[APHR] Quotes and Open Letter on Myanmar’s presence at the ASEAN Summit

14 October 2021

Please see below quotes from Charles Santiago, Malaysian MP and Chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). 

“ASEAN’s credibility depends on its ability to act decisively. Denying the illegal Myanmar junta a place at the ASEAN Leaders Summit is a small step towards reclaiming the bloc’s desired centrality as a key regional player that can bring peace and stability.”

“Myanmar’s junta has shown utter contempt for ASEAN and its own people. Since it agreed to the Five-Point Consensus there have been more than 3,530 attacks either on civilians by the military or armed clashes that failed to protect civilians – that’s an 840% increase from the same period in 2020. Min Aung Hlaing and his gang of thugs are making fools of our governments.”

Open Letter to ASEAN Leaders


To: ASEAN Leaders

CC: ASEAN Dialogue Partners

13 October 2021

Re: Myanmar’s presence at the ASEAN Summit

Your Excellencies,  

We, the undersigned organisations, write to you to urge you not to extend an invitation to Myanmar’s military junta to the upcoming ASEAN Summit on 25 to 28 October because of the military’s blatant disregard for the Five Point Consensus agreed at the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting and continuing refusal to cooperate with ASEAN towards its implementation.

We welcome the remarks made by the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Malaysia who questioned whether the junta should be invited to the Summit and urge the other Member States to come to the same conclusion. 

ASEAN’s credibility depends on its ability to act decisively and bring an end to the Myanmar military junta’s relentless violence against the people of Myanmar. A lack of decisiveness and consequences for the military’s total contempt for the ASEAN’s leaders’ agreement risks undermining the bloc’s legitimacy as a key regional player that can bring peace and stability.

On 24 April 2021, the leaders of nine Member States and the Myanmar junta, represented by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, agreed on a consensus that included the “immediate cessation of violence”, constructive dialogue among all parties, the appointment of an ASEAN special envoy on Myanmar, humanitarian assistance to be delivered to the country, and for the Special Envoy and delegation to visit Myanmar to “meet with all parties concerned”. 

Myanmar’s junta has failed to respect this consensus on every single count.

Since the Myanmar junta agreed to immediately cease the violence on 25th April till the end of September there have been 3,534 attacks either on civilians by the military or armed clashes that failed to protect civilians – that’s an 840% increase from the same period in 2020 (376). Thousands have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety. Violent acts amounting to crimes against humanity have been documented. It is clear that junta leader Min Aung Hlaing will not stop in his attempts to crush the democratic opposition to his rule.

The military junta has also continually opposed any form of dialogue. Zaw Min Tun, the military’s spokesman, recently said that dialogue between the ASEAN Special Envoy and the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the National Unity Government and People’s Defence Forces could not take place because they have been declared by the junta as “illegal organizations”. The junta’s stalling tactics also contributed to the delay in announcing Brunei’s Foreign Affairs Minister II Erywan Yusof as ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar.

While we note aid commitments made to the AHA Centre and delivered through the Myanmar Red Cross, it is important to recall that the Myanmar military’s own actions are creating the current humanitarian crisis engulfing the country. According to the United Nations (UN), three million people require assistance. That number has tripled over the last eight months. In addition to that, there are now 20 million people living below the poverty line – nearly half the population. Yet, the military junta is weaponizing humanitarian aid; blocking the distribution of supplies, placing travel restrictions on humanitarian workers, hoarding and destroying aid, and attacking civilians, health and humanitarian aid workers. 

It is clear that Myanmar’s military has displayed a flagrant lack of respect for ASEAN, and in fact since the coup, it appears to have used the bloc to try to gain legitimacy while at the same time increasing its brutal reprisals against the people.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also warned that the opportunity to prevent the Myanmar junta from entrenching its rule could be narrowing. He has called for unified regional and international action to prevent the crisis from becoming a large-scale conflict and multi-faceted “catastrophe” in Southeast Asia and beyond.

It is time for ASEAN to act decisively. This starts by denying the Myanmar junta the legitimacy it craves, and which has been rejected constantly by the people of Myanmar. The junta has refused to cooperate with regional and international neighbors, failed to stand by the commitments it has made, and exposed to the world not only its barbaric brutality but also an inability to deal with the deepening social and economic disaster currently taking place in the country, which includes the dereliction of public health services amid the global pandemic. 

