TIME Singapore

Singapore Has Banned an Archie Comic for Depicting a Gay Wedding

In an installment of Life With Archie first published in 2012, the franchise tackled the issue of gay marriage head on — by putting it on the cover. The Hollywood Reporter

A recent crackdown on publications discussing homosexuality sheds light on Singapore's traditional moral values and notoriously restricted press

State media censors in Singapore have banned the sale of an Archie comic book for its frank presentation of gay marriage, a matter that remains socially taboo and legally verboten in Southeast Asia’s most developed state.

Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA) censored the comic book, first published in January 2012, earlier this year, but the ban is only just now coming to light — a week after another state agency removed three children’s books promoting tolerance of same-sex relationships from the national library’s shelves.

The third installment in Archie: The Married Life, one of several spinoff series in the multifarious Archie universe, features the wedding of Kevin Keller, a gay character whose creation in 2010 earned writer Dan Parent a GLAAD Media Award last year. (In the latest volume, Archie dies taking a bullet for Kevin, now a U.S. Senator.)

As critic Alyssa Rosenberg noted Wednesday in The Washington Post, the 75-year-old comic book franchise has in recent years adopted a distinctly political subtext, taking on issues of topical significance as they come: Kevin, a gay solider, was introduced as the Obama administration was deliberating the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; Archie’s interracial marriage made the cover in 2012.

Social progressivism isn’t really Singapore’s forte, though.

“[We]… found its content to be in breach of guidelines because of its depiction of the same sex marriage of two characters in the comic,” an MDA spokesperson said in a statement to TIME. “We thus informed the local distributor not to import or distribute the comic in retail outlets.”

In its guidelines for imported publications, the MDA prohibits comics and other illustrated material that depict or discuss “alternative lifestyles or deviant sexual practices,” listing homosexuality as an example of such (alongside “group sex and sadomasochism”).

Such stringent regulations are par for the course in Singapore, where social conservatism reigns supreme and strict curbs are placed on the dissemination of information. The country ranks 149th of the 179 countries listed in the 2013 Press Freedom Index — between Iraq and Vladimir Putin’s Russia — earning it the distinction of having the least free press of any developed economy in the world.

Concerning the recent purge of homosexual content, though, these restrictions may not be completely unwelcome. Sodomy, although rarely prosecuted, is criminalized as an act of “gross indecency,” and the majority of citizens, according to one survey, still take a “conservative approach” to marital and family matters. Indeed, the MDA claims to predicate its censorship decisions upon “public feedback or complaints,” and only turned its attention to the Archie comic after receiving a number of grievances.

TIME Burma

Burmese Journalists Sentenced to a Decade in Prison With Hard Labor

Myanmar Journalist Protest
Burmese journalists hold banners as they protest for press freedom outside the office of the Daily Eleven newspaper in Rangoon on Jan. 7, 2014. Khin Maung Win—AP

Five journalists were handed astonishingly harsh sentences for reporting about an alleged chemical-weapons plant in the central part of the country

Burma may no longer be a pariah state, but its courts have shown that the government’s authoritarian tendencies are alive and well.

On Thursday, a court in Pakokku Township sentenced the CEO of the Unity Weekly current-affairs magazine, and four of its reporters, to a decade in prison with hard labor for publishing an article earlier this year about the possible existence of a chemical-weapons factory in central Burma.

“This is blatant bullying of media workers by the government’s judicial and executive sectors,” Unity reporter Lu Maw Naing told Burmese broadcaster DVB Multimedia as policemen hustled him out of the courthouse.

Following the publication of the article in January, the government cracked down hard on the periodical. It was hit with a lawsuit by the President’s Office, issues of the magazine were seized and reporters were arrested. The journal was soon shuttered as financial pressures mounted.

While the government has confirmed the existence of the factory, Naypyidaw says it is for standard munitions and denies allegations that chemical weapons are being produced on the grounds. The claims are impossible to independently verify because Burma is a not signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The former generals at the country’s helm remain sensitive about reporting on weapons programs launched by the former junta. Despite the easing of a smattering of sanctions against Burma in the past two years, several nations, including the U.S., have refused to drop sanctions that target members of the country’s shady military.

