Singapore’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Foo Chi Hsia, has issued a rebuttal to a recent The Economist article calling on the Singapore government to make criticism more legal by not penalising those who speak out.
The article Foo was responding to, “Grumble and be damned“, was published on March 9.
In it, The Economist, a UK-based weekly, wrote how Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong encouraged the challenging of leaders, but yet the court still upheld the conviction and fining of three activists who organised a protest in Hong Lim Park against the management of the Central Provident Fund.
Foo said in response that no country gives an absolute right to free speech.
Foo said the 2014 case involved individuals who had disrupted a performance by a group of special education needs children, “frightening them and denying then the right to be heard”, and were not taken to court for criticising the government.
Here is her letter published in The Economist in full:
Free speech in Singapore
“Grumble and be damned” (March 11th) alleged a lack of free speech in Singapore. Yet Singaporeans have free access to information and the internet, including to The Economist and the BBC. We do not stifle criticism of the government. But we will not allow our judiciary to be denigrated under the cover of free speech, nor will we protect hate or libellous speech. People can go to court to defend their integrity and correct falsehoods purveyed against them. Opposition politicians have done this, successfully.
You cited the case of three protesters convicted for creating a public nuisance at Speakers’ Corner. They were not charged for criticising the government, but for loutishly barging into a performance by a group of special-education-needs children, frightening them and denying them the right to be heard.
In no country is the right to free speech absolute. When this right is extended to fake news, defamation or hate speech, society pays a price. Witness the Brexit campaign, and elections in America and Europe. Trust in leaders and institutions, including journalists and the media, has been gravely undermined, as have these democracies. In contrast, international polls show that Singaporeans trust their government, judiciary, police and even media. Singapore does not claim to be an example for others, but we do ask to be allowed to work out a system that is best for ourselves.
FOO CHI HSIA
High commissioner for Singapore
Top photo via Lawrence Chong