Amnesty International, a prominent international human rights organization, issued a statement today strongly condemning the actions of the Singapore government aimed at stifling dissent and curbing freedom of expression.
The organization expressed grave concerns regarding the escalating harassment, investigations, and legal persecution of human rights defenders and government critics ahead of the upcoming elections.
Highlighting recent developments, Amnesty International underscored the intensified campaign by Singaporean authorities to silence voices critical of the government.
Notably, well-known activists and government critics have faced intrusive investigations and harassment solely for exercising their right to freely express their views and opinions.
Amnesty International particularly emphasized the chilling impact of the newly introduced legislation, the Online Criminal Harms Bill, which was introduced for the first reading on 8 May. The organisation says that this legislation poses a significant threat to Singapore’s already limited space for free speech.
The statement pointed out that Singapore is scheduled to hold Presidential elections by September, setting the stage for an even wider crackdown on dissenting voices.
Amnesty International expressed deep concern over the erosion of fundamental human rights in the country, as evidenced by recent cases of persecution against individuals who have dared to challenge the status quo.
One prominent case mentioned by Amnesty International involved Terry Xu, an editor who was fined SGD 30,000 (USD 22,474) for contempt of court. Xu was found guilty of “impugning the reputation of the Singapore judiciary” for publishing an open letter on his website, The Online Citizen (TOC), which criticized the Chief Justice of Singapore for failing to address a case involving the Prime Minister’s brother, Lee Hsien Yang, and his wife, Lee Suet Fern. Amnesty International underscored that Xu’s refusal to apologize and remove the letter from TOC’s website resulted in further penalties imposed by the Attorney General’s Chamber.
The statement also highlighted the suspension of human rights lawyer M Ravi’s practicing license by the Singapore Court of Three Judges. Ravi, renowned for his work on death penalty cases, faced a five-year suspension in response to his criticism of the government’s handling of his client’s case.
Mr Ravi’s suspension, coupled with previous sanctions against him, demonstrated a clear pattern of silencing human rights defenders and stifling criticism of the death penalty in Singapore.
Amnesty International strongly emphasized that the actions taken against Xu and Ravi serve as emblematic examples of the systematic undermining of peaceful human rights advocacy, freedom of expression, and the right to a fair trial.
The organization expressed deep concerns about the restrictive environment in Singapore, particularly during elections, where freedom of expression is vital for meaningful public debate and informed participation.
Additionally, Amnesty International shed light on the broader assault on independent media outlets in Singapore. The organization noted that TOC, a popular website critical of the government, was forced to shut down in 2021 due to its refusal to disclose subscriber details, thereby infringing upon media freedom and compromising the privacy rights of its subscribers. TOC subsequently relocated its operations to Taiwan to continue scrutinizing the actions of the Singaporean authorities.
The most recent crackdown has also targeted other prominent critics. In March, the government revealed that Lee Hsien Yang, the brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and his wife, Lee Suet Fern, were under police investigation for perjury and accused them of absconding.
The charges come as Lee Hsien Yang has become increasingly critical of his
brother’s government amid a long-running feud over the estate of their late father, Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
In March, Lee Hsien Yang confirmed that he and his wife have left Singapore due to fear of reprisals. Their son, Li Shengwu, was previously convicted of contempt of court after expressing critical views of the judiciary in 2020 and has been living outside the country for fear of further sanctions.
Amnesty International expressed alarm over the introduction of the “Online Criminal Harms Bill” by the Singapore government on 8 May. The legislation criminalizes online offences related to racial, religious, and class harmony, as well as counselling disobedience of the law. The organization raised concerns about the broad and vague provisions, which could encompass a wide range of peaceful expressions, thereby limiting online free speech.
In its statement, Amnesty International urged the Singapore government and judiciary to immediately cease the harassment, intimidation, and unjust prosecution of human rights defenders and government critics under repressive laws.
The organization stressed the urgent need to uphold the rights to freedom of expression, fair trial, and due process for all individuals in Singapore. Amnesty International further called for the government to shift its focus toward fostering open public discussions on human rights issues, rather than resorting to suppressing critics and introducing legislation that undermines freedom of expression.
The organization stressed the urgent need to uphold the rights to freedom of expression, fair trial, and due process for all individuals in Singapore.
Amnesty International further urged the government to prioritize engaging in open public discussions on human rights issues, rather than resorting to suppressing critics and introducing legislation that further undermines freedom of expression.
The statement by Amnesty International serves as a stark reminder of the critical importance of protecting human rights and preserving freedom of expression as Singapore approaches its upcoming elections.