Reiterating the remarks of Malaysia and Indonesia’s foreign ministers, a firm united response by the other Member States is required. The Myanmar junta’s actions must not be accepted as “business as usual.” They are endangering the stability, prosperity, peace and health of the region.

We therefore call on ASEAN leaders to deny the head of the Myanmar military junta a seat at the table and display to him that his callous disregard for the people, and his regional neighbors, does not come free of consequences. 

Sincerely, 

Signatories:

  1. A Lin Thitsar
  2. A Lin Yaung Pan Daing
  3. A Naga Alin
  4. Action Committee for Democracy Development
  5. All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress
  6. ALTSEAN Burma
  7. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
  8. Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
  9. Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
  10. Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization
  11. Backpack Health Workers Team
  12. Burma Medical Association
  13. Burmese Women’s Union
  14. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  15. Democracy for Ethnic Minorities Organization
  16. Democracy, Peace and Women’s Organization – DPW
  17. Equality Myanmar
  18. FORUM-ASIA
  19. Freedom and Labor Action Group
  20. Future Light Center
  21. Future Thanlwin
  22. Generation Wave
  23. Human Rights Foundation of Monland
  24. Kachin Women’s Association Thailand
  25. Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN)
  26. Karen Human Rights Group
  27. Karen Peace Support Network
  28. Karen River Watch (KRW)
  29. Karen Women’s Organization
  30. Karenni Civil Society Network
  31. Karenni Human Rights Group
  32. Karenni National Women’s Organization
  33. Keng Tung Youth
  34. Let’s Help Each Other
  35. Metta Campaign Mandalay
  36. Myanmar Peace Bikers
  37. Myanmar People Alliance (Shan State)
  38. Network for Advocacy Action Tanintharyi Women Network
  39. Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma (ND-Burma)
  40. Olive Organization
  41. Progressive Voice
  42. Save and Care Organization for Ethnic Women at Border Areas
  43. Save the Salween Network (SSN)
  44. Shan MATA
  45. Southern Youth Development Organization
  46. Spring Revolution Interfaith Network
  47. Synergy – Social Harmony Organization
  48. Tanintharyi MATA
  49. Thint Myat Lo Thu Myar
  50. Union of Karenni State Youth
  51. Women Advocacy Coalition – Myanmar
  52. Women’s League of Burma
    1. Burmese Women’s Union (BWU)
    2. Kachin Women’s Association-Thailand (KWAT)
    3. Karen Women’s Organization (KWO)
    4. Karenni National Women’s Organization (KNWO)
    5. Kayan Women’s Organization (KyWO)
    6. Kuki Women’s Human Rights Organization (KWHRO)
    7. Lahu Women’s Organization (LWO)
    8. Pa-O Women’s Union (PWU)
    9. Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN)
    10. Ta’ang Women’s Organization (TWO)
    11. Tavoy Women’s Union (TWU)
    12. Women for Justice (WJ)

Click here to read on APHR’s website
Click here to download the pdf file

For more information, please contact info@aseanmp.org


[ICJ] Singapore: Withdraw Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill 

14 October 2021

OCTOBER 13, 2021https://www.icj.org/singapore-withdraw-foreign-interference-countermeasures-bill/

Today, ICJ and nine others organizations called on the Government of Singapore to withdraw the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (‘FICA’). FICA’s provisions contravene international legal and human rights principles – including the rights to freedom of expression, association, participation in public affairs, and privacy – and will further curtail civic space, both online and offline.

On October 4, 2021, the Parliament of Singapore passed FICA, three weeks after it was tabled on September 13 by the Ministry of Home Affairs purportedly to “prevent, detect and disrupt foreign interference in (…) domestic politics”. This was despite serious concerns that the law could undermine civic freedoms – raised by members of the publiccivil societylegal fraternityindependent mediapolitical oppositionacademia and industry in Singapore. The bill went through both its second and third readings in one parliament sitting and FICA was passed without significant amendments to address key concerns.

