Singapore has made little progress in terms of human rights – said the Human Rights Watch in its recently released ‘World Report 2013’.
According to HRW, while the island country has relaxed its laws on the mandatory death penalty and has reduced its curbs on opposition politicians, it still imposes severe restrictions on civil society.
These restrictions extended to controls on free association, assembly of persons, and freedom of expression.
HRW’s deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, referred to specific cases where human rights had been ignored in Singapore.
“Singaporeans who hand out political leaflets or publicly criticize a senior official can face a gauntlet of punishments, including bankruptcy-inducing fines, travel bans, and prison terms. In Singapore, rights are only for those who reliably toe the government line,” Robertson is quoted as saying on the HRW’s website.
In particular, government officials have recently invoked laws like the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act, and the threat of civil or criminal defamation to silence their critics.
Prominent blogger Alex Au, also known as Yawning Bread, was warned in July 2012 by the Attorney-General’s chambers for alleging government bias in an ongoing town council saga.
He took down the post immediately and apologised.
HRW also cited a case where freedom of association was denied – to Chinese bus drivers who were arrested in December 2012 for allegedly holding an ‘illegal strike’ in protest against discriminatory wages and poor living conditions.
Five have been charged and are awaiting the results of their case, while another 29 have been deported.
The Singapore government also made it clear during the development of the upcoming Yale-NUS campus, set to open in August, that it’s students will not be allowed to organise political protests on campus or form political party student groups. This drew flak from Yale’s academics, who argued that the democratic spirit of the university would not be truly represented.
“Singapore’s status as a world-class economy has not kept it from having a remarkably poor record in respecting the rule of law, and civil and political rights,” Robertson said on the HRW website. “The Singaporean people must be wondering when their government is going to trust them enough to exercise the same basic rights as people elsewhere.”
“The international community should not be taken in by Singapore claims on human rights. Ask a rights advocate, an opposition activist, or a migrant worker what they think about today’s Singapore, and the repressive back-story of this glistening city-state will come out.”
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