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Singapore: Withdraw “foreign interference” law or risk violating civic freedoms

Today, Access Now and 10  other organizations are calling on the Singapore government to withdraw the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (FICA) — a law that contravenes international legal and human rights principles, and will significantly curtail already-limited civic space in the country.

“Protecting national security may be a legitimate aim — but FICA is not the way to achieve it,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Senior International Counsel and Asia Pacific Director at Access Now. “It unnecessarily expands the government’s already-wide powers to control and censor online and offline speech, and potentially allows for even legitimate associations to be criminalized and monitored. Civil society, journalists, academics, researchers, artists, and writers who are often supported by cross-border collaboration and funding will be hardest hit.”

On October 4, Singapore’s parliament passed FICA, three weeks after it was tabled on by the Ministry of Home Affairs to purportedly “prevent, detect and disrupt foreign interference in […] domestic politics.” This move came despite serious red flags raised by members of the public, civil society, legal fraternity, independent media, political opposition, academia, and industry in Singapore that the law would undermine civic freedoms. 

Under FICA, overbroad and ambiguous provisions allow for wide executive discretion unfettered by judicial oversight to potentially violate the rights to freedom of expression, association, and participation in public affairs. The law can potentially apply to any and all expression or association relating to politics, social justice, or other matters of public interest.

Severe criminal penalties including imprisonment and steep fines can be imposed under FICA — many of which are not subject to adequate independent oversight or remedy in case of human rights violations — and directions can be issued by the authorities to censor, restrict, or block access to online content, accounts, services, apps, or locations they deem impermissible. 

On September 29, 2021, Access Now and five organizations held a UN Human Rights Council side event, ahead of the adoption of the outcomes from Singapore’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which highlighted violations and continuing threats to fundamental freedoms and civic space in Singapore. 

On October 15, 2020, Access Now made a submission to Singapore’s UPR, highlighting freedom of expression, access to information and the right to privacy as “prominent issues” and urging the government to “ensure that national legislation and policies fully guarantee the safety of activists, human rights defenders, and journalists so that these important actors can pursue their activities freely without undue interference, attacks, or intimidation.”

Read the full statement.