Ms Foo Chi Hsia, Singapore’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, has responded to a recent article in The Economist alleging a lack of free speech in Singapore, saying no country gives an absolute right to free speech.
Society pays a price when the right to free speech is extended to fake news, defamation or hate speech, she added, citing the Brexit campaign and elections in America and Europe.
“Trust in leaders and institutions, including journalists and the media, has been gravely undermined, as have these democracies. In contrast, international polls show that Singaporeans trust their government, judiciary, police and even media,” wrote Ms Foo in her letter to the UK-based weekly, which was published in its latest edition. “Singapore does not claim to be an example for others, but we do ask to be allowed to work out a system that is best for ourselves.”
The article Ms Foo was responding to was published on March 9, titled Grumble and be damned. In it, the conviction of three protesters for creating a public nuisance at Speakers’ Corner was mentioned to back the allegation.
Ms Foo noted that in this 2014 case, the individuals are not taken to court for criticising the government. Rather, they had “loutishly (barged)” into a performance by a group of special education needs children, “frightening them and denying then the right to be heard”.
Ms Foo added that Singapore does not stifle criticism of the government, and there is free access to information and the Internet.
“But we will not allow our judiciary to be denigrated under the cover of free speech, nor will we protect hate or libellous speech. People can go to court to defend their integrity and correct falsehoods purveyed against them. Opposition politicians have done this, successfully,” she said.
Earlier this week, comments by one of the three protesters, blogger Han Hui Hui, on the same case were deemed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers as tantamount to scandalising the judiciary. Ms Han was given a week from Monday to remove and apologise for her various posts alleging impropriety on the part of judges who heard her case, or face contempt of court proceedings.
Ms Han’s allegations of mistreatment by Singapore Prisons Service officers during her time in the lock-up for the case were also repudiated by the Ministry of Home Affairs.