Human rights in Singapore

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The government in Singapore has broad powers to limit citizens' rights and to inhibit political opposition.[1][2] In 2015, Singapore was ranked 153rd out of 175 nations by Reporters Without Borders in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Freedom in the World scored Singapore 4 out of 7 for political freedom, and 4 out of 7 for civil liberties (where 1 is the most free), with an overall ranking of "partly free" for the year 2015.[3]

Legislation[edit]

Internal Security Act[edit]

The Ministry of Home Affairs Internal Security Department enforces the country's Internal Security Act (ISA) as a counter to potential espionage, international terrorism, threats to racial and religious harmony, and subversion. The ISA permits indefinite detention without formal charges or recourse to trial, and has been used to imprison political opponents of the ruling party, including former parliamentary member Chia Thye Poh, who was held for 32 years without trial before being released.[4] As of 2005, 36 men were being held under the ISA.[5]

Sedition Act[edit]

The Sedition Act prohibits seditious acts and speech; and the printing, publication, sale, distribution, reproduction and importation of seditious publications.

In addition to punishing actions that tend to undermine the administration of government, the Act also criminalizes actions which promote feelings of ill-will or hostility between different races or classes of the population.

Public Order Act (2009)[edit]

Under the Public Order Act 2009, a police permit is required to hold public processions or outdoor assemblies legally.[6] Indoor assemblies could be held freely without the need to apply for police permits.[7] There have been multiple amendments to the Public Order Act since 2009 and as of October 2017, all event organisers are required to notify the police if they expect more than 5,000 attendees for public events or 10,000 at any one time for private assemblies.[8] Further amendments to the Act include allowing the Commissioner of Police to refuse a permit for public assembly or procession if it is deemed to be directed towards a political end or organised by or involving non-Singapore entities and citizens.[9]

Contempt of court[edit]

The offence of scandalizing the court is committed when a person brings a court or a judge into contempt, or to lower authority. Allegations of bias, lack of impartiality, impropriety or any wrongdoing concerning a judge in the exercise of his judicial function falls within the offence.

Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act[edit]

Internment without trial under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act has been used to deal with espionage, terrorism, organised crime, and narcotics.[10]

Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (1974)[edit]

The Act requires the chief editor or the proprietor of the newspaper to obtain a permit from the Minister in order to print or publish a newspaper in Singapore.

Section 10 of the Act gives the Minister the power to appoint the management shareholders of all newspaper companies and to control any transfers of such management shares.[11] It also gives the management shareholders, and by proxy the government, a minimum 66% majority in any votes regarding staffing decisions.

Enlistment Act (1970)[edit]

All male Singapore citizens and second-generation permanent residents (PR) who have reached the age of 18 are required to undergo a two-year conscription known as National Service. Defaulters are fined or sentenced to jail.[12]

Male citizens who hold dual citizenships can only renounce their Singapore citizenship upon completion of their service,[13] unless they have citizenship of another country at age 11, and have announced to the Ministry of Defence of their intention to renounce their citizenships before the age of 11, and avoid all "socio-economic benefits of a Singapore citizenship" before their renunciation of Singaporean citizenship after attaining the age of majority.[14][15] Second-generation permanent residents who renounce their PR status without serving NS will "face consequences" if they were to apply to return to Singapore to study or work in the future.[16]

Basic rights[edit]

Freedom of expression and association[edit]

The government has restricted freedom of speech and freedom of the press and has limited other civil and political rights.[17] The right to freedom of speech and association guaranteed by Article 14(1) of the Constitution of Singapore is restricted by the subsequent subsection (2) of the same Article.

The only place in Singapore where outdoor public assemblies do not require police permits (for citizens) is at the Speakers' Corner which is loosely modelled on Hyde Park, London. However, foreigners still require a permit to speak at the park, and one must still register one's personal details with the National Parks Board online before speaking or protesting at the Speakers' corner, and there are also many surveillance cameras in the park, a situation that some Singaporeans and Singaporean MPs have commented on.[18][19]

Police permits are also not granted to events that are deemed to have a "significant risk of public disorder" and those that could "incite feelings of hostility between different racial and religious groups" in Singapore.[20]

According to Amnesty International, laws were tightened in 2010 to limit the freedom of expression and assembly, and to stifle critics and activists. Lawsuits were taken out by the authorities against dissidents. Government critics and human rights defenders nevertheless held public gatherings.[21]

Censorship of political and racially or religiously sensitive content is also extensive, and is imposed in the form of stringent media regulations and criminal laws,[22] and indirect approaches through OB markers on local journalists and withdrawal of public arts funding.[23] Press freedom has been curtailed over the years through various national security laws, such as the Internal Security Act, the Sedition Act and the Official Secrets Act.[24] Government pressure to conform has resulted in the practice of self-censorship by journalists.[25][26]

Privacy under mass surveillance[edit]

