Singapore opposition says ‘fake news’ law may be used as muzzle

  • TECH
  • Friday, 26 Jul 2019

This photo taken on February 8, 2019 shows central Singapore's iconic promenade and skyline. - Those in Singapore with HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS -- have long complained of prejudice, and campaigners say a data breach of some 14,200 people, whose HIV status was released on the internet in January 2019, has caused widespread consternation. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP) / TO GO WITH STORY Singapore-social-health-homosexuality-data-HIV, FOCUS by Sam REEVES

The leader of a new opposition party in Singapore is worried the government may use a recently passed law aimed at blocking fake news to muzzle the group ahead of general elections expected by early 2021. 

Speaking at press conference for the incorporation of his new Progress Singapore Party, Tan Cheng Bock, a former member of parliament for the People’s Action Party, said he was “very concerned” the government would use the law -- which has been criticised for being too sweeping – to suppress content that advocates dissenting views. 

“I worry it might be used during this general election and we might have our websites all closed down, then we would be in trouble,” Tan said, adding if such content were removed during the election cycle, he would have no recourse until after it was done. “I cannot even defend myself.” 

Under the measure passed by lawmakers in May, government ministers would be able to order material not in the public interest to be taken down. If someone disagreed, they can take their case to the courts, though it would have to go through an appeals process. The measure is supposed to hold online outlets accountable for the spread of fake news, putting pressure on companies like Facebook Inc. 

Trolls and bots 

Singapore’s Ministry of Law did not immediately respond to questions. The government has said the measure is designed to equip Singaporeans with facts so they can engage in public discourse and not to suppress information. 

“Free speech should not be affected by this bill,” Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in parliament in May. “We are talking here about falsehoods, we are talking about bots, we are talking about trolls, we are talking about fake accounts, and so on.” 

Under the proposed law, government ministers would be able to order a correction to be carried alongside a false or misleading claim, and material not in the public interest to be taken down. If someone disagreed, they could take their case to the courts. 

In an open letter in April, the International Commission of Jurists urged Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong not to adopt the bill for fear it could “result in far-reaching limitations on the rights to freedom of expression, opinion and information”. 

The opposition leader told reporters Friday he started the Progress Singapore Party because he believes such policies don’t represent the will of Singaporeans. 

“I worry because I see the foundations of good governance eroding,” Tan said. – Bloomberg

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