After losing a harassment law suit, the Singapore Law Ministry made a 180 degree turn and now says the government does not need protection from harassment.Instead the government now says that it is criminalising “false information”:
“The Government has never said that it needed protection from harassment. Nor does the Government intend to amend POHA (Protection from Harassment Act) to protect itself from harassment. The Government needs to take steps to protect the public and Singapore’s institutions from the very real dangers posed by the spread of false information. The Government will not shy away from this, whatever may be said wrongly about its intentions and objectives.”
Last week (Jan 16), the Court of Appeal ruled against the government disallowing them to invoke the newly-enacted harassment law.
The Singapore government later responded that they will “study the judgment, and consider what further steps it should take to correct the deliberate spreading of falsehoods”.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday (Jan 22), the opposition Workers’ Party said that the government might be changing the law and turning the new Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) “into the latest in the many tools that the government can use against Singaporeans who publicly express different views from the government on its policies and actions”.
According to the Workers’ Party, the Singapore government in 1988 lost a court ruling and then in Jan 1989, changed the law to suit its agenda.
The Law Ministry, represented by an unknown spokesperson unreported by the state media, said:
“The Workers’ Party misconceived and misrepresents the issues and the Government’s aims. POHA has to do with harassment and false statements. In the recent case, the Government had sought to invoke the legal remedies against false statements, and the apex court had agreed that falsehoods about the Government had indeed been published by TOC and the doctor. The court decision on the case was split, with the majority believing that POHA, as currently drafted, did not give the Government the power to require publication of true facts, and the Chief Justice disagreeing with the opinion. This case thus had nothing to do with harassment. It was about false statements.”
The Law Ministry then audaciously claimed that such “false information”, or information not deemed true by the government, “weakens” the authoritarian state’s democracy:
“The Government strongly believes that the scourge of false information must not be allowed to take hold in Singapore, lest it weakens our democratic society and institutions. At a time when false information can affect election results, contaminate public discussions and weaken democratic societies, it is important for the Government, as well as corporations and individuals, to be able to respond robustly to false statements that could poison public debate and mislead decision-making.”
In the government’s parting response, the Law Ministry took a potshot at the opposition using binding rhetoric, claiming that the Workers’ Party are against the criminalisation of falsehood because they “profit” from it:
“Everyone, including the Government” should be entitled to point out falsehoods and highlight true facts. The WP should welcome this, unless it sees profit in the dissemination of falsehoods.”