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Singapore's House of Parliament. Source: Function 8/Facebook

Singapore’s new anti-“fake news” Bill “entrenches and legalizes censorship in all forms”: Civil rights group Function 8, in its call for Govt to withdraw Bill

Singapore’s new anti-“fake news” legislation, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, “entrenches and legalizes censorship in all forms”, warns local civil society group Function 8.

In its statement on Facebook on Wed (10 Apr), Function 8 stressed that the proposed Act, once enacted and enforced, “will adversely affect every person (Singaporean or foreigner), and every social or business enterprise”.

“It will end the already restricted space for freedom of speech and expression in Singapore,” the group added.

Function 8 subsequently urged the Singapore Government to withdraw the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill.

“It is the duty of our government to protect our constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression and not to use its power to take this right from us through the passing of oppressive laws,” the civil rights group stressed.

In addition to the heavy penalties, with jail term ranging “from 12 months to 10 years” and fines ranging from “$20,000 to $1 million”, Function 8 also expressed its concern over the scope of powers given to the Government in exercising the proposed Act.

“All ministers and a group of civil servants with no clear criteria of competencies but are nevertheless declared as “Competent Authority” are empowered to issue a whole list of directives: Correction Direction, Stop Communication Direction, Access Blocking Order, Target Correction Direction, Disabling Direction, General Correction Order, Declarations on Online Locations, Prohibition Order etc.

“These public officials are given absolute power to decide what is falsehood and what is truth.

“Such powers should lie in our Judiciary and not in these public servants. And when these people make mistakes, they are protected from the penalties that befall the rest of us,” said Function 8.

Despite concerns and opposition from civil rights groups such as Function 8 and multiple other organisations, as well as media practitioners, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam maintains that while the Government will have the power to initiate action against entities believed to spread deliberate online falsehoods, it is the judiciary that will “ultimately” determine “what is true and what is false, and they will be the final arbiters”.

Separately, in response to questions from local and international media at the Ministry of Law on 1 Apr, Mr Shanmugam said that there are “remedies against the Government” in the event that the Government is found to have spread falsehoods, as reported by TODAY.

In such situations, he explained, individuals may seek recourse against the Government through defamation laws, as an example.

Updated to add Mr Shanmugam’s response to questions on 1 Apr regarding whether the public has the means to seek redress against the Govt in the event that a “falsehood” is perpetuated by the Govt.