Human Rights Brief

Singapore Silencing Activists and Bloggers

Blogging, via Flickr user Till Westermayer under CC BY-SA.

In the past year, Singapore has increased its restrictions on activists and bloggers, leading to more harassment of both groups.

According to the World Report 2017, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said that authoritarian populists look at rights as hurdles to effectuating the majority will; thus, the media and civil society groups are being silenced.  The Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch has said that, “Singapore’s authoritarian grip tightened on alternative social and political views in 2016.”

The Singaporean government severely limits what citizens can express by purposefully using vague legal provisions.  Because of this, activists and bloggers who speak out against the political regime face harassment and prosecution.  The Singaporean government has also silenced public demonstrations in the past year.  Both public demonstrations and assemblies “remained severely limited, with a permit required for any assembly outside the so-called ‘Speakers Corner’ of Hong Lim Park.”  The Ministry of Home Affairs, which governs park events, enacted in October a new rule requiring a permit to sponsor events in the park.  According to the Human Rights Watch, “the new rule appears to be aimed at discouraging foreign companies from supporting the annual LGBT pride event, the Pink Dot festival.”

In addition to the restriction of park events, in May 2016, the Singaporean police searched activists’ homes, seizing their phones and computers.  In addition to this search and seizure, the activists were subjected to hours of interrogation.  In June 2016, a 17-year-old blogger was sentenced to six weeks in prison for “wounding religious feelings” using social media posts, and earlier that year founders of an online news portal were also sentenced to prison for publishing critical articles.

Singapore uses its Internal Security Act and the Criminal Law Act to arrest and detain people, without a charge or judicial review.  Under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.  This includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference. Currently, Singaporean authorities are in violation of Article 19 by purposefully silencing activists and bloggers.  The international community needs to demand that Singapore decrease its restrictions on activists and bloggers.