In a statement that was issued on Sunday, Workers’ Party expressed its concern over the possibility that the People’s Action Party government will amend the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) after it lost a landmark case against Singapore inventor, Ting Choon Meng in the Court of Appeal as it has done so to other laws in the past.
It has also expressed explicitly that it will vigorously oppose reactionary amendments to the law by the Government to more clearly define how the POHA “protects the Government from harassment”.
On 11 Feb 2015, MINDEF proceeded with legal actions against Dr Ting Choon Meng, co-founder of medical device firm MobileStats Technologies and The Online Citizen (TOC) via the use of POHA to seek protection of harassment from the two after TOC reported on Dr Ting’s recount of the sequence of events of how MINDEF had infringed his patent for “Mobile First Aid Post” and had the patent revoked through a ‘war of attrition’ in the courts.
Although the State court ruled in favour of MINDEF but subsequently the High Court ruled on 9 December 2015 that the Government cannot use the POHA to make TOC take down statements on its site made by Dr Ting against the MINDEF. MINDEF made an appeal against the ruling in the Court of Appeal but on 16 January 2017, the Court of Appeal delivered a judgment in the case of Attorney-General v Ting Choon Meng, ruling that government agencies such as Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) do not fall under the legal definition of “persons” under Section 15 of POHA.
In response to the ruling, a Ministry of Law (MinLaw) spokesperson was quoted by Straits Times to say that the Government’s intent is to allow both natural persons as well as the Government and corporations to rely on Section 15 of POHA.

govt intent

News article by Straits Times on 17 Jan 17

“The Government will study the judgment and consider what further steps it should take to correct the deliberate spreading of falsehoods,”
The spokesperson also quoted to have pointed that “fake news” has become a major problem for many societies. and said, “As recent events elsewhere show, the spreading of false and misleading information can be highly destructive of the institution of democracy,”
WP states that it is concerned by the above response by MinLaw which suggests that the Government is looking into taking further action on the matter.
Precedent for Singapore Government to change laws after ruling
The party wrote, “There is a precedent in our legal history that gives cause for concern in this regard. In December 1988, the Court of Appeal passed a landmark judgement in Chng Suan Tze v Minister for Home Affairs stating that “all power has legal limits” and the legality of detention orders under the Internal Security Act (ISA) had to be subject to judicial review. The Government at the time disagreed with the Court’s ruling and by end-January 1989, had passed retrospective legislation to abolish judicial reviews and appeals to the Privy Council for ISA cases.”
It further wrote that the Government possesses significant resources and access to media channels that it can use to address false statements, as noted by the Court.
“There is hence no need for the Government to resort to using the POHA to protect itself from “harassment”. In fact, a wider application of the POHA may also open the possibility of abuse by companies, which may claim “harassment” from other companies or individuals with which they are undergoing a dispute.”
Government should be upfront with intent of proposed Bils
The party also called for the Government to be upfront about the legislative intent of the Bills it proposes.
Ministry of Home Affairs and Law, Mr K Shanmugam had cited reasons of justice and protection for vulnerable individuals throughout the Parliamentary debate, and provided several examples of individuals who would be protected under the new law. However, the prospect of the POHA being used to “protect the Government from harassment” and the rationale for why this was necessary was not explained and discussed as one of the aims of the Bill.
The focus of the debate in Parliament on the POHA in 2014 was to protect individuals from harassment and for the POHA to be used to protect the Government from “harassment” risks weakening Singapore’s climate of free speech and robust debate.
WP states, “It risks turning the POHA into the latest in the many tools that the Government can use against Singaporeans who publicly express different views from the Government on its policies and actions.”

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