Human Rights Watch calls on Singapore to relax free speech, assembly laws

Human Rights Watch calls on Singapore to relax free speech, assembly laws

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Li Shengwu, nephew of Singapore's prime minister, is seen in Cambridge, Massachusetts© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Li Shengwu, nephew of Singapore’s prime minister, is seen in Cambridge, Massachusetts

By Fathin Ungku

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The Singapore government’s laws limiting critical speech and peaceful assembly are overly broad and make the country a repressive place severely restricting what can be said and published, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

In its first wide-ranging report on Singapore in 12 years, the group called on the government to amend or repeal laws and rules that restrict speech and assembly and drop charges against individuals for peaceful speech and assembly.

Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information did not immediately have a comment on the report. The government has held the position that Singapore’s laws and regulations were needed to maintain social order and harmony.

The Singapore’s attorney-general’s office has started contempt of court proceedings against the prime minister’s nephew and authorities are prosecuting a prominent human rights activist for organizing assemblies without permit.

“Beneath the slick surface of gleaming high-rises, however, it is a repressive place, where the government severely restricts what can be said, published, performed, read, or watched,” the 133-page report said.

“Singapore promotes itself as a modern nation and a good place to do business, but people in a country that calls itself a democracy shouldn’t be afraid to criticize their government or speak out about political issues,” the group’s Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said.

Human Rights Watch called on the Singapore government to amend or repeal in entirety laws that it said were too broadly worded and used to “arrest, harass, and prosecute critical voices,” including the Sedition Act and the Public Order Act.

The report is partly based on interviews with civil society activists, journalists, lawyers, academics and opposition politicians, many of whom declined to be identified “due to fear of possible repercussions,” the group said.

Late in November, Singapore authorities charged human rights activist Jolovan Wham for organizing public assemblies without a police permit.

In August, the Singapore attorney-general’s office began court proceedings against Li Shengwu, the grandson of the country’s founder, over a Facebook (NASDAQ:) post in which he said the government is “very litigious and has a pliant court system.”

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