Wednesday, August 21

SINGAPORE: Nearly 100 academics worldwide have expressed concern over Singapore’s proposed law against ‘fake news’, warning it could threaten academic freedom and hurt the city-state’s ambition to become a global education hub. The government this month unveiled a bill containing tough measures, including powers for ministers to order sites like Facebook, Google and Twitter to put warnings next to posts authorities deem false, and extreme cases, to take them down. If an action is deemed malicious and damaging to Singapore’s interests, companies could be hit with fines of up to Sg 1 million (US$740,000), while individuals could face jail terms of up to 10 years. Authorities in the tightly-controlled country insist the measures are necessary to prevent online falsehoods sowing social divisions, but the move has sparked anger from press freedom groups and tech giants such as Facebook and Google. Now ninety-seven academics from around the world with expertise in Singapore and Asia have signed a letter warning the proposed legislation ‘may deter scholarship and set precedents harmful to global academia’. “We are concerned that the proposed legislation will have unintended detrimental consequences for scholars and research in Singapore,” said the group, who included academics from Harvard and Yale, as well as institutions in Britain, Australia, and parts of Asia. The letter, released at the weekend, also warned the law could compromise ‘Singapore’s notable efforts to develop itself into an internationally-recognised hub for excellence in higher education’. Singapore is home to several leading higher education institutes, which attract academics from around the world. The group, called Academics Against Disinformation, also said they wrote to the education ministry to express their concerns. The ministry was cited in local media as saying the draft law does not restrict opinion and will not affect academic research work, but the academics said they could not accept the response as a guarantee. Singapore is among several countries seeking to legislate against fake news, and the bill is expected to pass easily through parliament, which is dominated by the long-ruling People’s Action Party. — AFP

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Allas (centre) leaves with family members and supporters after a hearing at the Labour Tribunal in Hong Kong. — AFP photo

HONG KONG:  A domestic worker sacked after a cancer diagnosis was awarded damages by a Hong Kong court yesterday, in a case that highlighted exploitation of foreign women toiling as maids in the wealthy financial hub.

Baby Jane Allas of the Philippines was diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer in January and fired the following month by her employer, who cited the illness as the reason for termination.

The 38-year-old single mother of five instantly lost the right to healthcare and has had to regularly apply for visa extensions as she navigated Hong Kong’s legal and immigration systems while battling cancer.

She has been undergoing radiation therapy five days a week, along with chemotherapy one day a week.

Allas and her former employer — who was absent from yesterday’s proceedings — reached a settlement of HK30,000 (US$3,800) at Hong Kong’s labour tribunal for sickness allowance, medical fees and wages in lieu of notice.

“I am standing here right now to encourage more workers to come out if they have these kinds of cases,” Allas said outside the hearing.

Allas added she hoped to find another employer ‘who can really understand my situation and treat me well’. She has separately filed claims with the Equal Opportunities Commission for wrongful termination and loss of earnings, which could be brought to the city’s District Court.

Allas previously told AFP that she spent just over a year working for a family of Pakistani origin who ordered her to work every day of the week. She has also said she was routinely given stale leftovers to eat and slept on a thin comforter in a cluttered store room.

Nearly 370,000 domestic helpers work in the city. Most are poor women from the Philippines and Indonesia performing menial tasks for low wages while living in often miserable conditions.

Allas was accompanied to Monday’s hearing by supporters and family, including her eight-year-old daughter, who clung to her waist.

Her plight has generated widespread sympathy in Hong Kong and a fundraising campaign organised by her sister’s employer, Jessica Cutrera, has so far raised more than HK$900,000 for treatment. A large part of Allas’ medical bills have been covered by hospital charities but expensive surgery will likely be needed to operate on her tumours, said Cutrera. — AFP