Human Rights Watch responds to criticisms from Select Committee hearing on its report

Select Committee chair Charles Chong said that Human Rights Watch was invited to give oral evidence and was initially willing to come, but it later said its staff member could not make it after being told it would be asked about its report.
Select Committee chair Charles Chong said that Human Rights Watch was invited to give oral evidence and was initially willing to come, but it later said its staff member could not make it after being told it would be asked about its report.PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Human Rights Watch (HRW) has responded to accusations that it was unwilling to defend a report that it published last December, calling such suggestions from the Ministry of Law and members of the People’s Action Party (PAP) “ironic and absurd”.

In a media statement on Tuesday (March 27), the United States-based non-governmental organisation said it had sent a letter to members of the Government on Oct 30 last year, requesting their response to the findings of its report, “Kill The Chicken To Scare The Monkeys” – Suppression Of Free Expression And Assembly In Singapore.

The NGO said it did not receive a response by the time it published its report on Dec 13 last year.

Nor has the Government responded since to the letter, which was sent to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, said HRW in its statement.

“As the government has not disputed our factual findings and has not replied to our recommendations... it is both ironic and absurd that the Ministry of Law and members of the ruling People’s Action Party are now accusing Human Rights Watch of being unwilling to defend our report,” said HRW.

At the Select Committee hearing on deliberate online falsehoods last Friday, Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair, representing the PAP Policy Forum, criticised the NGO’s report and labelled it as a type of deliberate falsehood.

In a statement after the hearing, the Ministry of Law said HRW has chosen not to come to Singapore to publicly defend its views as “it knows that its report will not withstand any scrutiny”. 

It also said HRW’s report contains “serious inaccuracies, misimpressions, untrue statements”.

 
 

Select Committee chair Charles Chong noted during the hearing that HRW was invited to give oral evidence and was initially willing to come. But it later said its staff member could not make it after being told it would be asked about its report, Mr Chong said.

He added that the Parliament Secretariat had offered to fund the costs of HRW’s representative flying in, or arrange for video conferencing at any time between March 15 and 29. But the group has said it is unavailable to do so. The invitation to HRW to give oral evidence still stands, he added.

To this, HRW said it had offered to send its staff member on a particular date, but the committee did not confirm a date that could work for the staff member until other commitments had been made.

It said it had told Parliament that it looks forward to reading any submissions to the committee on the report and will respond “if we think it is necessary and appropriate”. 
To date, no submission has raised any serious question about its factual findings, it added. 

The NGO said it has offered to meet government officials in Singapore or elsewhere, or Members of Parliament, at a mutually convenient date to discuss the report.

It also said: “It is now clear that the purpose of the hearing was not to discuss our findings and recommendations in good faith, or to get our input into dealing with deliberate online falsehoods in a manner consistent with international standards, but to engage in ridiculous and irrelevant arguments aimed to discredit our report and Human Rights Watch.”

“The people of Singapore are not served by a government and ruling party that appears to be more interested in public grandstanding than having a substantive discussion about threats to the internationally protected rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” it added.

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