Anadolu Agency—Getty Images
By Amy Gunia
August 2, 2019

Facebook and YouTube appear to have blocked access to a satirical rap video after the Singaporean government allegedly requested its removal over fears it would inflame racial tensions in the city-state, Reuters reported Friday.

The video featured YouTuber Preeti Nair, known as Preetipls, and her brother Subhas Nair, rapping in response to a controversial advertisement featuring an actor of Chinese descent darkening his face to play a Malaysian woman and an Indian man.

Law and home minister K Shanmugam said the government had asked Facebook to remove the clip, which he accused of trying to stir up racial animus against Chinese Singaporeans, Reuters reports.

The video’s removal has sparked concern over the government’s ability to censor content, especially as a fake news law is set to come into effect later this year.

The video did not appear to be accessible from Singapore on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, according to Reuters.

An upload of the three-minute clip on YouTube bore an advisory notice, “This content is not available on this country domain due to a legal complaint from the government.”

Facebook defended the decision to restrict the video. “We may have to restrict access to content because it violates a law in a particular country, even though it doesn’t violate our community standards,” a spokesperson told Reuters.

On Twitter, a notice said the content was restricted in Singapore due to a legal demand, according to Reuters.

The initial, government-backed ad campaign that prompted the controversy was meant to promote cashless payments, but ended up sparking a debate over racial prejudice in the city-state. Singapore is roughly 74% ethnically Chinese, 13% Malay and 9% Indian, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The removal of the expletive-filled video has renewed a debate over free speech in the country.

In May, Singapore passed legislation against fake news which rights groups called a “disaster for online expression by ordinary Singaporeans, and a hammer blow against the independence of many online news portals.”

The law will carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison or fines of up to S$1m ($726,000).

Singapore ranked 151st out of 180 countries – below Myanmar and the United Arab Emirates – on the Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

Write to Amy Gunia at amy.gunia@time.com.

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