Singapore: Authorities given broad new powers to police protests

Amendments to Singapore’s Public Order Act adopted by its parliament give police and other officials broad and arbitrary powers to further limit or ban public assemblies and protests, said Amnesty International today.

As of 3 April, organizers of public events will have to adhere to strict measures including applying for a permit at least 28 days in advance and informing the police of the estimated size of the gathering. Failure to do so will result in a fine of SGD $20,000 (USD 14,297) or imprisonment for up to a year, or both.

“Our key concern is that the authorities will use the added powers granted by this law to further curtail freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in a country where government critics and activists are already heavily controlled,” said Josef Benedict, Deputy Director for Southeast Asia at Amnesty International.

“The Singaporean government must ensure that the human rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are enjoyed by all, instead of using new laws and other mechanisms to violate these rights.”

Under the revised Act, police and a government minister will have wide discretion to cancel, postpone or move events. An application for a permit may also be rejected if the police deem that a public meeting will be used for a political purpose and be attended, organized or funded, in any way by foreign nationals.

These latest amendments follow a government clampdown on free speech and public assembly, which has included the conviction and fining of political activist Han Hui Hui for leading a peaceful protest and “causing a public nuisance”, and threats to charge her under wide-ranging contempt of court laws, unless she removed social media posts criticising her trial and punishment.

Background

The Public Order Act, first promulgated in 2009, regulates public talks, religious assemblies and political protests.

In February, a fine of SGD $3,100 (USD $2,281), was imposed against political activist and government critic Han Hui Hui for the peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression. This prevents her from standing in the next parliamentary election. The fine followed a peaceful demonstration she organised at Hong Lim Park in 2014, protesting the use of government pension funds.

Last month teenager Amos Yee, who had been jailed twice for blog posts, was granted asylum in the USA, after a US immigration judge ruled that his treatment by Singapore authorities amounted to ‘political persecution’.