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HRW’s strong opposition to anti-“fake news” Bill part of its “longstanding practice” of making “biased” statements about Singapore: MinLaw

The Ministry of Law has lambasted international non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW)’s highly critical statement against the introduction of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill on Monday (1 Apr), branding HRW’s statement “part of its longstanding practice of issuing biased and one-sided statements about Singapore”.

HRW’s deputy director for Asia Phil Robertson, according to the NGO’s statement on Wed (3 Apr), said: “Singapore’s ministers should not have the power to singlehandedly decree what is true and what is false”.

“Given Singapore’s long history of prohibiting speech critical of the government, its policies or its officials, its professed concerns about ‘online falsehoods’ and alleged election manipulation are farcical,” he alleged.

Mr Robertson added that “Singapore’s government wants to be the arbiter of what anyone can say about Singapore anywhere in the world”.

“The draft law is a blatant violation of free speech and an affront to freedom of the internet, and governments and businesses around the world should call on Singapore to withdraw it immediately,” he said.

In turn, said MinLaw, “the Singapore Government will generally not respond further to HRW until HRW confirms that it is prepared to defend its views”, in reference to the NGO’s decision to pull out of the public hearings held by the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods in March last year.

“HRW did not dare to come before the Select Committee because it knew that its views were biased and indefensible, and without any basis in fact,” the ministry charged.

The NGO’s “initial willingness to appear before the Select Committee evaporated once it was informed that its representative should be prepared to answer questions about its views on Singapore,” charged MinLaw, noting that the Government had offered to fund the travel expenses of the NGO’s representatives, or to hold a video conference in place of travelling to Singapore.

Consequently, MinLaw alleged that “HRW’s unsubstantiated allegations were exposed during the Select Committee hearing”.

In response to TODAY‘s article regarding MinLaw’s most recent statements on HRW, editor-in-chief of Southeast Asian journalism platform New Naratif Kirsten Han pointed out that the PAP Policy Forum’s written representation on the HRW report “does not single out factual errors”, yet is labelled by the Government as a “deliberate falsehood” due to its omission of “the things the PAP feels it should include”.

Civil rights activist Jolovan Wham’s comment runs along the same theme as Ms Han’s remark, as he noted how “the government has already accused” the NGO of “publishing falsehoods” on the basis of HRW’s decision to publish statements that do “not fit the preferred political narrative” of the Singapore Government.

“The bill,” stressed Mr Wham, “as it stands is broad enough to penalise the HRW”.

Govt rehashes criticism against HRW from Mar last year, says NGO’s views “biased and indefensible”

On 23 Mar last year, MinLaw issued similar statements regarding HRW’s comments.

The ministry said: “Human Rights Watch’s stance is disappointing, but not surprising. It has a pattern of issuing biased and untruthful statements about Singapore.”

“It knows that its report will not withstand any scrutiny, and has therefore chosen not to come to Singapore to publicly defend its views…. by its conduct, (it) has shown that it cannot be taken seriously as a commentator or interlocutor on issues relating to Singapore,” MinLaw added.

The provisions in the new legislation, warned HRW in its statement on Wed, “could easily be abused to silence or declare “false” criticisms of government actions or policies, or criticism of individual ministers”.