The Singapore Police Force has issued a police advisory entitled, “POLICE ADVISORY AGAINST IMPORTING POLITICS OF OTHER COUNTRIES INTO SINGAPORE” on its Facebook page.
The Singapore Police Force is aware of calls encouraging overseas Malaysians to support political activities in relation to the upcoming General Election in Malaysia, including by Global Bersih.
Foreigners visiting, working or living in Singapore should not use Singapore as a platform to further their political causes.
Foreigners must abide by our laws. Public assemblies in Singapore are regulated under the Public Order Act, and organising or participating in a public assembly without a Police permit is illegal. The Police will not grant any permit for assemblies organised by or involving non-Singaporeans for the purpose of political or election campaigning. The Police will take action against any person who organises or participates in an unlawful public assembly. Those who break the law will be dealt with firmly, and this may include termination of visas or work passes, where applicable.
SPF’s concern of Malaysians bringing politics into Singapore is not without reason, given that there had been an incident in 2013 where Malaysians gathered at the Merlion park for a peaceful protest against the Malaysian election. They were subsequently dealt with by the authorities.
In a press statement on March 28, Global Bersih claimed that Malaysians in Singapore and around the world are gearing up to vote in the upcoming general election. It noted that more than half a million Malaysians live in Singapore. “They come from all walks of life, from factory workers to professionals, and a significant number of them voted in the last general election,” said the statement.
However, SPF’s advisory seems to conflate two different matters together, by lumping “calls encouraging overseas Malaysians to support political activities in relation to the upcoming General Election” and the fact that it will take action against any person who organises or participates in illegal public assemblies with serious penalties.
For someone who is not clear with the laws under Singapore’s authoritarian government, one may think that the Police’s advisory is saying that it is illegal for foreigners, particularly Malaysians to talk about or support various causes that affect on domestic politics in their home country while residing in Singapore.
This is especially so with the Police’s wordings of “Foreigners must abide by our laws.” and its severe warning that may be interpreted to apply to all forms of political activities and not just public demonstrations. This impression is further perpetuated by media reports that do not clarify on the distinction and simply report on what the Police wrote.
I believe there is no law in Singapore that prevents foreigners residing in Singapore from participating in discussions or advocacy in matters of importance in foreign politics especially that of their own country. The Police’s words, ” should not use Singapore as a platform to further their political causes” is not part of the Singapore law to our knowledge and may be unnecessarily restrictive.
On that same point, I don’t believe any country’s police force has issued warnings to foreigners residing in their country discouraging them from campaigning for their fellow countrymen to return to their home country to vote especially since these activities are largely restricted to the internet which has no borders. Has any Singaporean been warned by the police in any jurisdiction during the last General Election while residing overseas, for asking fellow Singaporeans to return to Singapore and vote?
The Police ought to make its message clear to the public in its advisory so that they are made aware of what is legal and what is not.This would be helpful for public order without affecting citizens of other countries living and working in Singapore who want to participate in legitimate political activities in their own countries which are not proscribed by the laws of Singapore.
So for Malaysians who are concerned about the police advisory, just note that it is not illegal to be campaign online for fellow Malaysians to return home to vote in the upcoming General Election. It is, however, illegal to campaign for such a cause in a physical assembly, not even one non-Singaporean person is allowed to stage a protest anywhere in Singapore although I don’t think there is a need for anyone to organise one given our current internet options.