Thursday’s ruling is the latest in a series of developments that belie Burma’s reformist narrative. Opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi remains barred from holding the country’s highest office, the internal peace process is stagnating and the rise of Buddhist nationalism has ripped massive holes in the diverse country’s delicate social fabric.

In addition, the fourth estate now appears to be firmly in the government’s crosshairs. In the past year, reporters from DVB and Eleven Media have been jailed, and in May the government deported a foreign journalist for covering a press-freedom rally. The palpable optimism that wafted over the nation three years ago is waning rapidly.

“I think [this case] shows the true colors of this government,” Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy news magazine, tells TIME. “It’s a real reminder of the old days under the previous repressive regime.”

During a radio address to the nation earlier this month, President Thein Sein boasted that Burma’s media environment was one of the freest in Southeast Asia. However, he added the caveat that journalists who undermine “national security” would be punished.

“[If] media freedom threatens national security instead of helping the nation, I want to warn all that we will take effective action under existing laws,” said Thein Sein, according to a state-run publication.

Just a week later, the threat became reality for the reporters of Unity Weekly. The administration relied on the colonial-era Official Secrets Act to wallop the journalists rather than prosecuting them through newly passed media legislation.

“The authorities are clearly shifting from rule of law to rule by law,” says Benjamin Ismail, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk.

“They are just trying to justify their censorship and repression of the press by showing the international community that legal procedures are followed and everything is normal.”

Editors on the ground say the financially ruinous lawsuit launched against Unity is part of the government’s elaborate strategy to silence dissent. With myriad publications struggling to keep their head above the water in the impoverished country, any legal action could prove disastrous.

“There’s a clear glass ceiling from the owners or the business side,” says Toe Zaw Latt, DVB’s Burma bureau chief. “Once there is trouble, of course you lose money.”

Harassment of editors also appears to be on the rise. In the past two weeks, numerous press offices have reportedly been party to unannounced visits from officers from the military’s special branch.

“They come to our office and other media offices asking petty questions: ‘How are you making money?’ ‘Are you making a lot of business?’ ‘Are you making a profit?’” says Aung Zaw. “It’s clearly intimidation.”

TIME Egypt

Al-Jazeera Reporter in Egypt Freed After Hunger Strike

Abdullah Elshamy
Al-Jazeera Arabic service journalist Abdullah Elshamy, who had been on hunger strike for more than four months to protest his prolonged detention without charges, speaks to the media after his release from detention in Cairo on Tuesday, June 17, 2014. Nariman El-Mofty—AP

Citing concerns about his deteriorating health, Egyptian authorities released a journalist for the news service al-Jazeera on Tuesday after jailing him without charges for more than 10 months.

Abdullah Elshamy, 26, was thin, weak and still dressed in a prison uniform as he walked out of a police station near Cairo following a 147-day hunger strike, CBS News reports.

“I won,” he said to reporters.

Elshamy was among a group of al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt after the military retook control of the country last year following the overthrow of elected President Mohamed Morsi. Three of Elshamy’s fellow al-Jazeera reporters remain jailed for lending support to the Muslim Brotherhood and are facing terrorism-related charges, which they deny.

The journalists’ arrests are part of a wider crackdown on press freedom in Egypt that has not improved since the June 3 inauguration of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

[CBS News]

 

TIME Syria

Spanish Journalists Held Captive in Syria Are Freed

Syria Journalists
In this file photo taken on May 24, 2012, Spanish reporters Javier Espinosa, right, and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, left, pose for a photo in Barcelona. The two Spanish journalists were freed after being held captive for six months in Syria by a rogue al-Qaida group. Joan Borras—AP

Veteran correspondent Javier Espinosa and award-winning photographer Ricardo García Vilanova, who were kidnapped by an extremist group while reporting in Syria six months ago, have been freed by their captors and are back home in Spain

Two Spanish journalists who were kidnapped in Syria six months ago and freed on Saturday are now back home in Spain, the daily newspaper El Mundo reports.

