre tries to profit from subsidy meant for parents

September 12, 2008 by · 4 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
12 Sept 2008

The Government provides a monthly subsidy for working mothers who enlist the services of childcare or infantcare centres. But at least one childcare centre has seen fit to profit from this.

On Thursday, activist housewife Jaslyn Go, who is mother of two kids, tried calling Superland Montessori childcare centre to enquire about its rates for half-day childcare.

The centre’s director, Ms Tung Guo Mei, informed Jaslyn that it would set her back by $600 per month.

However, Jaslyn quickly pointed out that according to the MCYS childcare website, the rates for half-day childcare at Superland Montessori should be $400, not $600. See the screen capture below:

Ms Tung replied that their rates had just been increased, but the MCYS website had yet to be updated.

Jaslyn asked why the rates had increased by so much.

Probably without giving it too much thought, Ms Tung mentioned that their price increases were due to recent heavy subsidies from the Government.

In PM Lee’s National Day Rally speech, it was revealed that working mothers would soon be getting double the amount of monthly subsidies at childcare centres, from $150 to $300. At infantcare centres, their subsidies would also go up, from $400 to $600 a month.

Jaslyn pointed out that these subsidies were meant for parents to help them with the cost of living, not an additional source of profit for childcare centres which were already benefitting from separate MCYS grants.

Taken almost by surprise, Ms Tung hurriedly retracted her words, saying that was not what she meant.

If so, what did she mean?

Ms Tung fumbled further by mumbling something about the choice being up to Jaslyn, and that the price hikes affected all parents. After a short retort from Jaslyn, Ms Tung rudely slammed down the phone.

It is a shame when business people use Government subsidies as an excuse to exploit citizens. It is a further shame when they themselves realize what they are doing, but refuse to face up to it.

Singapore’s political system should do more than evolve — it should undergo fundamental change

September 11, 2008 by · 3 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
11 Sept 2008

In an email interview with MM Lee Kuan Yew ahead of his 85th birthday, the day when Singaporeans would have been eligible to receive payouts under the original CPF Compulsory Annuity scheme, the Straits Times quoted him as saying, “Our political system has to evolve to be in sync with the changes in the world, and in our society.” (ST, “MM: Political system has to evolve”, 10 Sept)

But our political system should do more than evolve. It should undergo fundamental change. We need free and fair elections, not a GRC system that entrenches the incumbent under the guise of multi-racialism. We need a free and independent press, not one that sings the tune of the Executive to the exclusion of other voices. And we need profound changes in our laws, some of which are outdated and irrelevant in the digital age. Laws such as those barring the assembly of 5 or more persons without a permit issued by the authorities, and draconian instruments of power such as the ICA, are archaic instruments of fear and intimidation handed down from our colonial past, and serve no purpose other than to silence dissent. Singaporeans are denied their civil liberties through selective application of the law, under which even the distribution of flyers is considered an offence if the authorities decide so.

Moves to liberalize political space, such as the easing of bans on political films, and other measures described by PM Lee in his National Day rally, amount to mere tokenism that fails to recognize that citizens have fundamental rights and that it is the job of the Government to safeguard these rights rather than subvert them for its own political agenda.

MM Lee also said that Singapore’s economic model combining a good social safety net with low tax rates is not easily copied as each country has a different starting point. (ST, “MM: We’re not easily copied”, 11 Sept)

What about Hong Kong?

There are many good things we have achieved economically, but there are also many negatives that other countries would do well to avoid. The Government’s top-down approach to economic management, the entrenchment of GLCs in major sectors of the economy, and our overly-liberal import of foreigners have resulted in declining labour productivity and stagnating wages for the lower income, who have had to bear the full brunt of rising inflation.

If, in MM Lee’s own words, Singapore must “re-position itself to ride East Asia’s transformation”, then we must first get our own backyard in order. To quote Anwar Ibrahim, “a level (economic) playing field can never be level unless and until the poor and the marginalized are taken out of the vicious cycle.” (spoken at a keynote address on 20th May 2008 at the CLSA Corporate Access Forum in Singapore)

SDP’s policy paper on Land Transport

September 10, 2008 by · 6 Comments
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The physical infrastructure and demographics of Singapore have undergone rapid transformation. Because of this change, there has been a strong demand for better means of transportation in the country.

