Report from Today: 

MHA reviewing public order laws

WHEN members of the Singapore Democratic Party attempted to disrupt the IMF-World Bank meetings here in 2006, it turned into a three-day standoff with the police.

When Falungong activists protested along Orchard Road in 2005, they were warned that they did not have a permit. Yet this did not stop them from protesting the very next day.

Armed with only the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (MOA) and Public Entertainment and Meetings Act (Pema) police could only deal with such acts of civil disobedience via prosecution after the incidents.

Now, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wants to give its security forces the powers to deal with such situations “pre-emptively on the ground and not let it occur and then deal with the consequences and perpetrators later”.

Responding to queries, MHA told Weekend Today that it is studying how other countries have responded post-911 and is considering enacting new public order laws here.

Certain Australian states, for example, have given their police “move-on” powers, “in a way which minimises disruption by asking people to leave a particular location”. If they leave, there is no arrest. If they refuse to comply, the police arrest them for defying the law.

“This creates an intermediary step between ‘doingnothing’, which is not acceptable in today’s context, and ‘outright arrests’, which is not necessary in all situations,” said MHA in a written reply.

“Our current public order laws have evolved over time in piece-meal fashion … (and) were conceived in an era when security threats were of an entirely different scale and impact,” said MHA, noting that such a situation was “not tenable” intoday’s world which is threatened by “suicide bombers and anarchistic fanatics”.

Significantly, Singapore is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting this year and with “mega events increasingly an important means of profiling Singapore”, the risk level is higher.

“They are ‘trophy’ targets for terrorists or disruptive elements who seek global attention in promoting their causes or agenda,” said MHA.

Legislative changes could rationalise the two laws, which were meant to govern recreational and social activities.

“We should not continue to have politics treated as entertainment or as a miscellaneous offence … We should distinguish between political and non-political activities.

“By enacting a new law to deal with public order incidents arising from cause-related activism, we can liberalise the Miscellaneous Offences Act and Public Entertainment and Meetings Act to allow greater self-regulation in activities that matter to the average citizen and are less likely to create public disorder.

“Cause-related or ideologically related activities, including those pertaining to race and religion that certain groups wish to promote, can then be addressed squarely for the heightened risks they pose,” explained the Ministry.

The review comes at a time when the Government is freeing up political space.

Since September, citizens can stage outdoor demonstrations at Speakers’ Corner.

While reiterating that Singaporeans’ desire to express their views publicly about a range of different causes was “positive”, MHA added: “Greater freedom must come with greater accountability.

“Abuse of the freedom to the detriment of the community and nation must have its consequences.”



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