Defamation suits and repressive laws were used against human rights defenders and government critics resulting in steep fines and prison sentences. A new law further limited rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
Freedom of expression
Political leaders continued to use defamation suits to silence critics. In February, blogger and activist Leong Sze Han was ordered to pay SGD133,000 (US$99,000) in damages after being sued by the Prime Minister. Leong Sze Han had shared a news article on social media linking Lee Hsien Loong to a corruption scandal. In September, Terry Xu and Rubaashini Shunmuganathan from the independent news site,The Online Citizen, were also found guilty of defamation against the Prime Minister and ordered to pay SGD210,000 (US$156,138). Later that month, The Online Citizen was forced to close its website and social media accounts after the government accused it of failing to declare its funding sources. In November, Terry Xu and Daniel de Costa were found guilty of defamation against cabinet members and were awaiting sentencing at year’s end. In October, parliament passed the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA) giving the government sweeping new powers, including to remove or block access to online content if “foreign interference” is suspected. The law also introduced harsh penalties for media outlets and others considered as “foreign agents”.1
Freedom of assembly
In February, human rights defender Jolovan Wham was convicted of breaching the Public Order Act and the Vandalism Act for peaceful protests in 2017 against violations of human rights. He served 22 days in prison.2 In August, Jolovan Wham appeared in court again on charges related to an incident in 2018 when he took a photo of himself holding a poster outside a court where Terry Xu and Daniel de Costa were on trial.
A woman was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment in June for starving, torturing and killing her domestic worker in 2016. Covid-19 restrictions continued to confine low-income migrant workers to cramped dormitories and workplaces. In November, the UN CERD Committee reviewed the government’s report and recommended stronger protections for migrant workers, including female domestic workers.
LGBTI people’s rights
In January, a transgender student alleged that the Ministry of Education prevented her from receiving prescribed hormone replacement therapy. Three students, who were arrested in January for protesting against discrimination against LGBTI+ people in schools, were released on bail. In November, they and three others were issued with police warnings for staging a protest without a permit.3
There was international outcry against the planned execution in November of Malaysian national Nagaenthran Dharmalingam who was sentenced to the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking. He was assessed to have intellectual disabilities. His appeal was still pending at year’s end.4
- “Singapore: Foreign interference law is a tool for crushing dissent”, 5 October
- “Singapore: Quash conviction and sentence of human rights defender Jolovan Wham”, 15 February
- Singapore: Cease Investigation of Peaceful Activists and Respect Transgender Rights (ASA 36/3643/2021), 8 February
- “Singapore: Halt ‘despicable’ and unlawful execution of Malaysian national”, 4 November