Singapore news portal on 'hiatus' after computers seized by police

Singapore's famous Merlion (C) in front of the skyline of the city's financial business district.

(CNN)An independent media company in Singapore has announced that it is on indefinite "hiatus" following the seizure by police of computer equipment owned by its chief editor.

The Online Citizen, a Singaporean internet news portal, announced in a post on its Facebook page that it was forced to temporarily shutter following the loss of the equipment, which was used to produce content for its online site.
The devices "have been seized by the Singapore Police Force for an investigation into an alleged offense of Criminal Defamation under Section 21 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code Chapter 68," the post says.
    "The equipment, which include desktop, mobile devices and laptops, was seized at the residence of Terry Xu in the presence of five police officers this morning. No confirmed date of return has been given as investigation will take some time to conclude."
    The Online Citizen's mission is to be an "open independent platform for alternative voices in Singapore," the site says on its Facebook page, which has more than 100,000 followers.
    The equipment was reportedly seized in relation to an article examining a Facebook post by Singaporean lawmaker Seah Kian Peng, in which he criticized several journalists for meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed.
    The Singapore Police confirmed to CNN that a report has been lodged against TOC and the author of the article.
    "The Online Citizen (TOC) article ... made serious allegations that the government's highest officers are corrupt and that the constitution has been tampered with," the emailed statement read.
    "The Police are investigating this, for the offense of criminal defamation. Electronic equipment such as laptops and (cell)phones were seized in relation to the case."
    CNN has contacted the Singapore government for comment.
    The critical article, entitled "The takeaway from Seah Kian Ping's Facebook post" has since been removed from TOC's website.
    Human rights groups slammed the move to seize Xu's property, arguing that it amounted to a "constriction of freedom of expression," according to Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson.
    "Singapore's rights abusing constriction of freedom of expression was on clear display in the police raid," Robertson said in a statement.
    "Seizing computers and equipment is over-the-top harassment that will unfairly prevent the TOC from publishing its independent stories that critically scrutinize the government.
    He added in a tweet that the seizure of Xu's equipment was intended to "intimidate independent media (and) human rights advocates.
    "When it comes to freedom of press, Singapore is just as bad as Laos, Vietnam, (and) Cambodia. Bad company to keep for a 'democracy.'"
    Journalism advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore at 151 out of 180 countries for press freedom, and states that the government "reacts quickly to criticism from journalists and does not hesitate to sue them, apply pressure to make them unemployable, or even force them to leave the country."
      Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are ranked 170, 175 and 142 respectively.
      Singapore's Media Development Authority, it adds, has the power to censor all forms of journalistic content.