The latest problems such as the introduction of the Certificate of Entitlement (COE), the overcrowding of the Mass Rapid Transit or MRT, the mushrooming of Electronic Road Pricing system, and the increase in bus and taxi fares have all contributed to the question of whether the Government has managed the land transportation system well. Clearly there is a dire need for a rethink of the policies surrounding these areas.

Electronic Road Pricing

The Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) was introduced in 1998 primarily to restrict the number of motor vehicles entering the Central Business District (CBD). The fees deducted from the cashcards in the vehicles range variously according to place and time.

Since its inception, ERP gantries have been set up in places far away from downtown areas. The number of gantries look set to increase all over the island. Even roads leading away from the city area now have such electronic points that deduct money from motorists who travel home after work.

Obviously, the original idea of relieving traffic congesting in the CBD areas during peak hours is no longer relevant. Rather, the Government’s aim is to collect road revenue whenever and wherever it can.

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Two issues surrounding the Rule of Law in Singapore are cause for concern

September 9, 2008 by · 8 Comments
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Written by Ng E-Jay
09 Sept 2008

Two major issues surrounding the Rule of Law in Singapore, listed below, are continually being raised in the mainstream press. In my opinion, they are cause for concern, because they reflect ambiguities and misconceptions about the Rule of Law that if left unchecked could lead to abuse of power by the Executive.

Issue 1: Should human rights considerations influence the law?

Contrary to what Attorney-General Walter Woon has suggested in the past, human rights considerations, in my opinion, should have great influence on the law.

Section 377A of the penal code, which criminalizes sex between two consenting males, is one good example of the law directly impacting human rights. You cannot ignore the human rights dimension when you are speaking about issues such as discrimination and the right to privacy — issues that Section 377A indirectly touches on. Section 377A declares that the legality of a sex act is dependent on the gender of the persons involved. This, in my view, is an absurd notion fit for an archaic time when slavery was still practised in the Western world, not for the 21st Century when mankind can fit a billion transistors into microchip and send unmanned vehicles to the furthest reaches of the solar system.

In an article published in TODAY newspaper on 08 Sept entitled “Why keep such an archaic statute when there’s no intention to prosecute?”, Ho Kwon Ping says, “There is a difference between (gays) being tolerated because gays are seen to be at the leading edge of the ‘creative class’ — which Singapore is trying to develop as part of its new knowledge-based, creativity-oriented economy — and being accepted because of the recognition that fundamental human rights and the dignity of the individual extends to gays as much as to anyone else.”

Issue 2: Is it mockery of the Law to keep a rule with no intention to prosecute?

Besides Section 377A, some laws governing online political content created by non-partisan individuals fall into this category as well. These issues were discussed at length in the paper submitted by the Bloggers 13 group to MICA in April earlier this year, and also addressed by the recent AIMS report.

My answer to this question is a firm YES. It is both a mockery of the Law to keep rules that are merely symbolic, as a method of intimidation, as a token gesture that is only meant to pander to the so-called conservative segment of society.

In the TODAY article, Ho Kwon Ping writes, “To those who believe that the non-persecution of gays is already something to be grateful for, one could argue that allowing a black person to sit in the front of the bus while legally forbidding it, is something to be grateful for. Or, in an analogy closer to home for the supposedly homophobic heartlanders, should a Chinese person be grateful if the edict forbidding Chinese and dogs to enter parks in Shanghai in the ’20s were relaxed in reality, but maintained in the law? … … to criminalise gay sex and, in the same breath, state that anyone breaching this law will not be prosecuted, makes a mockery of the Rule of Law.”

In reality, certain laws and statutes are retained by the Executive so that it can selectively apply them to suppress political dissent. Such laws clearly serve only the interests of those in power, and not the general public. Examples of such laws were discussed in detail in the Proposals for Internet Freedom submitted by the Bloggers 13 group.

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