SINGAPORE: A Malaysian human rights group said on Wednesday (Jan 22) it would “absolutely stand by” its claims that prisoners on death row in Changi prison are executed brutally, adding that it will not comply with a correction direction issued by Singapore's POFMA (Protection From Online Falsehoods And Manipulation Act) Office.
This came after Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said Lawyers for Liberty's (LFL) allegations were "untrue, baseless and preposterous", as it invoked the online falsehoods law against the group and three parties for spreading the allegations.
In a statement, LFL's director Melissa Sasidaran said: “We absolutely stand by our statement that prisoners on death row in Changi prison are executed brutally and unlawfully by kicks to the neck whenever the rope breaks.”
“Our statement is based upon evidence from former and current Singapore prison officers. These are officers with impeccable service records.”
She also said LFL will not comply with the “unlawful and oppressive” correction notice issued by the Singapore government, and called for the notice to be “unconditionally withdrawn with immediate effect”.
Ms Sasidaran added that similar notices issued to the three other parties should also be withdrawn.
Earlier on Wednesday, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam instructed the POFMA Office to issue a correction direction against LFL’s statement on its website, Kirsten Han’s Facebook post, an online article by The Online Citizen (TOC) and a Facebook post by Yahoo Singapore.
They will be required to carry a correction notice, stating that their posts or articles contain falsehoods.
READ: POFMA - Government not 'training our sights on certain types of people or organisations', says Iswaran
"LFL has been publishing various falsehoods to seek attention in hopes of getting Malaysian prisoners, who have been convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to death in Singapore, off the death penalty," said MHA.
"Regrettably, there are some individuals and groups in Singapore who are spreading LFL’s latest allegations," it added.
On Jan 16, LFL released a press statement alleging brutal execution methods at Singapore's Changi Prison.
In its statement, LFL alleged that prison officers were instructed to "pull the rope around the neck of the prisoner towards him" and "kick the back of the neck of the prisoner with great force in order to break it", whenever the rope broke during a hanging.
"LFL also made spurious allegations that prison officers were 'given special training to carry out the brutal execution method', that the Singapore Government approved of these 'unlawful methods', and suggested that specific measures were adopted to cover up these methods," said MHA.
"These allegations are entirely unfounded," MHA added.
The ministry said that no effort is spared to ensure that all executions in Singapore - which are done in the presence of the prison superintendent and a doctor - are carried out in strict compliance with the law.
Under the law, a coroner is also required to conduct an inquiry within 24 hours of an execution to ensure it was carried out duly and properly, said MHA.
"For the record, the rope used for judicial executions has never broken before, and prison officers certainly do not receive any 'special training to carry out the brutal execution method' as alleged," said MHA.
"Any acts such as those described in the LFL statement would have been thoroughly investigated and dealt with."
Ms Han has since appended a correction notice to her earlier Facebook post.
She said she originally shared the LFL statement because the allegations concerned a process about which "very little information is publicly available, were extremely serious and disturbing".
Ms Han said she has sent questions to the Singapore Prison Service following up on the matter and seeking more information about executions but received no response.
"I am concerned about how this affects the ability of journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens to follow up on allegations ... In the interest of dealing with 'fake news', I hope that government and public agencies can be more responsive to queries from journalists and/or civil society groups when they are seeking information that can clarify matters."
The Online Citizen (TOC) said on Wednesday morning it has filed an application to Mr Shanmugam to cancel the correction direction.
"The minister has three days to consider the application before TOC can take the matter to the court," it wrote in a Facebook post.
POFMA AN "OPPRESSIVE AND UNDEMOCRATIC LAW": LFL
In her statement on Wednesday, Ms Sasidaran also called POFMA “an oppressive and undemocratic law”, which was passed amid controversy.
“It has been condemned internationally as a weapon by Singapore to stifle dissent or criticism,” she claimed.
She added that it was “outrageous and unacceptable” for Singapore to issue a notice to a Malaysian organisation such as LFL, which is operating and issuing statements on Malaysian soil.
“Singapore has no business interfering with the freedom of speech of Malaysian citizens making statements within our own country,” she added.
Ms Sasidaran added that this was an attempt by Singapore to extend its jurisdiction to Malaysian citizens across the causeway, and it is “provocative, illegal and in breach of international law”.
Since POFMA came into force in October, correction directions have also been issued to Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer, the States Times Review, the Singapore Democratic Party, and Singaporean lawyer Lim Tean.