The Singapore Constitution does not include a right to privacy and the data protection act does not protect citizens from government-sanctioned surveillance.[27] The government does not need prior judicial authorisation to conduct any surveillance interception,[28] and documents that restrict what officials can do with personal data are classified.[29] In a U.S State Department report in 2015, it is believed that law enforcement and government agencies have extensive networks for gathering information and conducting surveillance. Majority of Singaporeans are under the impression that authorities track telephone conversations and the use of the internet of civilians, and routine checks are done on some opposition politicians and other government critics.[30]

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore was also listed as a customer of spyware maker Hacking Team in a data leak. The group is alleged to have used spyware to analyse the digital footprint of its intended audience.[31]

According to a study[dubious ] conducted by the Ministry of Defense, the threshold for surveillance is deemed relatively higher in Singapore, with the majority of citizens having accepted the "surveillance situation" as necessary for deterring terrorism and "self-radicalisation." Singaporeans are said to have accepted the social contract between residents and their government, and expect to "surrender certain civil liberties and individual freedoms in exchange for fundamental guarantees: security, education, affordable housing, health care."[32] With the push for the Smart Nation initiative to collate and analyse big data from all aspects of urban life for decision-making, it is unclear how individual rights to privacy will be upheld.[33][34][35] Law dean Simon Chesterman brought up the need for greater transparency on the surveillance in smart cities to ensure that state powers are not being abused.[36][37]

LGBT rights[edit]

Singapore law dating from 1938 (Penal Code, s. 377A) bans sexual relations between men, but no prosecutions for private sexual activity have taken place since 1999. Since a May 2009 rally at Speaker's Corner, gay rights supporters have participated in the annual Pink Dot SG rally at the Speakers' Corner, Hong Lim Park without government interference.[38] The 2009 event was deemed significant enough to be included in the US Department of State's human rights reports for 2009, released on 11 March 2010.[39]

Migrant workers' rights[edit]

According to Amnesty International one quarter of Singapore's population were migrants at the end of 2009.

The Employment of Foreign Workers Act excludes domestic workers (2009). Singapore does not provide basic protection for foreign domestic workers, such as a standard number of working hours and rest days, minimum wage and access to employment benefits.[40] The recruitment fees of domestic workers can be up to 40% of the workers salary in a two-year contract. As of the end of 2010, Singapore's government had refused to regulate the recruitment fees.[41]

In 2010 two migrants from Burma, after 11 years' work in Singapore, did not receive new work permits, following their active support for Burma's pro-democracy movement.[21]

Human trafficking[edit]

The US Trafficking in Persons 2009 report listed Singapore on Tier 2: countries not doing enough to address human trafficking.

Caning[edit]

Singapore also employs corporal punishment in the form of severe caning on the bare buttocks for numerous criminal offences if committed by males under 50, and this is a mandatory sentence for some 30 offences. Some international observers, including Amnesty International, maintain that corporal punishment is in itself contrary to human rights, but this is disputed. Caning is never ordered on its own in Singapore, only in combination with imprisonment. There is mandatory caning of at least three strokes, combined with a minimum of three months' imprisonment, for foreign workers who overstay by more than 3 months. The government argues that this is necessary to deter would-be immigration offenders, as Singapore remains an attractive destination for illegal immigrants; experience prior to 1989 had shown that imprisonment was not alone a sufficient deterrent. It feels that long-term overstayers who are not able to work legitimately pose social problems and may turn to crime.[42]

Corporal punishment may also be ordered for various sexual offences, rioting, the possession of weapons, violence of all kinds, illicit drug use, and vandalism of public property. Male members of the armed forces are liable to a less severe form of caning for breaches of military discipline.

Death penalty[edit]

Singapore enforces the death penalty by hanging. It is mandatory for first-degree murder and for the possession or trafficking of more than 14g of heroin in its pure form (dia-morphine).[43] According to Amnesty International, Singapore has one of the world's highest execution rates relative to its population.[5] Some 400 criminals were hanged between 1991 and 2003, for a population of 5 million.[44]

The government argues that death penalty is meted out for the most serious crimes to curb the drug menace as Singapore is particularly vulnerable due to its small size and location near the Golden Triangle.[45]

Singapore is against euthanasia, and mercy killing is not legalised.

International agreements[edit]

According to Amnesty International, Singapore has signed the following international agreements relating to human rights:[46]

As of 2010, Singapore has not signed the following agreements:[47]

Ratings[edit]

International political rankings of Singapore
Organization Survey Ranking
Freedom House Civil and political liberties Partly Free
Freedom House Press freedom Not Free
Reporters Without Borders Press freedom 151st out of 175[48]
The Economist Level of democracy 70th out of 167 (Flawed Democracy)
Transparency International Perceived level of corruption 7th out of 182
Privacy International and Electronic Privacy Information Center Privacy from corporative and government surveillance "Endemic surveillance society" status

