Singapore will toughen its protest laws ahead of this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit to reduce the number of civil disobedience acts, state media reported on Saturday.
Wong Kan Seng, Singapore’s interior minister, told the pro-government Straits Times newspaper the city-state will look to enact regulations in the coming months giving police greater power to prevent protesters from gathering.
Singapore will host an APEC ministerial meeting in July and the annual summit in mid-November.
It hopes to avoid a controversy like the one in 2006 when an opposition politician was prevented from holding a march during the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings, resulting in a long standoff with police and criticism from the meeting organisers.
APEC’s 21 members include the United States, China and Japan.
“For cause-related or ideologically-related activities, including those pertaining to race and religion, we should address them squarely as higher risk,” Wong told the newspaper.
“We must empower the police to deal with public-order problems more effectively, especially when mega-events are held,” he said.
Protests in tightly-controlled Singapore were only made legal last year in a designated zone, “Speakers’ Corner”, modelled after the one in London’s Hyde park.
Any public gathering of five or more people is illegal in Singapore without a police permit.
Singapore defends the need for tough protest laws, citing concerns over public safety and order. But several international human right groups such as Amnesty International have said Singapore uses these laws to stifle dissent.
Singapore govt to tighten laws against protests
Singapore’s deputy prime minister said the island state, which is hosting a summit of Asia Pacific leaders this year, may further tighten laws against public protests, according to reports.
Wong Kan Seng, who is also Home Affairs minister, said the government is reviewing public order laws and may pass legislation to deal more effectively with illegal protests and other acts of civil disobedience, the Straits Times said.
The legislation is expected to be passed in time for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in November which could attract both local and overseas protesters, he said.
US president-elect Barack Obama, due to take office next week, is among the 21 leaders scheduled to attend the summit.
Public order laws are already tight in Singapore, where protests require a police permit if held outside a designated free-speech zone and gatherings of five or more people are illegal.
Nevertheless Wong said fresh legislation is needed to deal more effectively with political activities, while relaxing regulations on people gathering for social and recreational purposes.
He said police could be granted power to take action before protesters could gather at specific areas such as parliament, and cited protests by the political opposition, and by Myanmar nationals against their country’s ruling junta.
“They make a show of breaking the law,” Wong said of the protesters.
“The police watch and do nothing and can only follow up with investigation after the show is over when they pack up and leave. This cannot go on,” he said.