New report urges reform of repressive framework for public assemblies

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(Paris) The Singaporean government should immediately reform its laws and policies that have made the city-state one of Asia’s most restrictive places for the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, FIDH urged in a new report published today.

“The systematic repression of peaceful assembly in Singapore is a prime example of how its rulers’ vision of an orderly and harmonious society has long been enforced by laws that defy international standards and reject the universality of human rights. The Singaporean government should take immediate action to ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly can be exercised by all, without unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions and fear of reprisal.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General

The 40-page report, titled “Cornered - Repression of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Singapore,” details how the country’s laws and regulations are largely inconsistent with international standards on freedom of peaceful assembly. The report also documents how Singaporean authorities have systematically used such repressive laws and regulations to crack down on individuals and groups who have sought to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly without obtaining prior permission from the police. Activists have been subjected to interrogation and investigation, although none of their activities resulted in any harm, violence, or disruption of public order. In some cases, participants and organizers have faced arrest and imprisonment.

Problematic aspects of the Public Order Act – the legislative cornerstone of Singapore’s repression of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly – and its subsidiary legislation include: the discriminatory treatment of foreigners (including migrants and asylum seekers); a highly restrictive authorization procedure to organize a public assembly; curbs on the expressive message and the modalities of assemblies; sweeping restrictions on the places where public assemblies can be held; inadequate recourse available to organizers of assemblies against restrictions and prohibitions imposed by the authorities; and disproportionate penalties, including prison terms, for violators. In addition, Singaporean authorities have often invoked the Public Order Act to prohibit or suppress protests involving the participation of only one person.

All these barriers have created a situation in which protests and demonstrations are mostly relegated to a government-designated area called “Speakers’ Corner,” in Hong Lim Park. While the Singaporean government has touted Speakers’ Corner as “a place for Singaporeans to express themselves in various ways,” the designation of such an area effectively seeks to confine assembly organizers and participants to a single space in Singapore – a blatant infringement on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

The exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Singapore has become even more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the suspension of all gatherings at Speakers’ Corner until further notice, the government imposed additional restrictions on public assemblies and it has become more difficult to obtain a permit to organize a public assembly.

The report makes specific and practical recommendations to the Singaporean government with a view to making the city-state’s laws, policies, and practices on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly truly consistent with relevant international standards. Such recommendations include amending specific provisions of the Public Order Act and other rules and regulations without delay.

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