SINGAPORE: Invitations to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) groups to give oral evidence before the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods remain open, it was announced on Tuesday (Mar 27).
Speaking in response to a statement by RSF on Mar 22, Select Committee chairman Seah Kian Peng said at the end of the day's public hearings that its invite to RSF "still stands".
On its website, RSF had said it "doubt(ed) the sincerity" of the invitation and would "instead submit its recommendations when it has seen a draft" of the bill aimed at combating deliberate online falsehoods.
It said it "prefers not to take a position on a draft bill that no one has seen" and that it was however, "ready to offer its recommendations when it has seen an initial draft" of the proposed law which it suspected "will be yet another tool for censoring dissent".
A chronology of correspondence between RSF and Singapore's Parliament Secretariat released on Tuesday evening showed that the Select Committee had made several attempts to realise RSF's presence at the public hearings.
However, on Mar 20, RSF's Asia-Pacific desk head Daniel Bastard wrote: "Unfortunately I won't be able to come to Singapore this month, for organisational reasons. Since we are currently preparing our annual index, I need to be fully available at the office and the trip to Singapore will take too long."
Following this, the Parliament Secretariat asked if Mr Bastard or another RSF representative would be able to give evidence via video-conference, but no further communication was received.
"RSF initially expressed interest in giving oral evidence, and proposed to attend this week’s hearings. However, it eventually cited 'organisational reasons' and declined to attend. I note that it has subsequently issued a statement doubting the sincerity of our invitation," said Mr Seah.
"For the record, our invitation to RSF still stands," he added. "Should RSF change its mind and decide to give oral evidence, they are welcome to write to us."
Later on Tuesday evening, the Office of the Clerk of Parliament announced that the Select Committee would send another invitation to HRW to present at the public hearings.
The invite, which was shared in the announcement, acknowledged HRW's recent statement, noting that this meant it was "prepared to participate and come forward to give evidence in the hearings".
"Please confirm if this is the case," the note read, highlighting that the Select Committee's invite to HRW "remains open" and it is prepared to hear HRW "on any date in May, or after May, after Parliament reopens".