Singapore placed greater restrictions on the country’s already sharply curtailed free expression rights last year, according to the latest report from Human Rights Watch.
The report cites the country’s law aimed at tackling online falsehoods, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), which passed last year and was implemented from October.
Pofma allows government ministers to deem that information online as false and to issue Correction Orders as needed, or to have it removed if it is perceived to be in the public interest.
The Deputy Asia Director at the international non-government organisation, Mr Phil Robertson, said: “Singapore’s long intolerance of free expression virtually ensures the online falsehoods law will be used to silence dissenters.
“The law’s mere existence has already led critics of the government to self-censor online. Singapore’s trading partners should tell the government that every new restraint on free expression makes the country a less hospitable place to invest and do business.”
The report says there are laws in place “to penalise peaceful expression and protest”, such as those of activist Jolovan Wham and opposition politician John Tan, who were fined S$5,000 each in April 2019 for “scandalizing the judiciary” on social media, and The Online Citizen’s (TOC) Terry Xu, who was sued by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for civil defamation after content was published in TOC regarding claims made against Mr Lee by his brother and sister concerning their family home.
The report adds that Singapore retains the death penalty, especially in many drug offences. It says that those who raise their voices against capital punishment become the target of censure, citing the case of lawyer M Ravi. “In August, the Attorney- General’s Chambers filed a complaint with the Law Society accusing lawyer M Ravi of conduct unbecoming of a lawyer and asking the Law Society to take action against him for statements made in connection with his defence of an inmate on death row,” the report said.
Another human rights issue cited in the report is the criminalisation of consensual sexual relations between men under Section 377A of the Penal Code, whose constitutionality was upheld as recently as last November, when three challenges to it were brought up in court.
Finally, the report mentions the condition of migrant workers in Singapore. It says “they are faced with labour rights abuses and exploitation through debts owed to recruitment agents, non-payment of wages, restrictions on movement, confiscation of passports, and sometimes physical and sexual abuse”.
It adds that in June, Singapore was one of only six nations that chose to abstain from an International Labour Organisation convention against workplace discrimination and violence. -/TISG