While the protection of national security may be a legitimate aim, FICA contravenes the rule of law and the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality under international human rights law. Overbroad and ambiguous provisions draw within its scope a wide range of conduct, activities and communications “directed towards a political end in Singapore”. As a result, almost any form of expression and association relating to politics, social justice or other matters of public interest in Singapore may be ensnarled within the ambit of the legislation – making it difficult, in turn, for the average individual to reasonably predict with precision what conduct may fall foul of the law. Vague provisions also allow for unfettered executive discretion in interpretation and implementation of the law. Unlimited executive discretion – together with severe penalties under the law – can result in executive overreach into what it deems permissible as civic discussion and public debate. FICA also provides no mechanism for independent judicial oversight or provision of remedy where human rights violations occur as a result of the enforcement of its provisions. The law thus fails to provide for the least intrusive mechanisms to achieve its stated aim of protecting national security while greatly enhancing the risk of executive abuse.

FICA empowers the Minister for Home Affairs to order the removal or disabling of online content – undermining the right to freedom of expression. The Minister is, for example, empowered to order publication of mandatory messages drafted by the authorities, ban apps from being downloadable in Singapore, and order disclosure of private communications and information, when the Minister “suspects or believes” that someone is undertaking or planning to undertake online communications activity “on behalf of a foreign principal”, and that it is in the “public interest” to act. The law makes it a criminal offence to undertake “clandestine” electronic communications on behalf of a foreign principal under certain circumstances, including when that activity “diminishes or is likely to diminish public confidence in (…) the Government or a public authority” or “is likely to be directed towards a political end in Singapore”. Activity “directed towards a public end” includes conduct influencing or seeking to influence government decisions or public opinion on matters of “public controversy” or “political debate” in Singapore. The government can also designate individuals as “politically significant persons” after which they can be required to follow strict limits on sources of funding and disclose all links with foreigners or foreign entities.

FICA’s provisions can also facilitate violations of the rights to freedom of association and participation in public affairs. “Conduct” committed in connection with a “foreign principal” and “directed towards a political end in Singapore” is criminalized where this involves “covert” communication or “deception” – which is defined as including any “deliberate” use of “encrypted communication platforms”. The expansive and vaguely worded definition of activities “directed towards a political end” can cover a broad range of activities – including social justice advocacy, artistic commentary, academic research, social enterprise or journalistic reporting – carried out by, among others, members of civil society, academia, media, the arts and industry. Meanwhile, the overbroad configuration of connection with a “foreign principal” as “arrangements” with any “foreigner” or “non-Singapore registered entity” that can be “written or unwritten” brings within the law’s remit nearly all forms of cross-border collaboration or engagement. Use of “encrypted platforms” as a reflection of “covert” communications also allows for criminal intent to be inferred from a wide range of modes of communications via modern electronic devices and platforms – including through encrypted messaging and email services; and the use of online platforms through secure connection services, such as virtual private networks (VPNs).

FICA will disproportionately impact members of civil society, independent journalists, academics, researchers, artists, writers and other individuals who express opinions, share information and collaborate to advocate on socio-political issues and matters of public interest. As their work can involve critical opinions and is often underpinned and supported by cross-border collaboration, research and funding, they are exposed to increased scrutiny and sanctions under FICA. The issues on which they work will also come under increased State oversight and control. Executive oversight and control can, in turn, infringe not only their rights to freedom of expression and association but the rights of other individuals in Singapore who rely on their work to participate in public affairs, which includes conduct of citizens to “exert influence through public debate and dialogue with their representatives or through their capacity to organize”.

Severe penalties under FICA are disproportionate. In addition, many of those penalties may be imposed without adequate independent oversight or remedy in case of human rights violations, which can result in a chilling effect on civic space and discussion. Directions can be issued by the authorities to censor, restrict or block access to online content, accounts, services, apps or locations deemed to violate the law. The law also allows for the authorities to designate “politically significant” individuals and entities and order them to “disclose foreign affiliations” and “arrangements” or to end “reportable arrangements”. However, there is a lack of independent oversight over these restrictions and designations. These directions may only be appealed to a Reviewing Tribunal appointed by the President on advice of the Cabinet, and decisions made by this Tribunal cannot be appealed to the High Court except for non-compliance with procedural requirements. Further, individuals can face criminal sanctions under the law for “clandestine foreign interference by electronic communications activity” and non-compliance with directions, which may result in steep fines and imprisonment terms. These criminal offences are arrestable and non-bailable.

