In the debate over the proposed fake news law, MPs from the opposition Workers' Party (WP) have reused stock phrases that were extreme and unconnected with reality, and were also used in 2016 during the debate of a new contempt of court law, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.
He made this point while making reference to comments from WP's Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera that the proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech to the extent of putting it into an "industrial freezer".
"It's not free speech which will go into deep freeze," said Mr Shanmugam. "It strikes me that some stock phrases are kept in deep freeze by Mr Perera and his colleagues, and brought out of the chiller once in a while, and dutifully repeated."
For instance, he cited comments from then WP chief Low Thia Khiang in 2016 in comparing elements of the proposed Administration of Justice (Protection) Act (AOJPA) to the Internal Security Act (ISA).
At the time, Mr Low said oral communication would be covered under the Bill, and this would apply to people talking at coffee shops.
"So after all that talk of chill and fear, I can tell you coffee shops in Yishun don't even think of the AOJPA, and I'm sure it's the same in Hougang and Aljunied, and everywhere else in Singapore," said Mr Shanmugam yesterday, who is an MP for Nee Soon GRC.
He also cited remarks made during the 2016 debate by the other WP MPs from Aljunied GRC and the Hougang single ward.
For instance, Mr Shanmugam referred to remarks made by WP chairman Sylvia Lim that the AOJPA would "leave Singaporeans at the mercy of administrative discretion" and bring Singapore "one step closer to being a police state", and asked the House yesterday if that has been the case.
In response, Mr Low said he stood by what he had said in 2016, while Ms Lim said she would leave the public to judge what was said in that debate.
Making a comparison between Pofma and the ISA, Mr Low said the two are similar as the executive branch has the power to take action "without having to go to court".
Referencing a Chinese idiom, xian zhan hou zou, which loosely means to take action first and explain later, Mr Low added that an individual would have to abide by a minister's directive first under Pofma before he can appeal against the decision.
Also, he reiterated that Pofma could have an effect on public discussions as it inherently deals with the freedom of expression, but what constitutes a fact and an opinion are not clearly defined and may be up to interpretation.