Singapore must stop targeting HR defenders and media
LETTER | We, the 37 undersigned groups and organisations, and three individuals, are appalled by Singapore’s denial and response to the highlighting of alleged “barbaric” unlawful practices in execution method that was highlighted vide a Jan 16 media statement issued by Lawyers for Liberty (LFL).
Singapore claims that it is “untrue, baseless and preposterous”.
We are also shocked by Singapore’s invoking of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), and the issuing of notices and directions ordering LFL and three parties that have shared the allegations – Singaporean activist Kirsten Han, The Online Citizen website and Yahoo Singapore – to correct the false statements.
To comply with this Pofma Order, Singapore authorities said: “They will be required to carry a correction notice alongside their posts or articles stating that their posts or articles contain falsehoods”.
Non-compliance with the Pofma notice is a crime, and if convicted an individual may be liable to a fine not exceeding S$20,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both, whereas others will be liable to a fine not exceeding S$500,000.
The notice can also lead to an access blocking order, whereby service providers will have to disable access by end-users in Singapore to the online location.
It is not a defence even if one has applied to the responsible minister to withdraw or vary the order, appealed to court or is “subject to a duty under any written law, any rule of law, any contract or any rule of professional conduct, that prevents the person from complying with the Pofma notice”.
It is deplorable to ask any human rights defender or media agency to publicly take a position that the alleged rights violations and/or injustices that they highlighted or reported on are false or contains falsehood.
Where there is an allegation of a wrongdoing or a crime, it is the duty of a human rights defender or any concerned person to highlight it, and thereafter, it falls on the relevant government, or relevant national, regional or international bodies to conduct the needed independent investigation and determine whether what was alleged was true or baseless.
Note that many investigations may even come to no conclusions due to insufficiency of evidence, and this should in no way lead to the assumption that the allegations were untrue.
A perusal of the LFL statement shows that the source of their information, amongst others, is from a credible source – a Singapore prison officer.
This would reasonably be someone who had first-hand knowledge of what was being alleged.
In the LFL statement, it also mentions that this officer is prepared to come forward and testify at the appropriate forum.
LFL also highlighted this allegation earlier, in its Nov 23, 2019 statement, where it said: “Finally, we’ve also received shocking information relating to the process of execution at Changi prison.
“We have incontrovertible evidence that unlawful and extremely brutal methods are secretly used in carrying out hangings by the Singapore Prison Services. We are prepared to reveal this evidence, supplied by prison officers, in due course.”
LFL, in the Jan 16 statement, also said it had written to the Singapore authorities and informed them it is prepared to meet them and hand over the evidence in its possession.
However, the Singapore government met LFL’s disclosures with deafening silence.
Significantly, the government also did not deny LFL’s allegation of brutality in carrying out hangings, which has been widely reported.
The Singapore government should have rightfully met with LFL, received the evidence and conducted a proper investigation and disclosed its findings.
According to law, police are not supposed to torture detainees, but the fact is that some police officers do torture and even kill those in their custody.
It may not the government’s fault, but the fault of these errant officers who did wrong.
But, if a government, after receiving information of such wrongdoings, chooses to do nothing about it, then it can be said that the government that “covers up” wrongdoings of public servants or simply ignores it may be just as guilty of the said wrongdoings.
The media is obliged to report to the public, and that includes statements and positions of ordinary people and human rights defenders.
Most media outlets, would as a matter of good practice, try to get a response from the alleged perpetrator or other relevant parties but the news ought never be stifled simply because the perpetrators (or interested parties) do not provide an immediate response.
Of course, most media will carry even a late response from the alleged perpetrator or other interested parties.
Obligations imposed on the media should not be the same as those imposed on individuals using social media.
Many good people who share news or views on social media, if they do get a response from alleged perpetrator or interested parties, will also usually share that response with their readership.
In Malaysia, many human rights violations and even crimes that were highlighted by HR Defenders or media were investigated by the government.
As an example, in Malaysia, it was the investigation by the New Straits Times Special Probes Team into the mass killings in Wang Kelian in 2015 that highlighted and suggested a massive, coordinated cover-up.
It revealed the human trafficking death camps had been discovered months earlier, but police only announced the discovery on May 25.
It also questioned why the police ordered the destruction of these camps, which were potential crime scenes before they could be processed by forensics personnel?
The Malaysian government’s response was to investigate this case, and on Jan 16, it was reported that the Home Ministry will present a report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the Wang Kelian human trafficking incident to the Cabinet next week.
Hopefully, thereafter the report will be made public.
Like Malaysia, Singapore too should have conducted a comprehensive investigation on the allegations raised by LFL, and not try to “force” LFL and others who highlighted this issue to publicly admit that it contained falsehood.
Publicly highlighting allegations or facts of wrongdoings, rights violations and injustices today is a means of ensuring that justice is done, for otherwise relevant governments and enforcement authorities can sometimes chose to simply “cover-up” such allegations.
It is wrong for any government to use laws and crimes (with serious penalties) to prevent human rights defenders, media and others from highlighting allegations of wrongdoings.
Such laws that undermine the responsibilities of human rights defenders, including media, ought to be repealed. Freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly ought to be protected.
The courage to highlight possible human rights violations, injustices and wrongdoings should be applauded, not stifled or penalised.
The media reported that the Singapore Minister of Communications and Information had on Jan 23 directed the Infocomm Media Development Authority to get Internet service providers here to block the LFL website for not complying with a correction direction issued under the fake news law.
Therefore, we call on Singapore to:
– immediately and unconditionally withdraw the notice and internet access blocking orders pursuant to Pofma that were directed at LFL, Kristen Han, The Online Citizen, Yahoo Singapore and others.
– ensure an independent and thorough investigation is conducted concerning allegations of unjust and barbaric practices that allegedly happened during the hanging of persons in Singapore.
– respect human rights defenders and media agencies, and not to stifle them from carrying out their responsibility and duty to highlight allegations of human rights violations and injustices.
– abolish the death penalty.
The above is a joint statement from Aliran, Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (Adpan), Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (Afad), Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons from Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir, Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters- HRDP in Myanmar, Asociación de Trabajadoras del Hogar a Domicilio y de Maquila–Atrahdom, Guatemala, Australians Against Capital Punishment, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum), India, Dutch League For Human Rights, Empower Foundation Thailand, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (Find) – Philippines, German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Global Women’s Strike United Kingdom, Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Information Center, Karapatan Alliance Philippines, LAW United Kingdom, Madpet (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture), Malaysian Trade Union Congress, Manushya Foundation Thailand, MAP Foundation (Migrant Assistance Program) Thailand, North-South Initiative, Odhikar Bangladesh, Payday Men’s Network United Kingdom. Persatuan Komuniti Prihatin Selangor dan Kuala Lumpur, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (Pacti) India, People’s Empowerment Foundation Thailand, Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia), Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign, Suaram Malaysia, Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance Nepal, The Advocates for Human Rights, The Day of the Endangered Lawyer Foundation, The Julian Wagner Memorial Fund Australia, Union for Civil Liberty Thailand, Workers Assistance Center Inc Philippines, World Coalition Against the Death Penalty/ Coalition mondiale contre la peine de mort, WH4C (Workers Hub For Change), Vucong, Giao (School of Law, Vietnam National University Hanoi), N Jayaram (Journalist, Bangalore) and Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman (human rights defender from Bangladesh, in Hong Kong) – Malaysiakini, 2/2/2020