These penalties and restrictions not only risk undermining the right to privacy, but increase the risk of individuals self-censoring and deliberately deciding not to participate in or engage with cross-border networks to avoid potentially falling foul of the law. Their negative impacts can be particularly severe on independent online platforms, which can be banned from receiving funding or other financial support from foreign individuals or entities, and on journalists, political commentators, civil society members and community researchers who often nurture public opinion and debate through information, opinions and advocacy shared online.

In light of these significant concerns, we request that the Government of Singapore withdraw FICA. The law risks imminently and substantially narrowing already limited civic space in the country – particularly where this space is significantly restricted through abuse of other existing laws such as defamation and contempt of court provisions; the Protection Against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), the Public Order Act and the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act. The imminent enactment and future enforcement of FICA will significantly undermine the Government of Singapore’s obligations under international law to protect, promote and fulfil human rights – instead allowing for the State to expand curtailment of civic freedoms to the detriment of its people.

Signatories

Access Now

Amnesty International

ARTICLE 19

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Digital Defenders Partnership

Human Rights Watch

International Commission of Jurists

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

Download

Full statement with a summary legal analysis, click here.

Contact

Osama Motiwala, ICJ Asia-Pacific Communications Officer, t: +66-62-702-6369 e: osama.motiwala(a)icj.org


[The Jakarta Post] ASEAN Summit without Myanmar’s SAC

11 October 2021

Published 11 October 2021 – https://www.thejakartapost.com/paper/2021/10/10/asean-summit-without-myanmars-sac.html

Yuyun Wahyuningrum

The writer is representative of Indonesia to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).


The 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits are just about two weeks away from now. According to the ASEAN Charter, the summit is the supreme policy-making body and mechanism to address emergency situations affecting ASEAN. 

Among other issues concerning the strengthening of the ASEAN community and centrality, the member states will also discuss the political crisis in Myanmar and the progress in the implementation of the five-point consensus agreed upon by ASEAN leaders and the Myanmar junta leader.

In the ASEAN Community Council (ACC) meeting on Oct. 4, the foreign ministers hinted at the possibility of excluding Myanmar in the next summit. 

They expressed their disappointment with the lack of cooperation on the part of Myanmar’s State Administration Council (SAC) and its slow progress in implementing the five-point consensus. The matter will be further consulted with the nine ASEAN leaders in the next summit to guide how to move forward with the SAC. 

Suspending the right of a member state to participate in the ASEAN summit has not been a practice in ASEAN. However, in 2006, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) – senior dignitaries who gave recommendations on the drafting of the ASEAN Charter – had suggested that ASEAN consider provisions to redress a member’s noncompliance to the objectives, principles and commitments under the Charter and ASEAN agreements. 

Such measures include temporary suspension of rights and privileges of membership, like withholding the right to participate in ASEAN activities, and from chairing ASEAN bodies and their meetings. 
Myanmar was once prevented from chairing ASEAN in 2006 due to the possibility of Western countries boycotting the ASEAN meetings in a show of protest against human rights violations in Myanmar. 

Skipping the role as a chair in ASEAN means Myanmar loses its strategic opportunities to build the country’s socioeconomic progress and democratic transition, to gain political legitimacy and to be considered a responsible member of the international community. 

Realizing the purpose of ASEAN requires collective efforts from all committed member states. ASEAN needs unity and to strengthen its membership capacity to address the changing geostrategic environment we are in now. An irresponsible member who undermines regional commitments and agreements will not take ASEAN anywhere. Surely, ASEAN has no time for this. 

Temporarily halting the participation of the SAC in the summit serves the interest of strengthening the ASEAN Community, but some member states may have different opinions and may create a situation where there is no consensus. 

Article 20 of the ASEAN Charter provides a provision that allows the ASEAN Summit to make a decision should consensus not be reached. One of the options is by applying a majority voting mechanism, as suggested by the EPG. 

Six months have passed since the ASEAN Leaders Meeting and we have continued to witness the escalation of violence with no sign it will end any time soon. 

The media have also reported that the security forces frequently used flash grenades, batons, rubber bullets and tear gas against protesters, which has resulted in many injuries The SAC aims to obtain a certain level of power and authoritative control over the population and jurisdiction by committing violence against civilians. 

