Human rights in Singapore

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Human rights in Singapore refers to rights both legal and in practice. Since Singapore's independence in 1965, the legal rights of its citizens have been set out in the Constitution of Singapore and include rights found in subsequent amendments and referendums. These rights have evolved through Singapore's history as a part of the Straits Settlements, its years under Japanese occupation, its position as a separate self-governing crown colony, and its present day status as a sovereign island country and city-state.

Article 14 of the Constitution of Singapore, specifically Article 14(1), guarantees and protects Singaporeans' rights to freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly without arms, and association. As a parliamentary democracy, Singaporeans are also guaranteed democratic rights to change their government through free and fair elections. However, this right has not been tested as of yet since, from its independence, the governing People's Action Party (PAP) has won every election with varying amounts of support ranging from 60–70% of the popular vote under the first-past-the-post voting system (FPTP). In the most recent election, the party won 83 out of 93 seats in the Parliament of Singapore with a vote count of 61.23%, while the largest opposition party the Workers' Party (WP) won the other 10. U.S.-based Freedom House has mentioned that elections in Singapore are free of electoral fraud and voter suppression, and that the party's widespread support can be explained by the relative stability of the PAP, infighting among other parties, and a sense of nostalgia and reverence for the leadership of the country's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, especially among the older generations.[1][2]

With alternative parties still in the early stages of being a political force, Singapore gained a reputation of being a nanny state. Nevertheless, it is also widely considered to have a clean and transparent government, with corruption generally perceived as one of the lowest in the world.[3] In 2020 Transparency International ranked it as the world's third least corrupt country and as the most transparent in Asia.[4] The country also ranks highly in categories relating to quality of life, particularly education, GDP per capita, housing, human capital, healthcare, life expectancy and safety.[5] Singapore has consistently been ranked the top sovereign country in Asia on the Human Development Index (HDI) statistic composite for the last decade, having increased its HDI value by over 30% between 1990 and 2020.[6] The country is also considered the most peaceful in Asia on the Global Peace Index (GPI) for 2020.[7]


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 historically been used to imprison political opponents of the ruling party, including former parliamentary member Chia Thye Poh, accused of conducting pro-communist activities against the government, and was restricted for 23 years on Sentosa and 9 years on house arrest before eventually being released.[8] In the 2000s during the height of Islamic terrorism, 36 men were being held under the ISA, including members of the militant group Jemaah Islamiyah.[9]

Sedition Act[edit]

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

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.[clarification needed]

Public Order Act (2009)[edit]

Under the Public Order Act 2009, a police permit is required to hold large public processions or outdoor assemblies legally.[10] However, indoor assemblies could be held freely without the need to apply for police permits.[11] 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.[12] Further amendments to the Act were subsequently added, including allowing the Commissioner of Police to refuse a permit for public assembly or procession if it is deemed to be directed towards a political or religious end, or is organised by or involving non-Singapore entities and citizens, due to the risk of foreign interference.[13]

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.[citation needed]

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.[14]

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.[citation needed]

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.[15] It also gives the management shareholders a minimum 66% majority in any votes regarding staffing decisions.

Enlistment Act (1970)[edit]

Similar to countries such as South Korea, Switzerland and Taiwan, all male Singapore citizens and second-generation permanent residents (PR) who have reached the age of 18 are required (unless medically exempt) to undergo a two-year conscription known as National Service. Those who have gone AWOL (Desertion) can be fined or sentenced to jail, if there were not valid reasons in doing so.[16]

Male citizens who hold dual citizenships can only renounce their Singapore citizenship upon completion of their service,[17] 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.[18][19] Second-generation permanent residents who renounce their PR status without serving NS will be blacklisted if they were to apply to return to Singapore to study or work in the future.[20]

Basic rights[edit]

Freedom of expression and association[edit]

The PAP government has been accused of restricting freedom of speech and has limited other civil and political rights, especially during the 20th century.[21] The right to freedom of speech and association is guaranteed by Article 14(1) of the Constitution of Singapore.

The only place in Singapore where outdoor public assemblies do not require police permits (for citizens) is at the Speakers' Corner, similar to 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.[22][23]

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. This is due to the fact that racial riots has previously occurred in the country, most notably the 1964 and 1969 race riots.[24]

According to Amnesty International, laws were relaxed in 2010 that had limited freedom of expression and assembly, and to stifle critics and activists. However, lawsuits were taken out by the authorities against dissidents. Government critics and human rights defenders nevertheless held public gatherings without much interference.[25]

Censorship of some political and racially or religiously sensitive content exists, and is imposed in the form of stringent media regulations, and indirect approaches through OB markers on local journalists and withdrawal of public arts funding.[26][27][28] Government pressure to conform has resulted in the practice of self-censorship by journalists.[29][30]

Privacy under mass surveillance[edit]

When the Singapore constitution was written, it did not include a right to privacy and the subsequent data protection act does not protect citizens from government-sanctioned surveillance.[31] The government does not need prior judicial authorisation to conduct any surveillance interception, and documents that restrict what officials can do with personal data are classified.[32][33] 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. A majority of Singaporeans are widely aware that authorities track telephone conversations and the use of the internet of civilians, and indirect routine checks are usually done on some government critics.[34]

