Singapore envoy rebuts NYT piece by local activist

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 carried in The New York Times online yesterday, said Ms Han's article paints Singapore as "an authoritarian paradise, where critics of the government are squelched and drug traffickers are hanged".

The article, What Trump Is Learning From Singapore - And Vice Versa, was published on March 28.

She wrote about how US President Donald Trump and the Singapore Government were borrowing ideas from each other "to control their populations". She cited the US learning from Singapore's death penalty for drug traffickers, and the Singapore Government taking a page out of Mr Trump's book in trying to restrict the media by setting up a select committee to consider measures to tackle fake news.

This showed Mr Trump and the Singapore Government would ignore human rights and civil liberties to achieve their aims, she said.

Rejecting this, Mr Mirpuri said the World Economic Forum describes Singapore's public institutions as transparent and efficient, and the US government's World Factbook characterises Singapore as open and corruption-free.

Like other countries, Singapore has to deal with the spread of falsehoods online, which can undermine democracy and social cohesion, he said, adding: "As a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, we cannot give bigotry free rein."

He pointed out that more than 60 international media organisations are accredited in Singapore, and The New York Times, including Ms Han's article, is available in print and online freely. On the death penalty, he said it was imposed on criminals who traffic specific drugs above a prescribed amount, and not on drug abusers. He added that strict laws and enforcement are necessary given Singapore's location in a region where heroin is produced.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2018, with the headline 'S'pore envoy rebuts NYT piece by local activist'. Print Edition | Subscribe