In my capacity as a representative of Indonesia to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), I received reports on some of the tactics that have been used by the military. One of them is known locally as Pyat Ley Pyat (four cuts strategy). 

This strategy was initially applied in the 1960s by the military to fight the Communist Party of Burma and the Karen National Union, which involved restricting access to food, funds, intelligence and recruits, aiming to make the support base of armed resistance starve and turn civilians against resistance groups. 

Currently, the cutting includes foods, supplies, communication and recruits with the purpose of making the people and resistance group hungry, disconnected from the world, unable to mobilize, unheard, unrecognized and invisible. 

This strategy has been accompanied by internet and phone blackouts, water and electricity cuts and forced displacement. Furthermore, as reported by Save the Children in its press release on Oct. 4, more than 76,000 children in Myanmar have been forced to leave their homes since the coup on Feb. 1.

Women political prisoners reportedly experienced sexual violence and gendered harassment. Some women gave birth in the forest to save their lives and their babies. 

Another report mentioned that the military attacked healthcare workers, journalists and protesters. In some areas, people have been prevented from evacuating after the military attacks. 

I presented the reports in the AICHR meetings through the specific agenda concerning the region’s recent development on human rights as well as in the Interface Meeting between the ASEAN Minister Meeting and AICHR in September. 

I have often reached out to civic groups in Myanmar to listen to their grievances and organized a series of regional consultations together with AICHR Malaysia and Thailand as well as with national human rights institutions in the region. 

Nevertheless, ASEAN has been criticized by the public for being slow in its response and indecisive, which has contributed to the suffering of the people in Myanmar. 

It is no longer enough to demonstrate the non-recognition position to the SAC through symbolic expressions such as excluding the traditional mention of “we the ministers” at the beginning of the Joint Communique of the 54th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting to convey the message that the grouping did not recognize the representative of the SAC as the foreign minister of Myanmar. 

ASEAN member states have to take the right position and decision in the summit. ASEAN must do the right thing for the people in Myanmar and listen to the voices and concerns of the people in Myanmar demanding democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights. 

It is time for ASEAN to get firm and be on the right side of history.


[CNBC] Nobel Peace Prize goes to journalists Maria Ressa, Dmitry Muratov for work on freedom of expression

10 October 2021

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/08/2021-nobel-peace-prize-goes-to-maria-ressa-dmitry-muratov.html

PUBLISHED FRI, OCT 8 2021 5:05 AM EDT | UPDATED FRI, OCT 8 2021 10:46 AM EDT

Chloe Taylor

  • Maria Ressa is founder, CEO and executive editor of Rappler, an online news outlet covering the policies and actions of President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime in the Philippines.
  • Dmitry Muratov is editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper that publishes critical coverage of the Kremlin.

The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.

The Nobel committee praised Ressa and Muratov for “their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia.”

“They are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions,” it said in a press release following the announcement Friday.

Ressa is founder, CEO and executive editor of Rappler, an online news outlet covering the policies and actions of President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime in the Philippines.

The Nobel committee said she “uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines.”

Muratov is editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper that publishes critical coverage of the Kremlin. Novaya Gazeta, co-founded by Muratov in 1993, is renowned for in-depth exposes of power abuses, human rights abuses and corruption under the Russian regime.

Both Ressa and Muratov have faced attempts by their respective governments to silence their publications.

Ressa and Rappler

In November 2018, Filipino authorities accused Ressa and Rappler of tax evasion, claiming the government had enough evidence to indict her.

Authorities had claimed that year that foreign investment into Rappler amounted to prohibited foreign control of a media company, an accusation denied by the organization. In 2019, the Philippines’ Court of Appeals rejected Rappler’s appeal against the claims.

Rappler was banned from covering official presidential events in 2018, with a presidential spokesperson saying Duterte had “lost trust” in the publication.

Rappler continues to operate, with Ressa telling the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2018 that the government’s action against her website was “a politicized decision aimed at stifling critical coverage.” 

Muratov and Novaya Gazeta

Meanwhile, Novaya Gazeta was praised by the Nobel committee on Friday for its coverage of a range of topics, including police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and “troll factories,” as well as the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia. It added that six of its journalists have been murdered for carrying out their work, and the publication has been met with harassment, threats and violence.

“Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy,” the Nobel committee said. “He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism.”

