On Friday (24 January), Malaysian-based human rights organisation Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) said that the Singapore government’s move to block its website is an attempt to silence them and is “disappointing”.
Just the day earlier, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said that its minister directed the Inforcomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to block LFL’s website.
This is after the organisation failed to comply with a correction direction issued under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) against its statement alleging unlawful methods of executions in Changi Prison.
“The correction direction issued to LFL had required the facts to be juxtaposed against the falsehoods, so that end-users in Singapore can read both versions and draw their own conclusions,” MCI said.
Speaking to a group of reporters, the organisation’s advisor N Surendran said that LFL had made multiple attempts to get in touch with the Singapore government to discuss about the alleged judicial execution methods in Changi Prison.
“From day one, we have written to them and offered to give the evidence over to them privately so that something can be done about this method of execution. We have also issued public statement saying that we are willing to cooperate with the Singapore authorities to put an end to this practice,” Mr Surendran said.
He added, “They ignored and did not respond to our attempts, which is why we felt compelled and had no choice but to go public with the method of execution”.
On 16 January, LFL released a statement alleging “brutal” and “unlawful” process of execution by hanging in Changi Prison.
Citing an unnamed former Singapore Prison Services (SPS) officer’s account, Mr Surendran said that the former officer and other prison officers were “instructed to carry out the following brutal procedure whenever the rope breaks during a hanging, which happens from time to time”.
Following this statement, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) refuted the claims, calling them “untrue, baseless and preposterous”. It explained that the rope used for executions has never been broken before and the prison officers have not gotten any training to carry of such brutal execution method as claimed by LFL.
Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Wednesday (22 January) has instructed the POFMA office to issue a Correction Direction under the Act to LFL, which it did not comply to.
MHA had also issued correction directions against other media outlets such as TOC and Yahoo! Singapore, and to journalist Kristen Han, for publishing and sharing articles and/or Facebook posts containing “falsehoods” about allegations made by LFL.
In its statement on Thursday, MCI said the access blocking orders will make sure that the falsehoods on LFL’s website cannot be communicated in Singapore without the facts placed beside them. It went on to note that the orders will only be withdrawn if the organisation complies with the correction direction.
“It seems to me, unfortunately, the Singapore government is more interested in silencing us and keeping the lid on the truth about the method of execution in Changi Prison, rather than getting the truth of what is happening and take action,” said Mr Surendran.
He added, “Blocking the website…is merely to silence us”.
LFL files a motion against Home Affairs Minister
On Friday, LFL has filed a motion in the Kuala Lumpur High Court against Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam for issuing the correction direction to the organisation.
The civil suit seeks a declaration from the High Court stating that Mr Shanmugam cannot take any action against LFL in Malaysia under POFMA.
“The reason we’ve brought this suit is that, for us, this is an attempt by Singapore to encroach upon, to stifle, or to crack down on freedom of speech in our country – in Malaysia,” said Mr Surendran.
He added, “It is an attempt to reach out their tentacles and impose their own oppressive fake news act on Malaysians issuing statements in Malaysia. And remember our own fake news act? The new government has already repealed it. But they’re now trying to impose their fake news act on us, so that’s why we’ve filed it.”
Gurdial Singh Nijar, one of the lawyers representing the organisation, repeated that Singapore cannot simply apply its laws to Malaysia citizens.
He went on to say that if LFL fails to issue a correction notice, it could face imprisonment and hefty fines under POFMA.
“Our clients are at risk … You’re preventing Malaysians from exercising their rights which is granted by the constitution here. Singapore is looking to enforce what our government has repealed,” he explained.