While Singapore does not claim to be an example for others, it does ask to be allowed to work out a system that is best for itself, said Singapore’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Foo Chi Hsia in a letter to The Economist magazine.
Foo was responding to an Economist article on March 9 entitled “Speak out and be damned”, which noted measures taken by the authorities to stifle free speech even as leaders such as prime minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Singaporeans to speak up.
The article also cited the case of three protestors, including blogger Han Hui Hui, who were convicted for creating a public nuisance at Speakers’ Corner in 2014. “They were not charged for criticising the government, but for loutishly barging into a performance by a group of special-education-needs children, frightening them and denying them the right to be heard,” said Foo.
“In no country is the right to free speech absolute. When this right is extended to fake news, defamation or hate speech, society pays a price. Witness the Brexit campaign, and elections in America and Europe.”
Foo added that while authorities do not stifle criticism of the government, “we will not allow our judiciary to be denigrated under the cover of free speech, nor will we protect hate or libellous speech.
“People can go to court to defend their integrity and correct falsehoods purveyed against them. Opposition politicians have done this, successfully.”
In 2015, Foo also wrote to The Economist to rebut the magazine’s article on the lack of freedom of speech in Singapore.
This week, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a statement rebutting Han’s allegations of being mistreated by prison officers during her time in lock-up. Her online comments on the 2014 case were also deemed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers as tantamount to scandalising the judiciary.
Han has been given a week to remove her blog posts on the case and apologise for them, or face contempt of court proceedings.