Image by Kaman Ng

Protests in Hong Kong may look like chaos to those not used to such freedoms, says Hong Konger

In the wake of the Hong Kong protests, Mr Leslie Fong wrote an opinion piece titled “The view from Singapore: Hong Kong is a city tearing itself apart”. The article, in gist, paints the protests as a city that “smothering itself in full global view, egged on my western media”.

The former Straits Times editor noted in his article that “any fair-minded person who has looked at all the available facts about the extradition bill cannot but wonder why there is so much needless controversy over its proposed enactment.”

He also said that the protests in Hong Kong – which he describes it as street violence – teaches Singaporeans that a government needs to have the “necessary legislative and coercive powers as well as trained personnel” to prevent and eliminate threats against public security.

He said, “By and large, thoughtful Singaporeans, even those with liberal leanings in many areas, have accepted, on balance, the existence of laws that empower preventive detention of those out to foment violence and undermine public security.”

In response to his opinion piece, SCMP published a letter titled “How Hong Kong people standing up for their freedoms can leave some in Singapore puzzled” authored by Hong Kong resident Gauri Venkitaraman which didn’t hold back on her criticism of Mr Fong’s article.

Ms Venkitaraman wrote, “It is deeply touching how he shrouds moral judgement on Hong Kong and its people in a garb of how protests in Hong Kong have served to reinforce the pride among “thoughtful” Singaporeans about their utopian city.”

“Such praise, for a city ranked 151st out of 180 nations in the World Press Freedom Index, is rich indeed,” she added.

Ms Venkitaraman noted that people “shouldn’t be afraid to criticise the government or speak up about political issues” in a country that promotes itself as a modern, democratic nation. She asked, “Can ordinary citizens in Singapore stake claim to such freedom of speech?”

Holding nothing back, Ms Venkitaraman highlighted the Singapore government’s broad powers to limit citizens’ rights and inhibit political opposition. In particular, she pointed out several pieces of legislation that restricts the freedoms granted to citizens under the country’s constitutions.

She wrote, “Does the Internal Security Act not give the Singapore government power to indefinitely detain people without formal charges or recourse to trial? Has this not been used effectively to imprison political opponents of the ruling party and silence dissidents? The Singapore constitution does not even include a right to privacy and the Personal Data Protection Act does not protect Singaporean citizens from government-sanctioned surveillance.”

The author elaborated that while Singapore’s constitution promises freedom of speech, the laws of the land also allow the government to limit that freedom on the basis of protecting and maintaining national security, public order, and morality as well as to prevent contempt of court or incitement of any offence or to preserve parliamentary privileges.

This, she said, is the kind of authoritarianism and autocracy which “thoughtful” people like Mr Fong have ‘decided to accept, tolerate, allow, and preach about’ – the same things that Hong Kongers are protesting against.

Turning her ire towards the ruling party, Ms Ventikaraman said, “The manner in which the People’s Action Party dealt with opposition to POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation) would probably be regarded by “thoughtful” people as a lesson to other nations on how to stifle dissent.”

The Hong Konger finally pointed out that the people in Hong Kong have voiced their opposition towards the proposed extradition law precisely because they have the freedom of speech and expression to do so. She ended with a question to Mr Fong: “Can Mr Fong, who proudly claims to call “a spade a spade”, say the same about Singapore?