Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Nothing to Yell about, Yahoo! - #OPavalon

On the afternoon of 6 November 2012, I was one of three members of the SG Twitterverse who made our way to Elaine Chiam's (@avalon) apartment after seeing a series of tweets that were a serious cause for concern.

While the support and concern shown on Twitter was overwhelming, an article from Yahoo! Singapore was disappointing, full of factual errors and unfortunately, widely circulated.

So let's set the story straight.

Yahoo! Singapore understands that Chiam was due to see her psychiatrist at 5:15pm later on Tuesday but got drunk, sparking the torrent of suicidal tweets. 

This is what happens when tweets are used as fact. As real as tweets may be, they must be taken in context. It is not alcohol that sparked a "torrent of suicidal tweets", it was the major depressive disorder that Yahoo! SG mentioned in their article. This is a serious, clinical condition and what happened yesterday should not be confused with a drunken tirade.

 Police arrived at her HDB flat in Ubi Avenue 1, which she shares with her mother and boyfriend, shortly after 430pm. Singapore Civil Defence Force staff was also called in to force open the door after she failed to respond to friends who had gathered outside her flat. 

This is untrue.

Firstly, Elaine's mother does not even live in the same country.

Secondly, The SCDF arrived first. SCDF then called the police, who arrived shortly after. 

Another thing worth noting is that no one came to "force open the door". The police found a side window that was unopened, one of them jumped in (quite amusingly, this was met with guffaws of approval from the rest) and opened the door from inside.

The "friends who had gathered outside" were myself, @debsho22 and @tumblenc. And we did not simply gather, we had been trying to get in for hours by the time SCDF arrived. This included talking to neighbours, checking if her bedroom windows were open from the back of the flat, trying to break into her door and windows, calling her doctor, searching the neighbourhood for her and keeping the rest of our twitter family informed. This was public on twitter because this is where the people who care and are concerned about Elaine are. Unlike other parties that chose to involve themselves, we did not do it for a story, popularity, RTs  or followers. 

Getting the police involved was our last resort, and the SCDF arrived just as we had run out of other options. Unknown to us at the time, Yahoo SG had taken a step away from their position as a news source and became personally involved by making a call to SCDF. Besides the fact that such interference identifies the news source as one that is open to manipulation for the purpose of sensationalised reporting, this brings us to what troubles us most: 

According to one of her friends who communicated with Yahoo! Singapore, Chiam was found barely conscious and is now being treated at Changi General Hospital.

There are three people who were present at the time Elaine was found. That means there were three people who would have been in a position to communicate that to Yahoo! SG, because there are three people who would have seen her level of consciousness. None of those three people spoke to Yahoo.

What probably happened is that a tweet to a concerned friend was picked up, reworded and published as fact for the story.

Twitter is public and I can't stop anyone from taking information from my feed. But don't say that we communicated with Yahoo! Singapore when we didn't. If information or a quote was required, Yahoo! could've asked us. If Yahoo! wanted to quote tweets from us, the information could've been presented as a tweet from Elaine's friend. But instead, Yahoo chose to grab the information most easily available and sell it as fact without any attempt to verify if the information was correct, accurate, or if it was at all appropriate to publish this information.

I also refer to this part of the article:

Last year in October, Chiam was rescued from another suicide attempt at Changi Beach after sending out a series of tweets describing her struggle with a “suicidal desire”.
She referred to the rescue last year when she tweeted on Tuesday, "twitter. pls.stop rescuing me. i really wan to die. i never meant for anyone to read what i type."

Do not make assumptions as to what a person refers to in a tweet. Elaine's friends on twitter always reach out to her and help her; are you sure this tweet was in reference to last year's rescue? I'm a good friend of Elaine's and I'm not sure. How is it that you are?

And finally, this:

Rather than a means to seek attention, Yahoo! understands that her tweets are used as a support network for her to alert her circle of friends whenever she feels depressed. 

I'm curious, how exactly does Yahoo! understand this? Like many of us, Elaine tweets her thoughts, feelings, fears, observations, whatever she wants to tweet. While I might agree that Twitter in general is a supportive network of friends and strangers, these tweets are not used as a means to alert us. Again, why didn't anyone stop to ask?

It is with great regret that I am forced to assume that  Yahoo! Singapore did not want to report the news; they wanted to post an exciting story as fast as they could. This was done with all journalistic integrity or dedication to at least trying (and it wouldn't have been hard) to get the facts right thrown out the window.

It more even more regrettable that this was done at the expense of my friend; Elaine, to many of us is, more than just breaking news. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

#freeSKLO: You Can't Arrest an Idea

It's going more viral than the stickers themselves: Sam Lo #SKLO arrested for the street art that everyone has come to love, laugh at or appreciate in various ways. 

