Open letter to Elizabeth Denham (UK Information Commissioner)

Ms Elizabeth Denham

Dear Ms Denham

I am writing to you as a Singaporean and also as the leader of a small Singaporean political party.

I am extremely concerned by a question raised by the Singapore delegation at the hearingof the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport International Grand Committee onDisinformation and ‘Fake News’ and your response.

The following exchange occurred on 27 November 2018:

Edwin Tong MP: Would you seek regulation to protect, say, children and the general public from content that could be seditious or incite hatred?

Elizabeth Denham: That is correct. Although it is complicated and complex to come up with the rules that will balance all these interests, our research shows that the public expect Parliament and legislators to do that.

I am not surprised that our authoritarian government’s Minister of State for Law, Edwin Tong, would bring up the matter of “sedition”. However I am beyond disappointed that, although you acknowledge the complexity of the issues, you did not challenge him on the matter of sedition and allowed it be conflated with incitement to hatred. I am not making a puerile distinction here. My concern is borne out of experience and a very real fear by our people that our Government will use any tool they can to crack down on legitimate opposition and to remove once and for all our ability to criticise or even question them.

As you may know our Government already controls all domestic media through the ownership of management shares facilitated by the Newspapers and Printing Presses and Broadcasting Acts. It controls foreign media through punitive distribution sanctions and defamation suits. Local bloggers are managed in much the same way. Public assembly is also illegal so global social media platforms are the only spaces that have remained resistant to total government control.

Possibly you are unaware that sedition ceased to be an offence in the UK in 2009 and had not been used for over a century before that (apart from a private attempt to prosecute Salman Rushdie for seditious libel in 1991)?

I know that Canada is your home country and Canada maintains sedition as an offence (albeit with an exemption for criticising Government) because like Singapore it was once part of the British Empire and has retained many of the archaic colonial laws.

However In Canada sedition laws are independent of the laws that pertain to hate crimes and its citizens enjoy wide ranging liberal freedoms. Singapore citizens enjoy no liberal freedoms whatsoever and the Government repeatedly uses criminal sedition and libel laws to crack down on dissent.

Claire Ward, UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, protected our freedoms best when she said:

Sedition and seditious and defamatory libel are arcane offences – from a bygone era when freedom of expression wasn’t seen as the right it is today… The existence of these obsolete offences in this country had been used by other countries as justification for the retention of similar laws which have been actively used to suppress political dissent and restrict press freedom… Abolishing these offences will allow the UK to take a lead in challenging similar laws in other countries, where they are used to suppress free speech.”

(https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2012/10/sedition-in-england-the-abolition-of-a-law-from-a-bygone-era/)

It is unfortunate that you appeared to be supporting Edwin Tong in the exchange. But it is worse that the UK Parliamentary Committee would invite representatives from an authoritarian dictatorship and allow them to take away from this a justification for a crackdown on freedom of expression. We know that where Singapore leads other authoritarian regimes such as Turkey, Hungary and Iran will follow.

It is a balancing act but Edwin Tong’s rejoinder stating a need for “quick and strong levers” should strike fear into the heart of any Parliament that believes in supporting the Human Rights Act or freedom of expression:

Edwin Tong: Those objectives have to be balanced by the speed at which you can address the harms that are being spread. I imagine that strong, quick levers are needed to stop and stem the spread.

It is the definition of irony that Singapore, which is a ‘fake’ democracy should send such a large delegation to a hearing on fake news and should be encouraged by the Mother of Parliaments to trample on its citizens’ democratic rights.

Yours sincerely

 

Kenneth Jeyaretnam

 

.

 

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10 Responses to “Open letter to Elizabeth Denham (UK Information Commissioner)”

  • Bapak:

    Forget about the British, they are in trouble themselves.

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  • Flabbergasted:

    Why engage foreign trash?

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  • Also Flabbergasted:

    Why “such a large” “Singapore delegation at the hearingof the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport International Grand Committee onDisinformation” held by “foreign trash?”

    Flabbergasted:

    Why engage foreign trash?

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  • Bapak:

    This is always the PAP’s way – one system, two interpretation.

    When they engage foreigners say good things, they blow it up to boast to everyone. When oppositions or candidates engage froeigners say bad things about them, they are likely to get midnight invitation to drink kopi.

    Flabbergasted:
    Why engage foreign trash?

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  • HarderTruths:

    Don’t keep bowing down to white imperialist colonizers Kenneth.

    Dr M once said that physical colonisation of a third world country is unnecessary if the mental condition of the people is aleady one of servitude to the colonisers.

    You seem to be another of those putting FT in high regard here. ho cares what those clowns think?

    How do you reconcile this abasement of yourself and your political party (who you represent) by pleading to our past colonisers while at the same time declaring $G people’s independence and sovereignty? We do not bow to them, even though you appear to do so on our behalf.

    If you (and your party) have such deep-rooted convictions that our former colonisers are worthy of judging our values and ways of life – perhaps you (all) would be better off staying there.

    There is no point trading one despot for another.

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  • ET Fought For KongHeeFatChoy:

    It’s a game that ET is playing, leading the outcome from those fools to justify Singapore’s tyranny against citizens and critics to maintain absolute control and power.

    With absolute power comes leegalised corruption and the unfettered rights to dip into our CPFs and reserves. Using self serving excuses to paying oneself obscenely is akin to state sponsored corruption.

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  • nizhemoshou:

    little red dot kangcheong and want this this angmo lady n her cttee people would be dined and wined , no?

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  • Great Asia:

    KJ is just an ideology mule. Singaporeans don’t want him. He has to accept Singaporeans’ opinion on him.

    Ha ha ha!

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  • Bapak:

    At least, he never betrays his father.

    Great Asia:
    KJ is just an ideology mule. Singaporeans don’t want him. He has to accept Singaporeans’ opinion on him.

    Ha ha ha!

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  • Pierre Trudeau says:

    If you live in a society where those who govern society and determine its path do not respect freedom of speech and freedom of religion, freedom of choice, freedom of assembly, and if there is no democratic process and no way to change the order of things by reason and peace and love and so on, and if, as a result of that, certain ideas in which you believe are being crushed, then I think the only way you can defend yourself against this violence is in using violence of your own……. If Canada is to survive, it can only survive in mutual respect and in love for one another.

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