Right to free speech not absolute in any country: Singapore's High Commissioner to the UK

Right to free speech not absolute in any country: Singapore's High Commissioner to the UK

Responding to an article by The Economist magazine, Ms Foo Chi Hsia says that Singapore does not stifle criticism of the Government but also will not protect hate or libellous speech.

speakers' corner

SINGAPORE: Singapore's High Commissioner to the UK Foo Chi Hsia has responded to a recent article in The Economist alleging restrictions on free speech in Singapore.

Ms Foo said no country gives an absolute right to free speech. "When this right is extended to fake news, defamation or hate speech, society pays a price," she wrote in a letter to the UK-based weekly, citing the Brexit campaign and elections in the US and Europe.

"Trust in leaders and institutions, including journalists and the media, has been gravely undermined, as have these democracies," she added. "In contrast, international polls show that Singaporeans trust their government, judiciary, police and even media."

The article in The Economist, titled Grumble and be Damned, alleged that while the Singapore Government has said it welcomes criticism, its critics still suffer.

Specifically, the article cited the case of blogger Han Hui Hui and two other activists who were involved in a protest over the management of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) at the Speakers' Corner in 2014.

In response, Ms Foo said: "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."

Ms Han, 24, was found guilty and fined S$3,100 last June for disrupting the charity event for special needs children at the Speakers' Corner at Hong Lim Park, by leading the rowdy protest which she organised without approval from the National Parks Board.

In her letter published in the magazine's Mar 18 issue, Ms Foo argued that Singaporeans have free access to information and the Internet, including to The Economist.

"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," she wrote. "People can go to court to defend their integrity and correct falsehoods purveyed against them. Opposition politicians have done this, successfully."

"In no country is the right to free speech absolute," she concluded. "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."

Source: CNA/mz