But it comes down to a lot more than a random street artist or young hooligan being put in her place. This is about culture, about creativity, about allowing local trailblazers to do their thing and put us on the map. It's also about stepping outside of the boundaries, looking at other "creative hubs"and seeing what causes creativity to prosper i love banksy and knowing what works.

As someone on Facebook pointed out, the penalty for drink-driving is notably more serious than for this guerilla street art. We're telling our beloved foreign talents and tourists that we care more about how we look than about how we treat our people; we want to live up to our pristine, anti-chewing gum image (but we're also really cool and creative, y'know?). Street art and face jail time,  DUI and you've got a fine and maybe they won't let you drive for a bit.

 Singapore has been trying unsuccessfully for a while to secure the image of a creative, cultural, happening place to be. We bring in top bands and artists from around the world, pay millions of dollars to keep our entertainment scene thriving, and throw in token amounts to promote local artists.

But what we've got here, thanks to skLo, is art that is entirely our own - it's Singaporean, it's DIY, and it speaks to the people who fill the streets and create our culture well the ones who have been here a while anyway.No one was offended by it. Everyone loved it. Everyone was talking about it, and thanks to the arrest, everyone will continue talking about it for a while.

What we're saying is that we want to be seen as cool without loosening the ropes: a prerequisite for actually being cool.
We want to diversify our portfolio with art and music and sport, but we will arrest those who do just that.. unless they are done in ways that have been assigned to us.
We will embrace an increasingly open arts scene where some nudity, profanity and once-taboo subjects like homosexuality can be in the spotlight, but we will shun a person's never-seen-before creativity because, well, it wasn't on the menu and you can't serve what hasn't been ordered by those on top.

Dear Ministers, Law, State and whoever else lies behind this arrest: This is the creativity you wanted. We've had it in us for a long time, and creativity presents itself whether or not you're ready for it. Look around online. The people have spoken. We're ready for it. We want her back. We're rallying for Sam.

Make the first step in your quest to be cool and for the love of all you've been allegedly aiming for, set Samantha Lo free.

More to Read:

MICA Review:

Kiss My Culture 

The Aaron Loy

CNA Reports

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

SlutWalk Singapore's Response to NCPC: We're Not Staying Silent

Statement from Slutwalk Singapore on Nation Crime Prevention Council's Festive Season Crime Prevention Campaign

4 January 2012

In November 2011 the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) launched a new campaign titled Festive Season Crime Prevention Campaign. The campaign features various incidents where crimes are likely to take place. Namely, a man about to reach into a woman's bag for her valuables, a man breaking into a home and a group of young men roughed up after a fight. The message: to prevent yourselves from becoming a victim during the festive season by being alert to your surroundings, avoiding confrontation and securing your home with strong grills and locks.

At the same time, one of these collaterals features a woman about to be groped by a man. The advice given is to have someone escort you home when it's late and to avoid walking through dimly lit and secluded areas alone. The caption: Don't get rubbed the wrong way.

In response to SlutWalk Singapore's comment on Facebook questioning the victim-blaming nature of the campaign, the following response was received:

Many thanks for taking time to read our NCPC adverts developed for our festive season crime prevention campaign.

In response to SlutWalker Singapore x Kuala Lumpur's comment on the outrage of modesty (OM) poster, we would like to share that the messages were crafted to address the public in general. Through this advertising campaign, we hope to
remind people to take extra precaution so that they do not become victims of crime during this festive season. This same approach is taken for our other messages - burglary, pickpocketing & housebreaking.

We hope that we have addressed your concerns.

We wish to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year.

NCPC Administrative

Slutwalk Singapore would firstly like to thank NCPC for their response, and similarly extend our festive greetings for the new year.

More importantly, we would like to address the implications in the campaign and NCPC's more recent response.

The similar approach to other messages, as cited by NCPC, such as burglary, pickpocketing and housebreaking calls into question the very basis of Slutwalk both in Singapore and around the world.

NCPC refers to the similarities between a campaign to prevent unlawful access to a person's property and to a person's body. SlutWalk Singapore would like to point out the differences.

While Slutwalk Singapore agrees that caution is necessary and can decrease the chances of unlawful acts against a person, this is secondary to the nature of our cause.

Claiming that a similar approach can be taken to protecting your property and your body is akin to saying that breaking someone's window and breaking someone's arm is the same thing. By the same token, is breaking into someone's home the same as breaking into a person's body?

