Democracy activists in Singapore fear that the authorities will use a draconian new law to further stifle political opposition and public dissent.
The Public Order Act (POA) amends the Public Entertainment and Meeting Act, which already prohibits meetings of more than five people without an official permit. Under the new act, even a single person requires a permit to appear in public with a “cause-related” intent.
Human rights and civil liberties activists see the law as further evidence of the regime’s soft authoritarianism, a model that could set an alarming regional precedent. They complain that the provision violates Article 13 of Singapore’s constitution, which grants citizens the right to move freely throughout the city-state subject to security, public order, or public health concerns.
The law also undermines Article 14, which guarantees freedom of rights, association and speech, says Chee Soon Juan, leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). “The constitution states that any law that runs contrary to the constitution will be void. This is something that needs to be brought up internationally,” he said.
The country’s leading dissident and a former fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, Chee has frequently been detained for political activities and was recently declared bankrupt following a punitive lawsuit brought by leading government ministers. He is currently banned from international travel as a result of that ruling.
His case has been taken up by Robert Amsterdam, a leading international human rights lawyer, who also represents Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned Russian former oligarch.
“Democratic countries in Asia need to ask themselves if they accept the POA that further tears away whatever small rights … that remain in Singapore,” said Amsterdam. “Suppressing opposition in Singapore is a full time occupation for the pro-disciplinary regime,” he added.