Govt rebuts Economist report

Mr Roy Ngerng (centre) and Ms Han Hui Hui at the Return Our CPF rally at Hong Lim Park on Sept 27, 2014.
Mr Roy Ngerng (centre) and Ms Han Hui Hui at the Return Our CPF rally at Hong Lim Park on Sept 27, 2014.PHOTO: ST FILE

The Government has refuted an article in The Economist on free speech in Singapore, which said critics continue to be penalised for speaking out even as leaders called for more naysayers.

The magazine, in its March 11 issue, cited the High Court's recent upholding of the conviction of three people who protested against the CPF in Hong Lim Park in 2014.

In a letter published in The Economist's March 18 issue, Singapore High Commissioner to Britain Foo Chi Hsia said: "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."

This is the second time in a week that the Government has responded to a foreign publication that misrepresented the case.

On Saturday, Reuters news agency wrote that six people "were charged with creating a public nuisance while protesting against a compulsory tax savings scheme".

A FUNCTIONING SYSTEM

Singapore does not claim to be an example for others, but we do ask to be allowed to work out a system that is best for ourselves.

SINGAPORE HIGH COMMISSIONER TO BRITAIN FOO CHI HSIA.

But the police clarified a day later that their protest had disrupted a charity event at an adjacent lawn. The six, who included blogger Han Hui Hui, were charged with public nuisance with common intention in October 2014, and later convicted.

Last month, the High Court upheld the convictions and sentences of Han and two others .

In her letter, Ms Foo said The Economist's report, titled "Grumble And Be Damned", had "alleged a lack of free speech in Singapore".

But she noted that Singaporeans have free access to information and the Internet, including to international news outlets such as The Economist and the BBC.

She said: "We do not stifle criticism of the Government. But we will not allow our judiciary to be denigrated under the cover of free speech, nor will we protect hate or libellous speech."

Opposition politicians have also successfully gone to court to defend their integrity and correct falsehoods purveyed against them, she noted.

"In no country is the right to free speech absolute," she said. "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.

"Trust in leaders and institutions, including journalists and the media, has been gravely undermined, as have these democracies. In contrast, international polls show that Singaporeans trust their government, judiciary, police and even media," she added.

"Singapore does not claim to be an example for others, but we do ask to be allowed to work out a system that is best for ourselves," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'Govt rebuts Economist report'. Print Edition | Subscribe