Veteran war correspondent Javier Espinosa and Ricardo García Vilanova, an award-winning freelance photographer, were released to the Turkish military near Tal Abyad, a Syrian town close to where the pair was abducted on Sept. 16.

Espinosa’s wife, Mónica García Prieto, posted a tweet on Saturday that read Felicidad pura, or “Pure happiness.” After his return, Espinosa said, “Thanks to those who made ​​it possible for us to come home.”

The journalists were originally abducted alongside several Free Syrian Army fighters and held at a detention facility in Raqqa by a brigade of the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The group, which released the fighters after less than two weeks, is thought to be holding dozens more aid workers, religious figures and journalists.

Fears that Espinosa was in trouble began when his Twitter followers noticed his account went silent on Sept. 15. Word of his capture began to spread quietly, but a media blackout was imposed until El Mundo went public in December.

Syria is the most dangerous location in the world for journalists, press freedom groups say. The Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 29 journalists were killed there in 2013 and another 61 were detained. About 30 journalists are still believed to be held throughout the country.

Some of the more high-profile cases included that of American journalists Austin Tice, who went missing in August 2012 while reporting near Damascus, and James Foley, kidnapped three months later as he was leaving Syria. Families of both reporters initially chose not to publicize their cases but have since initiated massive support and information-gathering campaigns.

The French government has also been working for months to secure the release of reporter Didier Francois and photographer Edouard Elias, who disappeared in June.

[El Mundo]

TIME press freedom

Another Brazen Attack on Hong Kong Media Sends a Chill Through the City

Journalists and their supporters stand in a five minutes silent around a huge banner reads " They can't kill us all " during a rally outside the government headquarter in Hong Kong, March 2, 2014 Vincent Yu—AP

The assault raises fears for media freedom in China's most open metropolis

Just three weeks after noted Hong Kong editor Kevin Lau was stabbed in the street, masked men set upon two newspaper executives with iron bars — the latest attack in the only city in China accustomed to freedom of the press.

The assault took place on Thursday, outside the Hong Kong Science Museum in the tourist-friendly Tsim Sha Tsui area of Kowloon. The victims were executives for the soon-to-be launched Hong Kong Morning News. The four assailants then sped away in a car.

The brazen nature of this attack has increased concerns for media freedom in the Chinese Special Administrative Region, or SAR.

“This latest incident only underscores the deepening shadows being cast over the media landscape in Hong Kong from violence, intimidation and interference by political and commercial interests,” read a statement from Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

The victims were Hong Kong Morning News Media Group Ltd vice-president and director Lei Lun-han, 46, and senior executive Lam Kin-ming, 54. Both were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Hong Kong Journalists Association chairperson Sham Yee-lan struck a defiant note. “Increased violence against the media is very intimidating for the industry as a whole,” she said, “but at the same time, as we saw with the recent rally, this type of violence gets the industry more united.”

Hundreds marched on Mar. 2 to protest the earlier attack on Lau, the former editor of the Chinese language daily Ming Pao, consistently one of Hong Kong’s most trusted newspapers.

On Feb. 26, Lau was slashed six times on the back and legs, inflicting horrific wounds including one gash 16cm (6in) long. His attacker then sped away on the back of a motorbike ridden by another person, in what was described by police as a “classic Triad hit.” (Triads are Hong Kong’s organized criminal gangs.)

Lau was replaced as chief editor by Malaysian journalist Chong Tien Siong in January, prompting a furious response from staff. He was moved to a new post within the group’s e-books and teaching materials division, in a shift many said was punishment for aggressively pursuing corruption and human-rights stories deemed embarrassing to Mainland China.

Ming Pao is owned by Malaysian tycoon Tiong Hiew King, who has business interests in China. After the attack on Lau, the company offered a $120,000 reward for information leading to arrests.

Eleven people have so far been arrested in connection with the attack on Lau, including two suspected “hitmen” with ties to the Triads. However, police commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung has come in for criticism, after he initially said that there was “nothing to tie the attack directly to Lau’s journalistic work.”

