Law Ministry replies to Human Rights Watch statement

The lack of enthusiasm by Human Rights Watch (HRW) to defend its report is "obvious", the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) said yesterday, in its response to the group's statement that it was "ironic and absurd" for the ministry and members of the People's Action Party to suggest this.

HRW was offered various arrangements to give oral evidence to the parliamentary committee, and these included appearing on a day a hearing had not been scheduled, and holding a video conference at any time during a 14-day period.

But each time, HRW said it was unable to do so, MinLaw said.

The US-based non-governmental organisation issued a statement earlier yesterday, saying it had offered to send its staff member to give oral evidence to the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods.

But, it added, the committee did not confirm a date that could work for the staff member until other commitments had been made.

MinLaw, in giving the timeline of subsequent events yesterday, said the March 23 slot was confirmed on March 13, three days after HRW said its representative would be able to appear on that date.

HRW was also informed by Singapore that its representative should be prepared to address questions on its report "Kill The Chicken To Scare The Monkeys" - Suppression Of Free Expression And Assembly In Singapore.

Last Friday, MinLaw said the report, published last December, contains "serious inaccuracies, misimpressions, untrue statements" .

On March 14, HRW told the committee its representative was no longer able to attend the hearings on March 23. In response, the Parliament Secretariat said it can appear on any of the eight days scheduled for the public hearings.

The following day, the offer was extended to any of the 14 days between March 15 and 29, and the option of video conferencing was also offered on any of these days.

On March 19, HRW informed Singapore it will not take part in the hearings, either in person or via video conferencing.

MinLaw said yesterday: "Their latest statement leaves out any explanation for why they are unable to attend through video conferencing, from an overseas location - at any time over a period of 14 days from 15 to 29 March."

HRW said yesterday it had sent a letter to four Cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, last Oct 30, asking for their response to the findings of its report. It has yet to get a response.

It also said it has offered to meet government officials in Singapore or elsewhere at a mutually convenient date to discuss the report.

Yesterday, the Select Committee said HRW's statement suggests it is now prepared to give evidence in the hearings. The committee also said it can hear from HRW on any date in May, or after May, after Parliament reopens. Parliament will be prorogued next month. It asked HRW to respond by noon tomorrow.

Public hearings to fight online falsehoods: Read the submissions here and watch more videos.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2018, with the headline 'Law Ministry replies to Human Rights Watch statement'. Print Edition | Subscribe