Singapore ruling party defends ‘foreign interference’ bill


Singapore’s ruling party Monday defended a proposed law aimed at preventing foreign interference in domestic politics, which the opposition and activists have criticised as a tool to crush dissent.

The law would allow authorities to compel internet service providers and social media platforms to provide user information, block content and remove applications used to spread content they deem hostile.

Campaigners say it is the latest piece of draconian legislation to be rolled out in a city-state where authorities are frequently accused of curbing civil liberties.

But in a lengthy address to parliament, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said that Singapore was vulnerable to “hostile information campaigns” carried out from overseas and through local proxies.

“The internet has created a powerful new medium for subversion,” he said.

“Countries are actively developing attack and defence capabilities as an arm of warfare, equal to and more potent than the land, air and naval forces.”

His People’s Action Party, which has governed Singapore for over six decades, has a large parliamentary majority and the bill is expected to pass easily.

The main opposition Workers’ Party has called for changes to be made to the draft bill, raising concerns about its broad provisions, while another opposition group called for further consultations.

And media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has warned the bill carries “the seeds of the worst totalitarian leanings”.

“This bill institutionalises the persecution of any domestic entity that does not toe the line set by the government and ruling party, starting with independent media outlets,” he said.

He also warned there was a “lack of independent legal recourse for those who are given orders by the government” — although Shanmugam insisted the bill provided for adequate judicial review. 

Independent media have faced increasing pressure in the city-state, with leading news website The Online Citizen suspended last month for failing to declare its funding sources. Mainstream media is mostly pro-government.

The bill comes two years after the introduction of a law aimed at combatting online misinformation that was criticised by rights groups and tech giants for curbing free speech.