The Singapore Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) 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.[35][better source needed]

According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Defence, the threshold for surveillance is deemed relatively higher in Singapore, 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, wealth, safety, affordable housing, and health care."[36] 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 continue to be upheld.[37][38][39]

In November 2017, it was announced that the government would introduce legislation in 2018 to mandate all private doctors to submit patient information for the centralised national healthcare database named National Electronic Health Records System (NEHR).[40] Patients can request for their health records to be made inaccessible to physicians and healthcare workers, but the records will still be added and updated to the electronic system. While the authorities have asserted that only relevant healthcare workers will have access to the patients' data,[41] it was noted that there have been cases of illegal access of patients' records from outside Singapore even with the privacy safeguards in place.[42]

Law dean Simon Chesterman[who?] brought up the need for greater transparency on the surveillance in smart cities to ensure that state powers are not being abused.[43][44]

LGBT rights[edit]

Singaporean law dating from 1938 until 2023 (Penal Code, s. 377A) banned 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 at Hong Lim Park, gay-rights supporters have participated in the annual Pink Dot SG rally at Speaker's Corner, without government interference.[45] The 2009 event was deemed significant enough to be included in the US Department of State's human rights reports for 2009.[46] On 21 August 2022, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced during the annual National Day Rally that the government intended to repeal Section 377A, effectively ending criminalisation both de facto and de jure.[47][48] On 29 November 2022, the Parliament of Singapore passed a bill to repeal Section 377A.[49] The bill was assented by President Halimah Yacob on 27 December 2022 and gazetted on 3 January 2023, thus Section 377A was struck off the books.[50][51]

Immigrant workers' rights[edit]

Singapore provides basic protection for foreign domestic workers, such as a standard number of working hours and rest days. Foreign workers can also report their employers to the Ministry of Manpower in the case of mistreatment, and employers have been fined or even jailed when found guilty of such acts.[52]

Previously, the recruitment fees of domestic workers can be up to 40% of the workers salary in a two-year contract. In 2020, the Singapore government announced that a law will be legislated that will pass the cost of placement fee to employers, as a way for the country to reduce its reliance on domestic workers.[53]

Human trafficking[edit]

As of 2020, the U.S–based Trafficking in Persons report listed Singapore on Tier 1, which states that the Singapore government has fully complied with the TVPA's minimum standards, making it a non-issue.[54][55]


Singapore also employs corporal punishment in the form of caning for numerous criminal offences if committed by males under 50, and this is a mandatory sentence for some offences such as rape and vandalism. Amnesty International maintains that corporal punishment is in itself contrary to human rights, but this has been disputed. Caning is never ordered on its own in Singapore, only in combination with imprisonment. Caning can be enforced of at least three strokes, combined with a minimum of three months' imprisonment, for foreign workers and illegal immigrants 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, affecting its citizens.[56]

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.[citation needed]

Death penalty[edit]

Singapore enforces the death penalty by hanging. It is mandatory for premeditated and aggravated murder and for the possession or trafficking of more than 14 grams (0.49 oz) of heroin in its pure form (diamorphine).[57] According to Amnesty International, some 400 criminals were hanged between 1991 and 2003, mostly for drug offenses and murder.[58][9]

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.[59] Furthermore, death penalty is considered the norm in East Asian countries, with its use also in place in other countries such as China (and Taiwan), Japan, South Korea, Thailand and many more.

International agreements[edit]

According to Amnesty International, Singapore has signed the following international agreements relating to human rights:[60]


