The "fake news" law comes into force in Singapore as an alarming free speech spokesman
Singapore, which is based on Crazy Rich Asians, has enacted a law against false information, which critics say has stifled public debate and disgrace journalists.
The protection against internet-based lies and manipulation adopted by the national parliament in May requires web platforms - including social networking services, search engines and news aggregators - to correct or remove content that the government considers to be flawed. Failure to comply with media companies could result in fines of up to one million Singapore dollars (approximately $ 722,000).
"I don't see our legislation restricting freedom of expression in any way," Lee said in May, quoted by the South China Morning Post. "I see this as a practical arrangement to help us deal with the problem of [fake news]."
Critics of the law accuse the ruling party of the People's Action Party of adopting the measure as a preventive step ahead of the March 2020 elections. The Lee Party has been in control of the Singapore government since the city-state at the top of the Malaysian Peninsula became a full municipality in 1959.
Opposition lawmakers and advocates for freedom of expression in Singapore and throughout the region confirm that the law stifles public debate and persecution of journalists in the country, which they say consistently march toward authoritarianism.
"But the concern is that it is likely to introduce a culture of self-censorship, not only among journalists but also among Singaporeans," Han says in an email to the NPR.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Asia for Human Rights Watch, said in an email to NPR that the law "requires cartoon blanche" for Singaporean ministers to remove any web content they unilaterally believe is irrespective of where it appears in the world.
In Singapore, freedom of expression is increasingly threatened, said Robertson, who points out that all independent media out there are only online. He says Singapore recognizes itself as a place of international business and wealth, "but it illuminates the bad news and harasses activists and whistleblowers who question Singapore's preferred image."
Many Southeast Asian countries have similar laws on books - in Cambodia and Thailand there are versions of lèse-majesté laws, and in Myanmar there are laws on official secrets of the colonial period. Last year, Malaysia adopted (and then repealed) the Anti-Fake News Act, and in January last year, Vietnam enacted a similar law that obliged companies like Facebook and Google to open offices there.
Governments in the region have justified laws to maintain national security, as noted by public policy experts Elvin Ong and Isabel Chew in the East Asian Forum.
In compliance with Singapore law, Google told Reuters that the measure "could inhibit innovation - the quality the city-state wants to promote as part of its plans to expand its technology industry." Meanwhile, Facebook has expressed concern that the law could "give Singapore's executive power broad powers," according to Reuters.