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Rule 'by' Law in Singapore

PAP govt’s use of laws as tools for repression ensures rule ‘by’ law instead of rule ‘of’ law

First they “liberalize” the Films Act, then they tighten the screws on freedom of assembly (see Reuters & AFP reports below).

The PAP government has done so to address the “problem” – as they view it in their ever-paranoid state of mind (due to prolonged exposure to power) – of individuals/groups who have pushed the political boundaries and/or exercised their constitutional rights, peacefully.

Singapore to launch tougher public order law

SINGAPORE, March 24 (Reuters) – Singapore, which already has tough restrictions on freedom of assembly, plans to tighten them further ahead of a major Asia-Pacific summit in the city-state.

The Public Order Bill, introduced in parliament on Monday before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November, was needed to “squarely address gaps in the current framework to enhance the ability of the police to ensure security during major events”, the Ministry of Home Affairs said.

It would also allow police to order a person to leave an area if they determine he is about to break the law.

All outdoor activities that are cause-related will need a police permit, no matter how many people are involved. That is a change from the current law requiring a permit for gatherings of five or more people.

Opposition politicians and activists were quick to criticise the proposed law. “Even in communist China, peaceful protests are tolerated,” said Chee Siok Chin of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party.

The bill allows police to stop people from filming law enforcement if it could put officers in danger. The bill cited live media coverage of Indian police trying to rescue hostages in the Mumbai attacks last November as posing risks to the officers.

Police could stop small peaceful protests against unpopular visiting government leaders, such as from Myanmar, if the law was introduced, activists said.

Last week, three Singaporeans tried to present a bouquet of orchids to visiting Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein for him to give to detained Myanmar opposition leader Aung Sann Suu Kyi.

Thein Sein was having an orchid named after him at the Botanical Gardens, a Singapore tradition for visiting heads of government.

The law is certain to pass, since the ruling People’s Action Party has an overwhelming majority in parliament.

It also passed an amended law on Monday to ease a decade-long ban on political party documentary-like films, but introduced restrictions on dramatised political videos.

“These two sets of amendments should be viewed as part of the longstanding periodic adjustments the PAP has made to limit politics to tightly controlled electoral contests conducted in the absence of a meaningful civil society,” said Garry Rodan of Murdoch University in Western Australia.

Others said the two laws were pre-emptive measures for the government to prevent a repeat at the APEC meeting of confrontation between police and protesters that took place during the World Bank/IMF meeting in 2006, and also to deal with potential social unrest during Singapore’s worst-ever recession.

“As long as the government feels a threat, it needs greater measures to deal with greater problems,” said Terence Chong at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Recession-hit Singapore takes hard line on protests

SINGAPORE (AFP) — Singapore is tightening its rules on outdoor protests as the city state prepares to host its largest international summit amid its worst recession yet, analysts say.

The Ministry of Home Affairs tabled a proposed law in parliament Monday to strengthen police powers against illegal protests and other acts of civil disobedience.

One of the objectives of the Public Order Act is to ensure that security at international meetings will not be compromised, it said.

Among such meetings is the summit in November of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum, when 21 leaders, including US President Barack Obama, will visit Singapore.

But analysts said that, beyond the APEC summit, the government can use the law to deal with any outbreaks of public frustration as the recession leads to more job cuts and shrinking pay cheques.

Singapore became the first Asian country to fall into recession in the current global crisis, and the government projects that the economy will contract by up to five percent this year, the worst performance since independence in 1965.

The authorities are preparing for any eventuality “in case the social friction boils over as a result of the economic crisis into demonstrations,” veteran political commentator Seah Chiang Nee told AFP.

While Singaporeans are unlikely to turn to violent protests, the large pool of low-skilled foreign labourers could be a bigger problem, he said.

“These are the types who can resort to riots,” Seah said, pointing to recent gatherings of labourers complaining about unpaid salaries.

Under current laws, political gatherings of five or more people without a police permit and outside a designated free-speech park are deemed illegal.

Protesters have sidestepped this by congregating in small numbers and using creative tactics to draw attention.

Last week, three demonstrators in red shirts unfurled a banner outside Myanmar’s embassy, in a protest against the country’s military regime during a visit to Singapore by its Prime Minister Thein Sein.

Under the proposed legislation, any political assembly outside the free-speech zone, known as Speakers’ Corner, requires a permit, regardless of the number of people involved.

The proposed law also grants police the power to intervene to prevent a political gathering from building up.

The home ministry said that as the social, political and security environment becomes more complex, Singapore needs to “squarely address gaps in the current framework.”

Sinapan Samydorai, president of the civil rights group Think Centre, noted that APEC is a temporary event — but that the law will be permanent.

While the government has provided the free-speech corner, some Singaporeans may want to hold a protest outside parliament, he said.

“They (police) need to make sure that they prevent any kind of public display of dissatisfaction with the way things are going right now,” said an opposition party leader, Chee Soon Juan.

“APEC is being used as an excuse but the law is more for the long term,” said Chee, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party, which he said may challenge the new rules before the courts.

Seah, the political analyst, said public displays of anger over the recession will depend on the effectiveness of the government’s response.

The government in January announced a stimulus package of more than 20 billion Singapore dollars (13 billion US) to cope with the recession, and vowed to do more if necessary.

Seah said he did not expect Singaporeans, who enjoy Southeast Asia’s highest standard of living, to protest in large numbers.

“I cannot foresee 2,000 students carrying Armani handbags and iPods marching around Orchard Road throwing Molotov cocktails,” he said.

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