Indeed it is wrong for a person's property to be unlawfully gained, damaged or used in any way without their consent. But more importantly, a person's body is something far more sacred and personal than any object one owns. Slutwalk Singapore stands against this clear objectification of a woman's body and argues against NCPC's stand that a similar approach should be taken to protect a woman's body and a woman's mobile phone.

To say Don't Steal, Don't Rob and Don't Fight are all worthy causes that should also be addressed. But at the core of Slutwalk Singapore's cause lies a very simple message: Don't Rape.

Walking down a dark alley alone is neither the most common circumstance for assault nor is it an invitation for unwelcome advances. With this in mind, Slutwalk Singapore would like to reiterate our aversion to the campaign and once again remind the relevant authorities that under no circumstances is any form of rape or assault the victim's fault, nor has she contributed to the crime in any way by means of her being alone at night or returning home unescorted.

Slutwalk Singapore

Saturday, December 3, 2011

SlutWalk Singapore: More Talk, Less Shame

A while ago, I was involved in a photoshoot for SlutWalk SG. It was for an art exhibition, so I agreed without hesitation. In the context of art, it was safe; it was acceptable to sit by the river in the middle of the day, legs open, cleavage showing, the word SLUT between my thighs. To make a point and in the name of art, sure I'd do it.

Yesterday I asked for the photo, planning to use it as a profile picture this SlutWalk weekend. But I couldn't. A picture of myself in a provocative position taken in an artistic context, now removed from the safety of a gallery and entering the mainstream. I wasn't a subject anymore, I was just me.

This is where the beauty of SlutWalk comes in. The reason why it's so powerful. The reason why we need it.

I felt ashamed, and it was a familiar feeling. This is what slut-shaming is about.

When I was 16, I was told by someone I was involved with who was literally twice my age that no one would love me for anything because I was more trouble than I was worth, that this was as good as it would get for me. This went on for a long time. At 16, I believed it, and continued to believe it for a long time after, and I was ashamed that I amounted to so little.

When I was 18, I was working at a bar and one day at a staff party, my manager, who was standing behind me, lets his hand wander down my top. I left. I cried. I told. He eventually denies it and says, "She must've been drunk, why would I want to touch her?" and he gets away with it. And I was ashamed that I let him get away with it. He was supposed to be looking out for me.

When I was 19, I was at a New Years Eve party at a relative's house, and a family friend who was a few years older than me also let his hand sneak into my sexy new top that I didn't think much about wearing because, hey, it's just going to be family, right? It happened right there in the middle of all the festivities while taking a group photo. I felt like an interesting ornament on a table you play with when you're bored. I was ashamed and felt like I was naked in the middle of a crowded room. I thought that if this could happen to me in front of my whole family and go unnoticed, I must hardly be a challenge; I must hardly be worth the chase. And till today I am ashamed that I manage to pretend like I don't remember on the rare occasion that I see him.

This feeling of shame began when I was 16 and it has gone on for 8 years, with all these and countless other experiences, most less traumatic, some a lot more. And I think it's time to stop the shame. For me, and for every girl who has ever felt anything like this.

I wish I'd believed at 16 that I was so much better than that. I wish I believed at 18 that it wasn't my fault because I'd had too much to drink, or that at 19, it wasn't my fault because I was wearing a sexy top.

I believe it now, and here's where the shame stops. With SlutWalk in mind, I'm going to stop being ashamed a little more every day. And if that means speaking up about issues I've never told anyone, then let's do it. Because if I believed when I was 16 what I believe now, I would have spent a lot less time out of the past 8 years being ashamed, and a lot more time being outraged and working towards a solution.

We have a right to be angry. And we have a right to be outraged. But there's no reason why we should be ashamed; we shouldn't be and we mustn't be.

It's hard to talk about this because we've been told not to talk about it. Go with the flow, keep the peace, don't rock the boat. But we should talk about it, because every time we talk about something that's hard to talk about, it gets a tiny bit easier.

For me, for us, for every girl who has had it far worse and lives with painful secrets, this is the plan and it begins with SlutWalk Singapore: More Talk, Less Shame.

Find out more about SlutWalk Singapore.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Racial Harmony & My Colourless Cave

Note: First featured on Facebook and The Singapore Daily.

There's been an article circulating the web called You Can't Arrest The Racist Out of Someone.

It's well-written and the writer makes several good points. But reading articles like this, and the sentiment has been expressed quite a bit, makes me sad. Because where I went to school, where I live and where I work, racial harmony was never an issue.

