SINGAPORE: The Government, like any other person, should be entitled to point out falsehoods which are published and have the true facts brought to public attention under the law, Singapore's Ministry of Law (MinLaw) said on Sunday (Jan 22).
On Monday, the Court of Appeal had ruled in a rare split decision that the Government cannot invoke an anti-harassment law, the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), that allows people to stop the publication of false statements against them.
The Ministry of Defence had sought to invoke the law to get socio-political website The Online Citizen to take down statements made by inventor Dr Ting Choon Meng about a patent rights dispute.
The Worker's Party (WP) issued a statement on Sunday expressing concern that the Government was looking into taking further action on the matter.
"For the POHA to be used to protect the Government from 'harassment' risks weakening Singapore’s climate of free speech and robust debate. It risks turning the POHA into the latest in the many tools that the Government can use against Singaporeans who publicly express different views from the Government on its policies and actions," WP said in the statement.
However, MinLaw said the Act provides remedies for two "distinct" types of wrongs: Harassment and false statements.
"The Government has never said that it needed protection from harassment. Nor does the Government intend to amend POHA to protect itself from harassment," it said.
Instead, the ministry said that its position on the POHA had to do with false information. "The Government needs to take steps to protect the public and Singapore’s institutions from the very real dangers posed by the spread of false information," it said, adding that it would not "shy away" from doing so.
"The Government strongly believes that the scourge of false information must not be allowed to take hold in Singapore, lest it weakens our democratic society and institutions," it added.
"At a time when false information can affect election results, contaminate public discussions and weaken democratic societies, it is important for the Government, as well as corporations and individuals, to be able to respond robustly to false statements that could poison public debate and mislead decision-making. Everyone, including the Government, should be entitled to point out falsehoods which are published, and have the true facts brought to public attention," said MinLaw.