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March 6, 1996

Singapore Bans Sex, Religion
And Politics on the Internet

SINGAPORE (AP) -- Singapore tried to erect some stop signs on the information superhighway on Tuesday, ordering its Internet access providers to censor material on sex, religion and politics.

The government wants Singapore to profit from the growth of the freewheeling computer network, but doesn't want to give up social controls that include restrictions on books, movies and political activity.

Under the new regulations, libraries, schools and cafes that offer Internet access would have to supervise its use. Internet pages run by Singapore political parties would need government licenses.

Information Minister George Yeo, who announced the new regulations, tried to reassure computer users that they won't affect most Internet activity.

"What goes on privately is not really our concern," Yeo said at a news conference. "Our concern is at the broadcast end, where the content will have a public impact on public morals or the stability of Singapore."

This tiny city-state of 3 million people isn't the first country to attempt to regulate the Internet, which connects millions of users around the world. Germany has ordered Internet access providers to block sexually oriented and neo-Nazi material, and China ordered users last month to register with the government.

Singapore would ban access to foreign sites carrying material that might incite religious or political unrest, said Ahmad Shuhaimi, a spokesman for the Singapore Broadcast Authority, which is to enforce the regulations.

There are an estimated 100,000 Internet users in Singapore.

SingNet, one of the country's three access providers, said it could keep out unwanted foreign material by blocking access to sites identified by the government.

"It is technically possible to do this," said Foo Kim Ling, a spokeswoman for SingNet, which is run by the phone company Singapore Telecommunications Ltd.

It isn't clear yet how the regulations will apply to foreign services with customers in Singapore, such as Compuserve and American Online, Shuhaimi said.

"Our stand is that the laws of the land will still apply, whether it's on the Internet or in publication," he said.

Singapore has some of the world's strictest rules against sexually oriented material and bans political and social activities that it says would undermine public order.

The Jehovah's Witnesses are banned on the grounds that the Christian sect's rejection of military service and oaths of national loyalty violates draft laws and hurts national unity.

The government already has put some Internet sites off-limits by ordering Singapore access providers not to connect to newsgroups whose titles include "alt.sex."


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