Singapore has enacted a law banning “foreign interference” which the government said was aimed at curbing national and state security threats, but which critics have warned could affect freedom of speech.
The Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, or Fica, gives authorities the power to destroy those who act on behalf of the “foreigner” and threatens to imprison them with fines.
The bill was approved by a ruling party-led parliament at the end of Monday after a 10-hour debate, which was delivered last month.
The law regulates online advertising by external parties and interferes with local proxies known as “political parties”.
The ruling People’s Action Party in Singapore wrote on its Facebook page that Fica’s goal was to “prevent foreign powers from dividing our people and disrupting politics”.
“The wisdom is that our politics are for the people of Singapore to deal with,” K Shanmugam, the minister of law and domestic affairs, said in a second reading of the bill on Monday. “We can argue, disagree, but in the end it’s up to us to decide.”
Responding to what he called “common misconceptions” about the rule of law, Shanmugam said Fica could not increase the power of the government, compared to US and Australia’s efforts to deal with foreign inequality in democratic ways.
He further added that the state investigation into the case will be overseen by a court headed by a High Court judge, not an open court, to protect “secrets”.
However, opposition lawmakers argued in the opposition that the legal provisions put them at risk of persecution of people who falsely claim to be false.
“If this is not curtailed, it could undermine freedom of speech and the exchange of information among Singaporeans,” said Gerald Giam, a Labor Party’s left-wing candidate, in a statement posted on the party’s Facebook page.
Under the law, the government may compel Internet and social networking providers to ban or remove any information that is harmful to the government and to provide information to users or terminate users’ accounts.
Daron Tan, a legal adviser to the International Commission of Jurists, a human rights group, said Fica had “not adhered to the rules and standards of human rights”.
“The language used in Fica is vague and very widespread, and should be used to suppress freedom of speech, information and confidentiality,” said Tan. “Also frustrating and law-abiding is [Fica’s] is trying to reduce the number of courts to review the government’s use of power. ”
Shanmugam mocked Monday against Fica’s opponents, who accused him of “trying to expose the lies of the law”, while “politicians” would have to declare “foreign alliances” and donations.
He also said that George Soros’ billions of opportunities for Open Society Foundations, which are owned by multinational governments around the world, had a “history of participation in international politics”.
Kirsten Han, an independent journalist whom Shanmugam gave her name on Monday for spreading lies about the law, said it was too big, to allow the interior minister to pass legislation based on suspicion of local proxies working on foreign affairs.
In 2019, Singapore delivered Bill for “false internet” which carried a fine of up to S $ 1m ($ 740,000) and imprisonment for 10 years for spreading false or misleading information and “malicious”.
“The government’s assurances at yesterday’s meeting were unconfirmed,” Han told the Financial Times. “They say you have nothing to worry about unless you’re an outside lawyer, but that’s what they point the finger at.”
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