Singapore falls short on rights: lawyers’ group

Agence France-Presse (AFP) has highlighted a report(PDF) by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI).

IBAHRI’s press release “expressed concern about limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and the press, and of the independence of the judiciary in Singapore.”

18 recommendations are made in the report, which are reproduced below.

  1. Singapore should ratify the ICCPR without reservations and implement its provisions at the earliest opportunity.
  2. Singapore should immediately bring its restrictions on free expression in line with recognised international customary law.
  3. Singapore should immediately abolish defamation as a criminal offence, or in the alternative and should abolish heavy sanctions for defamation offences; prohibit public officials from instituting criminal defamation; and review the existing defences to ensure they are in line with international standards.
  4. The Singapore Government should pass legislative limits on civil defamation pay-outs, and certainly on cases initiated by government officials.
  5. A defence of qualified privilege for comments made about government officials should be made available and enforced by the courts in appropriate cases.
  6. The Singapore Government should take steps to encourage, not discourage, opposition participation and debate.
  7. Singapore Government officials should stop initiating defamation claims for criticisms made in the course of political debate.
  8. The Singapore Government should increase the freedom of the press – both domestic and foreign – to report on political issues impacting on the people of Singapore.
  9. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act should be amended so as to ensure that there are checks and balances on the decision to restrict the circulation of publications under the Act.
  10. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act should be amended to allow reasonable comment on the domestic politics of Singapore by foreign publications.
  11. Singapore should remove personal responsibility for internet hosts for information published on their hosted sites or should clarify the limitations on material that may not be posted.
  12. Steps should be taken to ensure that internet bloggers are free to make reasonable statements in the public interest.
  13. Security of tenure should be granted to all judges.
  14. Transfer of judges between executive and judicial roles should be abolished.
  15. The situations in which demonstrations may take place should be expanded to include all peaceful assemblies.
  16. Limitations on penalties for peaceful assembly should be introduced as a matter of urgency.
  17. The Singapore Government should respect the right of the Singapore Law Society to engage in debate on law reform and should immediately repeal the prohibition on the Singapore Law Society commenting on legislation.
  18. The Singapore Law Society should ensure that it is actively participating in law reform debates on a wide range of issues, as that is its responsibility as a law society.

UPDATE: The Ministry of Law has issued a response. Both the Straits Times and TODAY have reported on the response.

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