Singapore’s shocking human rights record stems from lack of free speech

Justin Wong

If the city wants to maintain its international reputation, it needs to speak up when basic human rights are violated

Justin Wong |

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Teen blogger Amos Yee and his parents leave after he was sentenced by a court in Singapore last year.

When most people talk about Singapore, they often talk about their excellent housing or education policies, which means basically every Singaporean can afford their own apartment and their children are fluent English speakers.

However, although they have flourished economically over the past five decades, Singapore’s human rights record hasn’t improved much. Moreover, while countries like China and North Korea are criticised for their abysmal human rights record, in Singapore, these issues are often overlooked and forgotten by the international community.

When former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew died last March, then 16-year-old blogger Amos Yee uploaded a video to YouTube criticising the late Lee for being “power hungry and malicious while deceiving others into thinking he was both compassionate and kind,” and describing Lee’s supporters as “completely delusional” and “ignorant”.

After the video went viral, Yee was arrested and convicted of “wounding the religious feelings of Muslims and Christians”. When he arrived at court last April, he was slapped in the face by a stranger at the court doors. Last week, a video was posted online showing that while Yee was being manhandled by a man and his girlfriend at a shopping mall, instead of stopping the pair, other shoppers just videoed the scene on their mobile phones.

But Yee’s case is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Singapore’s tarnished human rights reputation. British journalist Alan Shadrake was jailed for five weeks in June 2010 after publishing an article criticising Singapore’s judicial system.

Currently, the state-owned MediaCorp own all of Singapore’s television as well as radio channels, while the management of the daily newspapers are appointed by the government. Also, a number of activists have been charged for sharing dissenting views on the government on the internet, while a video made by the opposition party, the Singapore Democratic Party, was kept hidden from the public.

Despite being an economic powerhouse and one of the most educated places in Asia, the lack of reaction by Singapore’s citizens and government towards opposing opinions shows that most of Singapore’s citizens remain uneducated when it comes to civil rights.

Freedom of speech is a basic human right. Singapore needs to step up and protect their citizens, and their international reputation, by showing that they aren’t afraid to speak up.