Singapore ambassador responds to opinion piece in New York Times by activist Kirsten Han

Singapore's ambassador to the United States Ashok Kumar Mirpuri (left) has rejected claims by Singaporean activist Kirsten Han in her article titled "What Trump is Learning from Singapore - and Vice Versa".
Singapore's ambassador to the United States Ashok Kumar Mirpuri (left) has rejected claims by Singaporean activist Kirsten Han in her article titled "What Trump is Learning from Singapore - and Vice Versa".PHOTOS: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Singapore's ambassador to the United States has rejected claims by Singaporean activist Kirsten Han, who described the Singapore government as authoritarian and having "little time for human rights, civil liberties or even openness and accountability", in an opinion piece for The New York Times.

Mr Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, in a letter published in The New York Times online on Thursday (April 26), said Ms Han's article paints Singapore as an authoritarian paradise, where critics of the Government are squelched and drug traffickers are hanged.

"I cannot recognise the country Ms Han describes," he said in the letter that was released by the Ministry of Communications and Information on Thursday.

"The World Economic Forum describes Singapore's public institutions as transparent and efficient. The United States government's own 'World Factbook' characterises Singapore as remarkably open and corruption free."

Ms Han's article titled "What Trump is Learning from Singapore - and Vice Versa" was published on March 28.

In it, she wrote about how US President Donald Trump and the Singapore Government were borrowing ideas from each other "to control their populations".

She cited how the US has tried to learn more about Singapore's death penalty for drug trafficking in a bid to solve its opioid crisis, implying it was an excuse to retain capital punishment.

She also said the Singapore Government had "taken a page out of Mr Trump's book" in trying to restrict the media, by setting up a Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods to consider measures to tackle fake news, including legislation.

"Both Mr Trump and the Singapore government have little time for human rights, civil liberties or even openness and accountability when there's something they want to achieve," she wrote in her piece.

Rejecting this, Mr Mirpuri said Ms Han's claims were contrary to reality.

Singapore, like other countries, has had to deal with the spread of falsehoods online, which can undermine democracy and social cohesion, he said.

"As a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, we cannot give bigotry free rein," he added.

He pointed out that more than 60 international media organisations are accredited in Singapore, and said people are free to debate issues vigorously, both online and off.

In fact, he said, The New York Times, including Ms Han's article, were both available in print and online freely in Singapore, as well as other online sites save for a few pornographic, jihadist and gambling ones.

On the death penalty in Singapore, Mr Mirpuri said it was imposed on criminals who traffic specific drugs above a prescribed amount, and not on drug abusers.

"Singapore is a major port and financial centre, in a region where heroin is produced and drug abuse a major problem. Without strict laws and enforcement, we would long have become a magnet for international drug traffickers," he added.