“Saying that the attack was not related to his job … somehow gives the public the impression that Kevin is hiding something, which is absolutely not true,” says Sham.

Ronny Tong, a Hong Kong legislator and barrister, tells TIME that his confidence in the police “is beginning to wane” and officers should concentrate on finding rather than interpreting evidence.

“For [Tsang] to suggest there is no evidence that the attack has anything to do with his work with the press seems to suggest that his mind is made up, which is regrettable,” says Tong.

Although Hong Kong, as a SAR, enjoys markedly less censorship than the mainland, it does boast an incongruous history of attacks on journalists and media personalities.

Nevertheless, Tong says things never have been “as serious” as the present climate. “We have almost reached a critical moment in the history of Hong Kong,” he says. “The media is under unprecedented attack.”

Hong Kong was ranked 61st in the world for press freedom in 2014, down from 18th place when Reporters Without Borders complied its first survey in 2002.

TIME press freedom

Western Journalist Shot Dead in Afghanistan

Swedish journalist Nils Horner.
Swedish journalist Nils Horner. Mattias Ahlm—Sveriges Radio/EPA

Nils Horner, the South Asia correspondent for Swedish Radio, was reportedly shot dead by gunmen in broad daylight—a rare, brazen attack on a foreigner near the city's diplomatic district

A British-Swedish journalist was shot dead in Kabul on Tuesday, in a brazen attack in a busy section of the city that many worry is a harbinger of future security issues in Afghanistan’s capital.

Nils Horner, 52, the South Asia correspondent for Swedish Radio, was killed assassination-style by a pair of gunmen in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, an area populated with embassies, western nongovernmental organizations and journalists, the Washington Post reports. Afghan police said Horner, who was identified by the Swedish embassy, was on his way to visit a Lebanese restaurant Taverna du Liban that was bombed in January, killing 21 people, mostly foreigners.

Horner had spoken to the news desk earlier in the morning, Anne Lagercrantz, head of news at Swedish Radio, told the AP. Upon seeing the news that a foreign journalist had been shot, staffers aimed to contact their colleague by email but received no response. When they called his cell phone, Lagercrantz added, a doctor answered to say Horner was the victim.

Cilla Benkö, the chief executive of Swedish Radio, confirmed initial reports that gunmen shot Horner in the back of the head and fled the scene. Horner was taken to the hospital where he died from his injuries, the Post reports. Afghan police said two suspects had been arrested.

Benkö said Horner always took the appropriate safety precautions in these types of reporting situations. “This was his life,” he said. “He didn’t want to do anything else.”

During an interview in 2011, Horner, who was known for coverage from Afghanistan in 2001, Baghdad in 2003 and Thailand following the tsunami in 2004, elaborated about the risks of radio field reporting: “We don’t feel the same pressure to always be in the middle of a firefight, or something like that, but of course we want to be as close as possible,” he said. “You almost have to sort of, everyday, ask yourself is this worth doing—taking the risk—or is it not?”

Although Kabul has often been the scene of bomb attacks on government buildings, the city has rarely seen such an attack on a civilian in broad daylight, on the edges of an area the Guardian describes as “the heavily fortified diplomatic district.” A Taliban spokesman said the group was not claiming responsibility, but that they would speak with insurgent groups who may have been responsible for Horner’s killing.

[Washington Post]

TIME Hong Kong

Stabbing of Former Hong Kong Newspaper Editor Raises Press-Freedom Fears

A policeman stands guard next to former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau's car after Lau suffered from a chopper attack in Hong Kong Feb. 26, 2014 Tyrone Siu / Reuters

Kevin Lau, who was ousted as chief editor of Ming Pao newspaper in January, lies in critical condition in hospital following attack on Wednesday morning

Kevin Lau, the former chief editor of Hong Kong’s centrist newspaper Ming Pao, currently lies in a critical condition after he was brutally stabbed three times in the street Wednesday morning.

Lau was attacked in his usual breakfast haunt in the territory’s Sai Wan Ho neighborhood. His assailant left on a motorbike driven by a second man. Police have organized roadblocks and are combing the area.