Kremlin response

In response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that the Russian government congratulated Muratov for winning the Nobel prize.

“He persistently works in accordance with his own ideals, he is devoted to them, he is talented, he is brave,” he said, according to Reuters.

The Nobel committee said that the peace prize was awarded to Ressa and Muratov to reflect the importance of freedom of expression and information.

“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” it said. “These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.”

The Nobel Peace Prize, which includes 10 million Swedish krona ($1.14 million), will be awarded to Ressa and Muratov at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on Dec. 10.

There were 329 nominees for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, 234 of which were individuals and 95 were organizations.

Neither the names of the nominators or the nominees are disclosed until 50 years after the prize is awarded. Only those who meet strict criteria — such as members of the International Court of Justice or Nobel Peace Prize laureates — are permitted to submit nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The 2021 prize had the third-highest number of nominees ever.


[Straits Times – Opinion] Forum: Concerns arise from misunderstanding of Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (reply by Ministry of Home Affairs)

2 October 2021

PUBLISHED OCT 2, 2021, 12:00 AM SGThttps://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/forum/forum-concerns-arise-from-misunderstanding-of-foreign-interference-countermeasures

Mr Harpreet Singh Nehal expressed some concerns on the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (Anti-foreign interference Bill – 3 areas of concern, Sept 28).

Mr Singh’s concerns arise from a basic misunderstanding of the Bill and its provisions.

He says that the broad language of the Bill may capture “perfectly legitimate collaborative activity” undertaken by Singapore citizens and non-governmental organisations, which seek to “influence and improve” our laws and policies.

He also says that directions under Part 3 of the Bill could be issued against “legitimate online activity”, even in the absence of any manipulation or influence by a foreign government or its agents.

These assertions are quite inaccurate.

The Bill does not apply to Singaporeans discussing issues, or advocating any matter (regardless of what the Government or anyone else thinks about that).

The Bill will also not cover the vast array of collaborations between Singaporeans and foreigners, on many matters.

However, if a Singaporean acts on behalf of a foreign principal, and if such actions are contrary to public interest, then directions can be issued to such a person.

One example of this would be if a foreign government agency pays a Singaporean to conduct an online campaign, to create discord and unrest among Singaporeans. Such modus operandi have been repeatedly used around the world.

If the above involves covert activity, the persons involved can be prosecuted.

The philosophy underpinning the Bill is a longstanding one – we should not allow foreign subversion of our country and society.

The Bill complements our existing legislation, by providing a targeted and calibrated approach to be used against hostile information campaigns, conducted by foreign agencies and foreigners.

More information on the Bill can be found on the Ministry of Home Affairs’ website: https://www.mha.gov.sg/mediaroom/press-releases/first-reading-of-foreign…

Mr Singh also says that the Bill restricts the role of the Singapore courts to review some actions.

The offences in the Bill relating to criminal conduct are all required to be prosecuted in the courts.

For directions against hostile information campaigns, the oversight will be by a tribunal, headed by a Supreme Court Judge.

Such provisions are not new, and exist in several pieces of legislation.

The matters to be considered in the issuance of directions, (including information obtained through intelligence) may often have to be kept highly confidential.

The courts have also recognised, on several occasions, including in the Nagaenthran case (which Mr Singh refers to), that the judicial process may not be best suited to deal with such issues. Instead, as stated earlier, a tribunal headed by a High Court judge will deal with these matters.

Sam Tee
Senior Director, Joint Operations Group
Ministry of Home Affairs


[Straits Times – Opinion] Anti-foreign interference Bill – a sharper tool for the digital age [by Ong Keng Yong and Stanley Lai]

2 October 2021

PUBLISHED OCT 1, 2021, 5:00 AM SGT – https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/anti-foreign-interference-bill-a-sharper-tool-for-the-digital-age

A rebuttal to points raised about over-broad language and restrictions on courts’ role

We refer to the article “Anti-foreign interference Bill – 3 areas of concern” by Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal in The Straits Times on Tuesday. We wish to share our perspectives on the subject and respond to some of the points he makes.

Mr Singh makes two primary points in his articulation of concerns about the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica).

First, he says the Bill suffers from “extremely broad language” and risks capturing “perfectly legitimate collaborative activities” undertaken by Singapore citizens and local non-governmental organisations.

