Asia Malaysia's Lawyers for Liberty will not comply with correction notice by POFMA

Malaysia’s Lawyers for Liberty will not comply with correction notice by POFMA

LFL's director, Melissa Sasidaran said that LFL will not comply with the Singaporean government on this and added that the directives issued to themselves and the three other parties should also be withdrawn

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SINGAPORE — Malaysian human rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has refused to comply with Singapore’s Protection From Online Falsehoods And Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office, after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) asked LFL to issue a “correction notice” on its website regarding earlier claims it had made about “brutal” execution methods in Changi Prison.

Earlier on Wednesday (Jan 22), the POFMA Office, under the directive of Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, issued correction directions against four statements: LFL’s statement on its website, an article by The Online Citizen (TOC), journalist Kirsten Han’s Facebook post, and a Facebook post by Yahoo! Singapore.

The four entities spoke of claims first published on Jan 16 by LFL on their website regarding the “brutal” and “unlawful” execution methods allegedly employed behind the scenes at Changi Prison.

The allegations included details on what supposedly happens when a rope breaks during an execution (graphic description to follow; reader discretion advised), saying that prison officers were instructed to “pull the rope around the neck of the prisoner towards him” and “kick the back of the neck of the prisoner with great force in order to break it”, among other points.

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The MHA called LFL’s allegations “untrue, baseless and preposterous” and cited the online falsehoods law against LFL and the other three parties for spreading the “fake news”. They are required by law to post a correction notice, which states that their posts or articles contain false news.

“LFL also made spurious allegations that prison officers were ‘given special training to carry out the brutal execution method’, that the Singapore Government approved of these ‘unlawful methods’, and suggested that specific measures were adopted to cover up these methods. These allegations are entirely unfounded,” said MHA.

“Regrettably, there are some individuals and groups in Singapore who are spreading LFL’s latest allegations,” it added.

The ministry noted that all executions in Singapore are conducted with the prison superintendent and a doctor present and are done “in strict compliance with the law”. MHA added that a coroner is required to conduct a proper investigation within 24 hours of an execution to assess whether it was done legally and properly.

MHA also said that “for the record, the rope used for judicial executions has never broken before, and prison officers certainly do not receive any ‘special training to carry out the brutal execution method’ as alleged”. It also issued assurances that if any such acts (as described by LFL) were committed, they “would have been thoroughly investigated and dealt with”.

Lawyers for Liberty’s response

LFL’s director, Melissa Sasidaran, responded to the POFMA correction direction in no uncertain terms via a press statement featuring three main points—

Firstly, we absolutely stand by our statement that prisoners on death row in Changi prison are executed brutally and unlawfully by kicks to the neck whenever the rope breaks. Our statement is based upon evidence from former and current Singapore prison officers … with impeccable service records.

Secondly, POFMA is an oppressive and undemocratic law which was passed recently by Singapore amidst controversy. It has been condemned internationally as a weapon by Singapore to stifle dissent or criticism.

“Thirdly, it is outrageous and unacceptable for Singapore to issue a notice under their POFMA to a Malaysian organisation such as LFL, which is operating and issuing statements on Malaysian soil. Singapore has no business interfering with the freedom of speech of Malaysian citizens making statements within our own country,” Ms Sasidaran wrote.

Ms Sasidaran firmly stated that LFL will not comply with the Singaporean government regarding the correction notices and added that the directives issued to themselves and the three other parties should also be withdrawn.

The Online Citizen’s reponse 

On Wednesday morning, The Online Citizen (TOC) announced on their Facebook page that it has filed an application to Mr Shanmugam to cancel the correction direction.

Good morning, Online Citizens. 🤗Can't really say the same for us as our site is currently facing some technical…

Posted by The Online Citizen SG on Tuesday, January 21, 2020

“TOC received a POFMA correction direction from the Minister of Home Affairs this morning, and has filed an application to the minister to cancel the direction. The minister has three days to consider the application before TOC can take the matter to the court,” TOC wrote.

Good morning, Online Citizens. 🤗Can't really say the same for us as our site is currently facing some technical…

Posted by The Online Citizen SG on Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Kirsten Han’s response

Ms Han, a prominent freelance journalist and activist, has complied with the POFMA order and added a correction notice to her original Facebook post in question.

“CORRECTION NOTICE:This Facebook post contains false statements of fact made by Lawyers for Liberty. The Singapore…

Posted by Kirsten Han on Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Ms Han wrote that she has sent questions to the Singapore Prison Service following up on the allegations LFL made, which she said were “extremely serious and disturbing”.

After following up with them on Jan 17, she said she still has not received any response from them.

“I am concerned about how this affects the ability of journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens to follow up on allegations.

“In the interests of dealing with ‘fake news’, I hope that government and public agencies can be more responsive to queries from journalists and/or civil society groups when they are seeking information that can clarify matters,” Ms Han wrote.

Yahoo! Singapore’s response

Reuters said that they reached out to Yahoo! for comments regarding the POFMA correction order via email. Yahoo! replied that it “was looking into the matter and will respond in due course”.

-/TISG

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