  1. ^ "Map of Freedom in the World: Singapore (2009)". Freedom House. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  2. ^ "Lee Kuan Yew: Grief, gratitude and how a nation grew closer together". The Straits Times. Singapore. 4 April 2015. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  3. ^ "Why Singapore banned chewing gum". BBC News. London. 28 March 2015.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ "Human Capital Index 2018" (PDF). International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The World Bank. 2018.
  6. ^ "2019 Human Development Index Ranking". United Nations Development Programme. 8 December 2019. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  7. ^ "Global Peace Index 2019" (PDF). Institute for Economics and Peace.
  8. ^ "Plea to free political detainee Chia Thye Poh". The Straits Times. Singapore. 14 July 1985.
  9. ^ a b "Amnesty International Report 2005: Singapore". Amnesty International. 2005. Archived from the original on 4 June 2008. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  10. ^ "Singapore to toughen protest laws ahead of APEC meet". Reuters. 17 January 2009.
  11. ^ "Activist filmmaker under investigation for organising event" (Press release). International Freedom of Expression Exchange. 17 October 2011.
  12. ^ "New rules for event organisers to kick in Oct 1". Channel NewsAsia. 27 September 2017.
  13. ^ "Singapore to block foreigners from promoting political causes locally". Channel NewsAsia.
  14. ^ Sim, Walter (14 November 2013). "Detention without trial extended for 5 more years". AsiaOne. Singapore. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  15. ^ "Newspaper and Printing Presses Act - Singapore Statutes Online". Retrieved 14 June 2023.
  16. ^ "NS evader jailed 1½ months; judge gives sentencing guidelines". The Straits Times. Singapore. 12 February 2016.
  17. ^ "Singapore-born New Zealand teenager has to fulfil national service obligations: MFA". The Straits Times. 2 March 2016.
  18. ^ "How to avoid serving NS if you hold dual citizenship". The Independent. Singapore. 25 January 2016.
  19. ^ "Guide to NS Issues • Singapore Expats".
  20. ^ "Must Permanent Residents (PRs) do National Service?".
  21. ^ "The government of Singapore says it welcomes criticism, but its critics still suffer". The Economist. London. 9 March 2017.
  22. ^ "Singaporeans can demonstrate at Speakers' Corner from Sep 1". Channel News Asia. Singapore. 25 August 2008.
  23. ^ "CCTV installed at Speakers' Corner". Channel News Asia. Singapore. 25 July 2008.
  24. ^ "Police reject activist Gilbert Goh's application for Speakers' Corner permit". The Straits Times. Singapore. 13 February 2015.
  25. ^ "Amnesty International Report 2010" (PDF). Amnesty International. p. 233. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 March 2014. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  26. ^ "Singapore contempt of court bill seen suppressing freedom of speech". 12 August 2016 – via
  27. ^ Harmon, Steph (9 September 2017). "Art v government at Singapore festival: 'I fear once I leave, they will punish me'". The Guardian. London.
  28. ^ George, Cherian (2006). Contentious journalism and the Internet. Singapore University Press. pp. 43–47. ISBN 9789971693251.
  29. ^ "the Singapore profile, the Library of Congress Country Studies project" (PDF). Washington DC: Library of Congress. May 2005. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  30. ^ "Singapore profile". BBC News. 5 September 2017.
  31. ^ "The Right to Privacy in Singapore" (PDF). Privacy International. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 July 2015.
  32. ^ "Singapore is using spyware, and its citizens can't complain". Digital News Asia. 3 August 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  33. ^ Meyers, Jessica (28 August 2017). "Singapore has an idea to transform city life — but there may be a privacy cost". Los Angeles Times.
  34. ^ "Singapore 2015 Human Rights Report" (PDF). US State Department. 2016. p. 8.
  35. ^ "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.
  36. ^ "The Social Laboratory". Foreign Policy. Washington DC. 29 July 2014. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  37. ^ "Seeking Privacy in a City of Sensors". CityLab. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  38. ^ "Tech in Asia - Connecting Asia's startup ecosystem". Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ Lai, Linette (8 November 2017). "All healthcare practices roped into plan to put patients' medical history in electronic database". The Straits Times. Singapore.
  41. ^ "National electronic patient database soon to be mandatory for healthcare providers". Channel NewsAsia. Singapore. 8 November 2017.
  42. ^ "Doctors seek assurances on patient privacy and IT security". Today. Singapore. 8 November 2017.
  43. ^ Chesterman, Simon (6 May 2015). "Body-worn cameras to monitor citizen and surveillance state". The Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  44. ^ Chesterman, Simon (13 June 2013). "Getting used to a surveillance society" (PDF). The Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  45. ^ HRW 2010 pages 343–346
  46. ^ "Human Rights Reports for 2009: Singapore". US Department of State. 11 March 2010. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  47. ^ Ong, Justin (21 August 2022). "NDR 2022: Govt to repeal Section 377A, amend Constitution to protect marriage definition from legal challenges". Today. Singapore.
  48. ^ Tham Yuen-C (22 August 2022). "NDR 2022: Govt will repeal Section 377A, decriminalise sex between men". The Straits Times. Singapore.
  49. ^ Goh, Yan Han (29 November 2022). "Parliament repeals Section 377A, endorses amendments protecting definition of marriage". The Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved 3 December 2022.
  50. ^ Goh, Yan Han (3 January 2023). "S377A officially repealed after President Halimah gives assent to Bill | The Straits Times". Retrieved 3 January 2023.
  51. ^ "Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2022". Singapore Statutes Online. 3 January 2023. Retrieved 8 January 2023.
  52. ^ "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.
  53. ^ Devaraj, Samuel (18 December 2020). "Employers to pay up to $3k more for new maids". The Straits Times. Retrieved 27 December 2020. A Ministry of Manpower (MOM) spokesman told The New Paper it has received feedback from employment agencies here that the Indonesian authorities are enforcing a "zero placement fee policy" from Jan 1 next year. The ruling means employers must now pay this fee to enable new Indonesian FDWs to come to Singapore debt-free.
  54. ^ "Inaccuracies in annual US trafficking in persons report: Singapore". Retrieved 16 July 2020.
  55. ^ "TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS REPORT 20TH EDITION" (PDF). p. 441. Retrieved 16 July 2020.
  56. ^ "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.
  57. ^ "Singapore: Country Specific Information". Department of State. 5 September 2013. Archived from the original on 5 January 2015. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  58. ^ "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.
  59. ^ "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..
  60. ^ "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.