Second, he says that the Bill “restricts the role of the Singapore courts to review the legality of the Government’s exercise of powers”. Instead, appeals against Part 3 directions provided for under the Bill are made to a reviewing tribunal, which is governed by its own procedural rules.

We do not agree with his interpretation of the Bill.

As regards the “broad language” of Fica, we do not see how the examples of “legitimate” collaborations with foreigners referred to by Mr Singh in his article can be proscribed under the Bill. (He cites public policy issues such as climate change and women’s rights).

One of the key purposes of the Bill is the protection of the public interest. It includes countermeasures against hostile information campaigns on electronic platforms.

However, before the powers under the Bill can be invoked, the following conditions must be met: First, there is an online communications activity, or planning for such an activity. Second, the activity is conducted by or on behalf of a foreign principal. Third, it must be determined that it is in the public interest for a direction (provided in the Bill) to be issued.

The Bill prescribes a statutory regimen requiring a foreign element, and it also must be considered necessary to protect the public interest against this foreign interference.

For the rest of the article, please visit https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/anti-foreign-interference-bill-a-sharper-tool-for-the-digital-age


[Straits Times – Opinion] Anti-foreign interference Bill – 3 areas of concern (by Harpreet Singh Nehal)

2 October 2021

PUBLISHED SEP 28, 2021, 5:00 AM SGT – https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/anti-foreign-interference-bill-3-areas-of-concern

The Fica Bill as currently drafted is problematic because of its extremely broad language, restrictions on judicial review and questionable procedural rules.

The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (Fica) was recently introduced in Parliament. It seeks to reduce the risk of acts of foreign interference by strengthening the Government’s ability to prevent, detect and disrupt such interference.

The Bill creates new offences which target clandestine online activity. It also imposes substantial financial reporting obligations on politically significant persons, as well as obligations on parties providing social media services and online content.

Foreign interference is a matter of growing concern, especially for small states, in a fast-changing geopolitical context where significant players are seeking to strengthen their reach and carve out spheres of influence. Any responsible government needs to be adequately equipped to protect the public interest by counteracting such acts of foreign interference.

The challenge is to craft balanced legislation that effectively addresses undesirable foreign influence while not curtailing legitimate citizen-led activity. Here are three aspects of the Bill which give cause for grave concern.

For the rest of the article, please visit https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/anti-foreign-interference-bill-3-areas-of-concern


MARUAH’s Statement on the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill

2 October 2021

Please click here to download MARUAH’s statement in PDF.


[TODAY] Beware of collateral damage of Fica

30 September 2021

Published SEPTEMBER 29, 2021

Earlier this month, the Government tabled a Bill to enact the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica).

The legislation, if passed, will provide the Government with the powers to act against foreign interference that comes in the forms of hostile information campaigns and local proxies by foreign entities.

The Bill is underscored by the recognition that foreign interference takes place in both online and offline settings.

The swathe of provisions proposed will provide the Government, specifically the Minister for Home Affairs, with different mechanisms to prevent, detect and disrupt actions by foreign actors who interfere with domestic politics through influence operations.

The directives will be issued to social media companies, electronic services such as instant messaging apps and Internet access providers, and individuals who own or manage websites and blogs.

Given the rise of influence operations — also known as cyber-enabled foreign interference — globally, this Bill does not come as a surprise.

However, while Fica upgrades the Government’s arsenal to counter foreign interference in a digitalised age, it should not do so at the expense of people’s trust in the Government and diminish Singapore’s position as a global hub.

FIGHTING AN EVOLVING THREAT

Tabled two years after the passing of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), some might wonder what took Singapore so long to legislate against influence operations, given the prevalence of the problem in other countries.

In the past few years, countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States have introduced or passed bills to curtail foreign interference in elections and infrastructures.

The rapidly evolving nature of influence operations — in terms of the who, how and why — renders existing laws such as Pofma and the Political Donations Act toothless in countering hostile foreign actors.

There is a tendency for people to think of foreign powers as the main perpetrators of foreign influence.

The trend is evident from actions that have been taken by social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google (YouTube) to eradicate inauthentic behaviour originating from Russia, Iran, China and Turkey in the past few years.

However, hostile actors are not limited to foreign governments.

