SINGAPORE’S new public order law is an attempt to “scare” the public and will only “empower the government to repress freedom of assembly and speech,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.
The rights group advised the government to revise the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill, which was introduced in Parliament on Feb 27, to ensure that protection of public safety does not violate fundamental rights.
“The Singaporean government’s history of persecuting dissenting voices makes the proposed public order law particularly frightening,” Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement. “Public protests are not a threat that justify the wholescale repeal of basic rights.”
The new Bill was introduced as a way to prevent terrorists from gaining access to sensitive information during attack. But it allows the Commissioner of Police to make a “communications stop order” during any “serious incident” while security operations are ongoing. Concern is that this could include protests and gatherings.
The law requires all people in the vicinity to stop filming or taking pictures of the incident area, or from sending them on to others. It also bans text or audio messages about the operations. All bystanders, including journalists, are included in the restriction.
HRW said the new law will place restrictions on peaceful assembly and free speech that are “grossly disproportionate to any genuine threat posed by protesters.”
As the rights group points out, once a serious incident has been declared, the police have full authority to close roads; impose cordons or curfews; conduct arrests searches, and seizures without warrants; restrict the freedom of movement of specified individuals, and order the dispersal of an assembly or procession.
Any peaceful protests that disrupt traffic or interfere with business activities, could be considered a serious incident, according to the Bill. Under the new law, not only would police be allowed to disperse the protest, they would also have authority to conduct warrantless searches of people and vehicles.
“The proposed public order law is just the latest attempt to scare Singaporeans into fearing activity that is normal in a democracy,” Adams said.
“Imagined threats to public safety cannot justify sweeping restrictions on assembly and speech. Singapore’s government should show at last that it trusts its citizens to participate in peaceful protests without draconian laws.”