Human Rights Watch says it did not chicken out of attending a hearing in Singapore chaired by a Select Committee looking into the tackling of online falsehoods.
This comes after the government claimed that the international human rights group refused to turn up at a hearing to defend its report 133-page report on freedom of speech in Singapore, “Kill the Chicken to Scare the Monkeys – Suppression of Free Expression and Assembly in Singapore”.
However, HRW claimed that the Select Committee had not been prompt in confirming a date for the hearing and its staff could not attend as a result of the tardy response.
“Human Rights Watch has no staff based in Singapore. We offered to send the relevant staff member on a particular date, but the committee did not confirm a date that could work for our staff until after we had made other commitments.”
HRW added that the government is out to discredit its report, and the organisation:
“It is now clear that the purpose of the hearing was not to discuss our findings and recommendations in good faith, or to get our input into dealing with “deliberate online falsehoods” in a manner consistent with international standards, but to engage in ridiculous and irrelevant arguments aimed to discredit our report and Human Rights Watch.”
HRW also stated that the government, to date, has not responded to a letter sent by the organisation in October last year requesting a response to the findings in their report:
“On October 30, 2017, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to four senior members of Singapore’s government requesting their input and response to the findings of our research for our 133-page report, “‘Kill the Chicken to Scare the Monkeys’: Suppression of Free Expression and Assembly in Singapore.” The report analyzes the laws and regulations used by the Singapore government to suppress the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, including the Public Order Act, the Sedition Act, the Broadcasting Act, various penal code provisions, and laws on criminal contempt. The letter, a copy of which is included in an appendix of the report, was sent to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan. Human Rights Watch received no response by the time of publication of the report on December 13, 2017. We still have not received a response.
As the government has not disputed our factual findings and has not replied to our recommendations, which were offered in good faith to promote and protect free expression and peaceful assembly in Singapore, it is both ironic and absurd that the Ministry of Law and members of the ruling People’s Action Party are now accusing Human Rights Watch of being unwilling to defend our report.”
The government had invited HRW to a hearing to defend its report following a complaint from the PAP Policy Forum stating that HRW was spreading falsehoods and using “selective presentation of facts” to “paint a misleading picture” of Singapore.
Last Friday, (23 Mar), Select Committee chairman Charles Chong said that HWR was invited on Mar 5 to give oral evidence supporting its report.
In his statement, Chong said that the organisation agreed at first to send a representative, but later said that the person could not turn up at the agreed date due to “other travel plans that cannot be changed”.
Chong said that there were offers to reschedule the meeting, to fund their trip to Singapore, and to conduct the hearing through video-conferencing, but the group finally replied that it was unable to take part.
The Law Ministry added in a public statement that “serious allegations” have been made to the committee against Human Rights Watch and its work, and that questions have also been raised about how its board was appointed, the influence exerted by donors, the organisation’s links to the United States’ foreign policy establishment.
The Law Ministry said that HRW would have had the chance to “vindicate itself and set out its views” if it had appeared before the committee but chose not to do so, and that its initial willingness to appear before the committee evaporated once it was told that its representative should be prepared to answer questions about the report.
“HRW’s stance is disappointing, but not surprising. HRW has a pattern of issuing biased and untruthful statements about Singapore. It knows that its Report will not withstand any scrutiny, and has therefore chosen not to come to Singapore to publicly defend its views. HRW, by its conduct, has shown that it cannot be taken seriously as a commentator or interlocutor on issues relating to Singapore.”