Facebook recently shared that most of the covert influence operations in Asia-Pacific are domestic. Research conducted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute uncovered “apolitical disinformation entrepreneurs” as masterminds.

The toolbox used by perpetrators of influence operations has also expanded.

While the “basic” and more crude forms of tactics, such as bots and fake accounts, are still being used, more covert techniques such as buzz accounts and pop culture fan communities are emerging.

Furthermore, hostile actors are often very adept at mixing and matching tactics, combining them to achieve devastating consequences.

PROTECTING PUBLIC TRUST AND GLOBAL HUB STATUS

To detect, disrupt and stop hostile information campaigns, the Bill includes a wide range of directives.

These include directing social media platforms to disclose information even before the content is published, requiring a person or an Internet intermediary to stop communicating hostile information campaign contents, and requiring services and platforms to restrict the dissemination of such additional content.

Internet service providers can also be ordered to block access to content.

Since the first reading of the Fica Bill, concerns have been raised by different quarters pertaining to the overly broad and expansive definitions of foreign interference and what constitutes political activities.

A petition against Fica which calls for more public consultation via a multi-party parliamentary Select Committee has also been launched.

A provision that merits special discussion is the Technical Assistance Direction that will allow the Government to act on an anticipatory basis.

Research on rumours and conspiracy theories found that the inoculation strategy — exposing individuals to fallacies to prepare them — has been shown to heighten people’s vigilance and scepticism towards false information.

While this directive will help the Government prevent the slow drip effect of influence operations and make a pre-emptive strike as soon as it is aware of suspicious activities, there could be concerns about its opacity and potential overreach.

According to the Bill, a “Technical Assistance Direction can be issued if the Minister suspects that there are preparations or plans to undertake an online communication activity in Singapore by or on behalf of a foreign principal, and the Minister is of the opinion that it is in the public interest to issue the direction”.

The ongoing tussle between the Indian government and WhatsApp over a new law that requires the platform to identify the “first originator of information” when the authorities demand it highlights the potential pushback.

While the Indian government emphasises that the law will only be used to unmask people credibly accused of wrongdoing, WhatsApp has said that the law would require it to break encryption for message receivers as well as message originators.

This will potentially breach privacy protections on the platform.

Fica should specify the situations and the purposes that warrant the issuance of such a direction, or other directions for the matter.

This will help put the public’s mind at ease and promote cooperation from tech platforms.

At the international level, the Government needs to consider the potential effects Fica might have on Singapore as an international hub as well as criticisms about the lack of clarity on what “collaboration” entails.

Part of the wonder of cyberspace is its transboundary nature which makes collaborations on an unprecedented scale possible.

It has spurred the growth of the digital economy, sparked entrepreneurship, advanced academic collaboration and scholarship, and strengthened political alliances.

For example, the free-flowing exchange of ideas and resources form the backbone of the global climate movement.

The movement sparked off the people’s climate march, industry-wide climate activism efforts in different countries as well as grassroots campaigns.

While one cannot establish causation, the sharp gain in the momentum of transnational collaboration could have contributed to the energised global action on climate change.

Therefore, the definition of foreign interference and its measurements would have to be sharp and clear so as not to diminish Singapore’s position as a node in the global network of collaboration and creation.

Since the first reading of the Fica Bill, legal practitioners, activists and academics have raised concerns and offered suggestions on how to refine the Bill.

The Government should take heed and consider how it can strengthen the proposed Act so that it can keep foreign interference at bay while safeguarding people’s trust in it and Singapore’s hub status.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr Carol Soon is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies where she heads the Society and Culture department.

Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/beware-collateral-damage-fica


[TODAY] Draft foreign interference law: Workers’ Party proposes changes to prevent abuse and enhance oversight over powers

30 September 2021

Published SEPTEMBER 29, 2021

  • A draft law to protect Singapore from foreign interference gives the Government power to deal with such acts
  • The Workers’ Party said it believes in countering foreign threats, but disagrees on the Bill’s wording 
  • The party’s parliamentarians filed a notice to amend the Bill
  • One proposed change is to exempt activities where foreign individuals or publications comment on Singapore politics in an “open, transparent and attributable way”

Read more at https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/workers-party-disagrees-proposed-foreign-interference-law-files-changes-prevent-abuse-and-enhance-oversight-powers