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SG govt calls Human Rights Watch ‘biased’ in its view of online falsehood bill

The Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill proposed by the Singapore government has gotten criticism from the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Responding to HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson’s statement on its website that the “Singapore’s government wants to be the arbiter of what anyone can say about Singapore anywhere in the world”, law and home affairs Minister K Shanmugam told several media outlets that it was biased and one-sided.

The Minister told the press that HRW’s claim “is part of its long-standing practice of issuing biased and one-sided statements about Singapore”. He added the organisation was invited to share its thoughts with the Select Committee before the bill was tabled, but had not done so because “it knew that its views were biased and indefensible, and without any basis in fact.”

The law minister further stated that HRW’s initial willingness to appear before the Select Committee evaporated once it was informed that its representative should be prepared to answer questions about its views on Singapore.

Meanwhile, Robertson added that Singapore’s ministers should not have the power to singlehandedly decree what is true and what is false.

“Given Singapore’s long history of prohibiting speech critical of the government, its policies or its officials, its professed concerns about ‘online falsehoods’ and alleged election manipulation are farcical,” said Robertson in a post on HRW’s website. Further, the post demanded that the government immediately withdraw the bill and significantly revise it to comply with international protections for freedom of speech.

HRW’s statement comes a day after  K Shanmugam released a video on Facebook emphasising that the government will not be the “arbiter of truth” and that disagreements over truth and falsity will ultimately be decided by the courts.

The post added, “If you feel Singapore Ministers are elitist, or the Government is to blame for the rising cost of living, that’s your opinion – which is fine. Legitimate public discourse forms the backbone of any democratic nation. But, if falsehoods are left unchecked, society will be worse off; trust between our people and in our institutions will be damaged.”

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