Singapore says new law will prevent meeting disruption

Nopporn Wong-Anan

Singapore passed a law affecting freedom of assembly on Monday it said would help prevent the sort of disruption of international meetings that caused the cancellation of a summit in Thailand last weekend.

An opposition member of parliament, however, said the rules would tighten restrictions on Singaporeans’ rights.

Singapore is due to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November.

Law Minister K Shanmugam and other government lawmakers told parliament the Public Order Bill, introduced last month, was needed to prevent trouble at such conferences.

“The backdrop of current events in Thailand, with the international leaders having to leave the conference by helicopter hurriedly, showed very tellingly the need for this legislation,” he said.

Bangkok called off the summit of leaders from Southeast and East Asian countries on Saturday after anti-government protesters swarmed into the meeting’s venue in the beach resort of Pattaya.

Shanmugam said the government would do everything it could to make hosting APEC, an annual gathering of leaders from 21 economies, including such economic heavy-hitters as the United States, Japan, China and Russia, a success.

“Singapore cannot afford the luxury of having this meeting disrupted,” said Shanmugam.

The law loosens some rules applying to indoor gatherings, but allows police to order a person to leave an area if they determine he is about to break the law.

All outdoor activities that are cause-related will need a police permit, no matter how many people are involved. That is a change from the current law requiring a permit for gatherings of five or more people.

The bill allows police to stop people from filming law enforcement if it could put officers in danger. The bill cited live media coverage of Indian police trying to rescue hostages in the Mumbai attacks last November as posing risks to the officers.

Legislator Sylvia Lim of the opposition Workers’ Party told parliament the government was taking advantage of political struggle in Thailand to “justify the implementation of draconian laws to inhibit the basic rights of Singaporeans further.”

“As long as this government respects and upholds democracy, the problems now we are seeing in Thailand will not happen here,” said Lim, one of the three parliamentarians to vote against the bill.

“But if the government wants to tinkle with individual freedom and democracy to an oppressive level it will actually become the source of public order problems.”

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