“Police told me that he suffered three knife wounds in the back and leg,” Lau’s wife, Vivien Chan, told the South China Morning Post by phone. Hospital reports indicate that his lung may have been damaged during the attack.

Lau’s ousting last month sparked protests over perceived diminishing press freedom in the semiautonomous Chinese territory, and although no explicit link has been made, speculation is rife that the attack was somehow connected.

On Wednesday, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) released a statement that urged the authorities to pursue “those malignant forces behind” whoever wielded the knife.

“I have known Kevin since the ’80s, and knowing his family background and his character, I simply cannot think of any personal reason why anyone would want to attack him, not to mention try to kill him,” HKJA chairperson Sham Yee-lan tells TIME.

(MORE: Hong Kong Protesters March for Democracy)

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in a statement that he and his entire Administration “feel indignant” and vowed to search out those responsible. “Hong Kong is a society of the rule of law, and we are absolutely intolerant about violence of this kind,” he said.

Lau was replaced as chief editor of Ming Pao, consistently one of Hong Kong’s most trusted newspapers, by Malaysian journalist Chong Tien Siong in January, prompting a furious response from staff. (Lau was handed a new post within the group’s electronic-books-and-teaching-materials division.)

Many local journalists claimed that Lau’s removal was punishment for pursuing corruption and human-rights stories deemed embarrassing to Beijing. On Jan. 20, more than 100 Ming Pao staff stood outside their offices dressed in black and observed a five-and-half minute period of silence in protest. In addition, four senior writers submitted blank columns that day, while 90% of the 270-strong editorial department signed a petition demanding an explanation. Ming Pao is owned by Malaysian tycoon Tiong Hiew King, who has business interests in China.

The case was seized upon by many in the media as an indication of perceived encroachment by Beijing in Hong Kong’s vibrant media sphere. Despite the 1997 transformation from British colony into China’s Special Administrative Region, the city has maintained a high degree of autonomy and enjoys markedly less censorship than the mainland.

This, critics say, has been on the wane in recent years. On Sunday, around 2,000 journalists and supporters marched through central Hong Kong to highlight a creeping culture of self-censorship, where big Chinese business exerts an inordinate influence on editorial policy.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Hong Kong 61st in the world for press freedom in 2014, down from 18th place when the survey was first complied in 2002.

(MORE: On the Streets of Hong Kong, a Vast Display of Discontent)

“Incidents of physical violence have increased,” says Sham, “and at the same time the invisible violence is also happening.”

Despite enjoying remarkable low crime rates, Hong Kong has an incongruous history of attacks on outspoken media figures. On June 30, three masked men threatened distribution workers for the Chinese-language Apple Daily newspaper with knives, before burning 26,000 copies. Jimmy Lai, the millionaire owner of Next Media Group, which publishes the tabloid, is renowned for often vitriolic criticism of China. A few days earlier, a stolen car was driven into the front gate at Lai’s home, and then an ax and machete were placed outside of the group’s headquarters.

Most infamously, back in 1998, radio host Albert Cheng suffered deep slashes on his arms, back and right leg that required six hours of surgery after he was set upon by unknown assailants. Cheng’s then radio show, Teacup in a Tempest, was the most listened-to morning program in Hong Kong at the time, and frequently took aim at Beijing.

Earlier this month, a talk-show host often critical of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, Li Wei-ling, was sacked from her job at Commercial Radio. In a recent statement made before the attack on Lau, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists expressed concern over “the frequency and pattern of media incidents that range from physical attacks and death threats though to attempts to influence media independence by economic forces and direct political interference.”

Lau was a “moderate who was not an extremely outspoken critical type of journalist,” says Joseph Cheng, chair of political science at Hong Kong’s City University. “Despite the internal row in Ming Pao, he kept a very low profile and decided to stay in the company.”

As Lau fights for his life, a city wonders when the printed word became such a high-stakes game.

MORE:Edward Snowden Comes Forward as NSA Whistle-Blower, Surfaces in Hong Kong

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