In secondary school, my tight group of friends in Katong Convent were a mixture of all sorts of different races. We had Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, Others (me) and hell, we even had Nepalese. No one made an effort to subscribe to the idea of Racial Harmony that has been continuously drilled into the minds of young ones. We were just friends who happened to be of different races, occasionally separated during Mother Tongue classes and sometimes curious about each others' cultures. But being teenage girls, we of course had better things to talk about than culture and race. Racial Harmony Day as I remember it was just a day we got to dress up. There was no need for further integration because we were already as integrated as you get.

There were groups of girls who stuck to their own ethnic clique, and there were incidents of racism here and there as there will be in any place. But these were few and far between.

Later on in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, my final year group of closest friends were made up of an equally diverse mix of races and religions. We declared ourselves Presidents of the World! because we believed, and I still believe this to be true, the world would be better off with us in charge, given that in our group we had Indian, Chinese, Malay and more, we had Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Bahai' and then some. And none of it was ever an issue; most of the time, we didn't even notice.

Even within my extended family, we've pretty much got everything covered.

Perhaps because of all this, the idea of racial "tolerance" is disheartening. To tolerate could mean to recognise and respect. It could also means to endure, or to put up with. Tolerance, to me, suggests that you're putting up with something you'd rather not have to deal with, but suck it up and smile for a greater good.

The idea of "striving for racial harmony" also confuses me. Sure, there are people whose groups of friends are made up of just one ethnic group. But when I look at my various groups of friends I've accumulated over the years, to my extended family, to the people I work with, to the people I encounter in my other activities like Muay Thai and Roller Derby, there's a great mix of every race, religion and nationality in every group.

The highest amount of racial segregation I might have to deal with for the most part would be a Singaporean Chinese acquaintance who might feel the need to explain a Singlish term to me because I'm "the ang moh kind" and therefore wouldn't understand. It's annoying, for sure, but nothing that will keep me up at night. And this doesn't happen often, either.

So now I'm left wondering, did I just luck out with my groups of friends, is it just because of the schools I went to, the industry I'm in, the activities I choose? Or have I been living in a multiracial/religious cave that's hidden from most of the island, a place where most have missed?

Because as far as I can see, every group of people I come into contact with or interact with in any way have no need to strive for racial harmony; it just happens without us noticing.

If it is a naive cave I'm living in, it's a great place to be, so bring your friends. Everyone's welcome. In this dark, hidden, magical cave, you can't see any colours.

Friday, May 14, 2010

IHRA expresses deep regret over court's decision to retain mandatory death penalty for Yong Vui Kong

For immediate release
Singapore’s decision to maintain mandatory death penalty for Yong Vui Kong criticised by the International Harm Reduction Association
Friday, 14th May 2010, (Singapore, Singapore)--The International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) has expressed its deep regret at the decision of the Singapore Court of Appeals to retain the mandatory death penalty for drug offences, a judgment that forecasts the execution of Yong Vui Kong for an offence committed while he was only a teenager. Yong Vui Kong today lost his appeal against his conviction in 2008 of smuggling 47 grams of heroin into Singapore.

“Today’s unfortunate decision places Singapore on the extreme fringe of the international community by keeping the country as one of the few that impose a mandatory death sentence for drugs,” said Rick Lines, Deputy Director of IHRA and the co-author of a forthcoming international report on the death penalty and drug offences being released next week. (1)

“Numerous UN human rights monitors have found both the mandatory death penalty generally, and the death penalty for drugs specifically, to violate international human rights law. We regret that the Court has chosen to support a practice that not only violates human rights, but that serves no demonstrable criminal justice purpose.”

The mandatory death penalty for drugs was introduced in Singapore in a 1975 Amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1973. Subsequently, Singapore earned a reputation as one of the highest per capita executioners in the world – with the vast majority of the condemned being drug offenders. According to Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs, between 1999 and 2003, 110 of 138 executions were carried out for drug offences.

Next Monday May 17 IHRA is releasing a report The Death Penalty for Drug Offences – Global overview 2010 to be officially launched on the opening day of the 19th session of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, taking place in Vienna next week.

The report is the first detailed country by country overview of the death penalty for drugs, monitoring both national legislation and state practice of enforcement. The report points out that of the states worldwide that retain the death penalty, 32 jurisdictions maintain laws that prescribe the death penalty for drug offences, Singapore being one of them.

Singapore has a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of importing, exporting or trafficking in more than 500 grams of cannabis, 200 grams of cannabis resin or more than 1,000 grams of cannabis mixture; trafficking in more than 30 grams of cocaine; trafficking in more than 15 grams of heroin; and trafficking in excess of 250 grams of methamphetamine.