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G11/123/13/PDF/G1112313.pdf?OpenElement
  2. ^ "2009 Human Rights Report: Singapore". U.S. Department of State. 11 March 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "Freedom in the World 2015". Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  4. ^ "Plea to free political detainee Chia Thye Poh". The Straits Times. Singapore. 14 July 1985. 
  5. ^ a b "Amnesty International Report 2005: Singapore". Amnesty International. 2005. Archived from the original on 4 June 2008. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  6. ^ "Singapore to toughen protest laws ahead of APEC meet". Reuters. 17 January 2009. 
  7. ^ "Activist filmmaker under investigation for organising event" (Press release). International Freedom of Expression Exchange. 17 October 2011. 
  8. ^ "New rules for event organisers to kick in Oct 1". Channel NewsAsia. 27 September 2017. 
  9. ^ "Singapore to block foreigners from promoting political causes locally". Channel NewsAsia. 
  10. ^ Sim, Walter (14 November 2013). "Detention without trial extended for 5 more years". AsiaOne. Singapore. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  11. ^ " "Newspaper and Printing Presses Act". 
  12. ^ "NS evader jailed 1½ months; judge gives sentencing guidelines". The Straits Times. Singapore. 12 February 2016. 
  13. ^ "Singapore-born New Zealand teenager has to fulfil national service obligations: MFA". The Straits Times. 2 March 2016. 
  14. ^ "How to avoid serving NS if you hold dual citizenship". The Independent. Singapore. 25 January 2016. 
  15. ^ "Guide to NS Issues". 
  16. ^ "Must Permanent Residents (PRs) do National Service?". 
  17. ^ "The government of Singapore says it welcomes criticism, but its critics still suffer". The Economist. London. 9 March 2017. 
  18. ^ "Singaporeans can demonstrate at Speakers' Corner from Sep 1". Channel News Asia. Singapore. 25 August 2008. 
  19. ^ "CCTV installed at Speakers' Corner". Channel News Asia. Singapore. 25 July 2008. 
  20. ^ "Police reject activist Gilbert Goh's application for Speakers' Corner permit". The Straits Times. Singapore. 13 February 2015. 
  21. ^ a b "Amnesty International Report 2010" (PDF). Amnesty International. p. 233. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 March 2014. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  22. ^ "Singapore contempt of court bill seen suppressing freedom of speech". 
  23. ^ Harmon, Steph (9 September 2017). "Art v government at Singapore festival: 'I fear once I leave, they will punish me'". The Guardian. London. 
  24. ^ George, Cherian (2006). Contentious journalism and the Internet. Singapore University Press. pp. 43–47. ISBN 9789971693251. 
  25. ^ "the Singapore profile, the Library of Congress Country Studies project" (PDF). Washington DC: Library of Congress. May 2005. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  26. ^ "Singapore profile". BBC News. 5 September 2017. 
  27. ^ "The Right to Privacy in Singapore" (PDF). Privacy International. 
  28. ^ "Singapore is using spyware, and its citizens can't complain". Digital News Asia. 3 August 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  29. ^ Meyers, Jessica (28 August 2017). "Singapore has an idea to transform city life — but there may be a privacy cost". Los Angeles Times. 
  30. ^ "Singapore 2015 Human Rights Report" (PDF). US State Department. 2016. p. 8. 
  31. ^ "Singaporean and Malaysian Governments Accused of Using Spyware for Digital Surveillance of Citizens". IFSEC Global | Security and Fire News and Resources. 6 August 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  32. ^ "The Social Laboratory". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  33. ^ "Seeking Privacy in a City of Sensors". CityLab. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  34. ^ "Tech in Asia - Connecting Asia's startup ecosystem". www.techinasia.com. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  35. ^ Watts, Jake Maxwell; Purnell, Newley (25 April 2016). "Singapore Is Taking the 'Smart City' to a Whole New Level". The Wall Street Journal. New York. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  36. ^ Chesterman, Simon (6 May 2015). "Body-worn cameras to monitor citizen and surveillance state". The Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  37. ^ Chesterman, Simon (13 June 2013). "Getting used to a surveillance society" (PDF). The Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 23 August 2017. 
  38. ^ HRW 2010 pages 343–346
  39. ^ "Human Rights Reports for 2009" (PDF). Department of State. 11 March 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  40. ^ "Amnesty International Report 2009, the State of the World's Human Rights" (PDF). Amnesty International. pp. 289–290. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 August 2009. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  41. ^ "World Report 2011" (PDF). Human Rights Watch. p. 368. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 April 2015. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  42. ^ "Written Answer to Parliament Question on Mandatory Caning of Foreign Workers Who Overstay". Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs. 26 May 2008. Archived from the original on 20 February 2014. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  43. ^ "Singapore: Country Specific Information". Department of State. 5 September 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  44. ^ "Singapore: The death penalty: A hidden toll of executions". Amnesty International USA. n.d. Archived from the original on 3 May 2011. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  45. ^ "The Singapore Government's Response To Amnesty International's Report "Singapore – The Death Penalty: A Hidden Toll Of Executions"" (Press release). Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. 30 January 2004. Archived from the original on 25 January 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2010. .
  46. ^ "Amnesty International Report 2009, The State of the World's Human Rights" (PDF). pp. 380–381. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 August 2009. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  47. ^ "Amnesty International 2011 Full Report, the State of the World's Human Rights" (PDF). Amnesty International. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  48. ^ https://rsf.org/en/ranking