Notes to Editors
(1) Death penalty for Drug Offences – Global overview 2010, Patrick Gallahue & Rick Lines © 2010 International Harm Reduction Association

Further information:
Michael Kessler, IHRA Media relations

The International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) is the leading organisation promoting a harm reduction approach to all psychoactive substances on a global basis. IHRA exists to prevent the negative social, health, economic and criminal impacts of illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco for individuals, communities and society. IHRA combines a public health and human rights based approach to reduce drug-related harms. It builds strategic alliances and partnerships with national and international organisations, supports the engagement of people affected by drugs and alcohol, promotes the human rights of affected populations and counters their marginalisation and stigmatisation.

Holding on to hope: Vui Kong's hearing

Later today, Yong Vui Kong's appeal will be heard in Supreme Court.

Reality tells me not to be hopeful, but if we don't hold on to hope then what do we have to hold on to? Recent comments by Law minister Shanmugam include a total misrepresentation of the effects of mandatory death penalty or the abolition of it, oversight of statistics and research, and complete misunderstanding of what makes a First World country First World.

I am embarrassed that we have the death penalty, mandatory or otherwise. Legalised murder does not make us first world; it makes us very close to the jungle.

I do not want to raise my children in a country that leads its citizens believe that if someone is in the wrong, it is okay to kill them. Of course, it is worse when Mandatory precedes the punishment. But even the most fair trial that results in death is unfair. Nothing is fair when a life is devalued to that extent.

Later today, Yong Vui Kong's appeal will be heard in Supreme Court.

I am hoping against all hope for a miracle. I refuse to believe that our system is as far gone and soulless as this. I refuse to believe that they will kill a kid who got mixed up with the wrong crowd. I refuse to believe that a civilised society allows this.

I'm not going to wish Vui Kong luck - I don't believe it is luck that he needs. But at the very least I hope he feels us all holding him in our thoughts, words, prayers and hopes.

Vui Kong, Stay Strong.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Reporters Sans Frontières - Open Letter to PM Lee Hsien Loong

Dear Prime Minister,

A foreign news organisation has yet again been forced to apologise to you and your father and pay you a large sum of money for publishing an article you did not like. This time it is the New York Times Co. that is a victim of this double punishment because of a compliant judicial system that always rules in favour of you and your family in all the lawsuits you bring against foreign news media...

read the full letter here...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Singapore Dino: Singapore Govt. & Burma

Singapore Dino: Spare us the fake disappointment: S'pore govt is such good friends with Burmese junta

The Singapore government released this statement in response to the rejection of Aung San Suu Kyi appeal by the junta's court.

"It is of course very disappointing that her appeal did not succeed. A dialogue among the Myanmar authorities, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political groups ahead of this year's elections offers the best prospects for national reconciliation and the long-term political stability of Myanmar. We believe that all Myanmars, irrespective of political affiliation, must share these goals which are also in the interests of the entire region. We thus hope that the Myanmar authorities will, in their own interests, allow her to participate in the political process in a meaningful way as soon as possible.

We understand that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyers intend to make a "Special Appeal" to the Supreme Court as the last stage of the appeals process. We trust that this will be heard expeditiously. We should not give up hope for a different result until the legal process has run its entire course."

I think that our government can spare us the fake disappointment. It is no secret that the government has extensive ties with the Burmese junta and its cronies. There is even evidence that Singapore supplied weapons to crush rebellions and provided a safe haven for the generals to stash their loot stolen from the Burmese people.

This report by Jane's Intelligence Review in 1998 details the weapons and other materials supplied by Singapore.

1. Exporting rockets, mortars and ammunition manufactured under licence by Chartered Industries (predecessor of Singapore Technologies) without export clearance from Sweden in 1988.

2. Exporting anti-tank guns and grenade launchers originating from Belgium and Israel using a company known as SKS Marketing in 1989.

3. Brokering illegal sales between Burmese military and weapons dealers.

An article published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2007 detailed the extensive ties between Singapore and Burmese cronies. Major points highlighted were:

1. Providing Burma with a cyber-warfare centre to spy on dissidents

2. Training Burma's secret police

3. Providing weapons through Singapore Technologies

4. Allowing junta cronies to open shell companies in Singapore to launder money

5. Providing a safe haven for druglord Lo Hsing Han's son to operate a "trading" business and another crony Tay Za to run his Air Bagan airline and enrol his son in an international school here.

And as the ultimate insult to Aung San Suu Kyi, the government honoured the soldier illegally occupying her rightful position as Prime Minister, Thein Sein, with an orchid named after him.

So the government cannot talk crap about being "disappointed" with the verdict by the sham court when it is happily in bed with the junta.