top of page
  • Writer's pictureGlobal Human Rights Taskforce

Unveiling Human Rights Abuses in Singapore: A Silent Crisis

By: Globa Human Rights Taskforce President & Special Rapporteur Joseph Bonner

September 12, 2023 Singapore, a nation widely admired for its exceptional economic success, meticulously clean streets, efficient public transportation, and remarkably low crime rates, conceals a dark reality that is often overlooked – the gross human rights violations that persist within its borders. While the country is known for its stringent regulations, it is imperative to critically examine the extent to which these laws encroach upon the fundamental rights of the people living in Singapore, including both citizens and residents. This covert aspect of Singapore's society should not be disregarded or underestimated; it requires our unequivocal and resolute condemnation.

1. Freedom of Expression Moreover, the government in Singapore maintains tight control over the internet and social media platforms, further inhibiting freedom of expression. The Media Development Authority (MDA) has the power to license and regulate online content, including news websites and blogs. This allows them to enforce censorship and take down content they deem objectionable or against national interests. The government's control over the internet extends to surveillance as well. The authorities have been known to monitor online activities and prosecute individuals for posting content critical of the government. This creates an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship, as individuals are hesitant to express their opinions openly for fear of repercussions. Furthermore, the government's definition of what constitutes politically sensitive or offensive content is broad and subjective. This leaves room for interpretation and abuse, as the authorities can easily use these laws to target individuals and silence dissent. This has a chilling effect on public discourse and inhibits the growth of a vibrant and diverse civil society. The impact of these restrictions on freedom of expression is not only felt by individuals but also by civil society organizations and human rights activists. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) face challenges in advocating for social change and promoting human rights due to the restrictions on their activities and the potential for government interference. It is worth noting that the Singaporean government argues that these laws and regulations are necessary for maintaining social harmony and stability. They prioritize the collective interests of the nation over individual rights, which they believe are essential for Singapore's progress and prosperity. However, critics argue that true progress and development can only be achieved through open dialogue, the free exchange of ideas, and the ability to hold the government and public officials accountable. Without the robust protection of freedom of expression, Singapore risks stifling creativity, innovation, and the development of a vibrant democracy. In conclusion, freedom of expression remains a significant human rights concern in Singapore. The restrictive laws, defamation lawsuits, limited media diversity, and government control over the internet all contribute to a climate of self-censorship and limited public discourse. As Singapore continues to evolve, it is crucial for the government to strike a balance between maintaining social order and upholding the fundamental human rights of its citizens.

2. Criminal Justice System The stringent regulations and permit requirements imposed by the Singaporean government are often seen as excessive and unnecessary. Critics argue that these regulations go beyond the need for public order and security, and instead serve as a means for the government to control and suppress dissenting voices. The lengthy and cumbersome application process for permits also acts as a deterrent for individuals and groups who may otherwise wish to exercise their right to peaceful assembly. Furthermore, the government's use of strict laws and legal action against those who organize or participate in unauthorized gatherings has garnered international criticism. Human rights organizations and international bodies such as the United Nations and Amnesty International have condemned the Singaporean government's restrictions on freedom of assembly, arguing that they violate internationally recognized human rights standards. While the Singaporean government has justified these restrictions as necessary for maintaining social stability and preventing potential unrest, critics argue that these justifications are used to suppress political opposition and stifle dissent. The government's strict control over public gatherings has led to a perception that freedom of assembly in Singapore is limited to only those who align with the government's interests. Singapore's restrictions on freedom of assembly and peaceful protest have been widely criticized for infringing upon individuals' rights to freely express their opinions. The stringent regulations and permit requirements, coupled with the government's use of legal action against dissenting voices, contribute to a climate of limited political discourse and hinder the ability of civil society to advocate for change. It is crucial for the Singaporean government to reevaluate these restrictions and create a more inclusive and vibrant public space where citizens can freely express their concerns and engage in meaningful political activism.

3. Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly and Association Critics contend that the Public Order Act in Singapore imposes stringent restrictions on public gatherings, protests, and demonstrations, which infringe upon the rights to freedom of assembly and association. These regulations mandate that any event involving five or more participants must obtain permits, restricting citizens' ability to express their grievances and advocate for change in a peaceful manner. One of the main concerns raised by critics is that the Act grants the authorities significant discretion in deciding whether to grant protest permits. This discretion can potentially be used to stifle dissenting voices and limit the ability of citizens to exercise their constitutional rights. Critics argue that this lack of transparency in the permitting process undermines the principles of democracy and hampers efforts to hold the government accountable. Moreover, the penalties imposed for non-compliance with the Act are viewed as excessive and disproportionate. Those found in violation of the regulations can face severe fines and imprisonment, discouraging citizens from participating in public protests or expressing their dissenting views. Critics argue that such penalties create a climate of fear and self-censorship, suppressing public discourse and inhibiting the development of an open and inclusive society. Another point of contention is the Act's definition of public assemblies, which some argue is overly broad and ambiguous. This can lead to confusion and uncertainty among individuals and organizers, potentially deterring them from exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression. Critics argue that a clearer and more specific definition of public assemblies is necessary to ensure that individuals can engage in peaceful protest without fear of legal repercussions. Furthermore, critics highlight that Singapore's restrictions on public gatherings contrast with international standards and best practices. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has affirmed that peaceful assembly is a fundamental human right, and restrictions should only be imposed under exceptional circumstances to protect public safety and order. Critics argue that the Public Order Act's stringent requirements go beyond what is necessary in a democratic society, thereby disproportionately limiting citizens' rights. In conclusion, critics argue that the Public Order Act in Singapore imposes restrictive rules on public gatherings, protests, and demonstrations, which they contend limit the rights to freedom of assembly and association. The Act's stringent regulations, discretionary permitting process, severe penalties, broad definitions, and divergence from international norms are viewed as hindrances to citizens' ability to express grievances and advocate for change in a peaceful manner.

4. Imprisonment of Conscientious Objectors

In Singapore, military service is obligatory for all male citizens and permanent residents who turn 18 years old. The two-year conscription program is known as National Service (NS) and encompasses the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Refusing to fulfill National Service obligations is considered a serious offense in Singapore. Those who refuse to serve or evade NS may face legal consequences. If convicted, they can be subjected to imprisonment and fines under the Enlistment Act.

Jehovah's Witnesses are a Christian denomination known for their strict adherence to biblical teachings and principles. One aspect of their faith is the refusal of military service, as they believe that participating in warfare goes against the teachings of Jesus Christ. In Singapore, military service is mandatory for all able-bodied male citizens above the age of 18. However, Jehovah's Witnesses stand firm in their conviction to maintain neutrality and refuse to engage in any form of military activity, including both combat and non-combat roles. The stance of Jehovah's Witnesses on military service is based on their insight of various biblical passages that emphasize love, peace, and nonviolence. The Bible teaches that Christians should reject violence and should not involve themselves in the conflicts and wars of the world. As a result of their refusal to serve in the military, Jehovah's Witnesses in Singapore have faced legal and societal consequences. In the eyes of the Singaporean government, failure to perform national service is considered an offense, punishable by imprisonment. Consequently, Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse military service may face imprisonment or other legal penalties. Furthermore, this refusal can sometimes lead to social ostracism and discrimination, as military service is seen as a duty and a sign of loyalty to the nation. Jehovah's Witnesses often face difficulties in finding employment, obtaining government benefits, or enjoying certain privileges due to their stance on military service. Despite these challenges, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that obeying God's laws takes precedence over any earthly consequences. They maintain that their refusal to serve in the military is an expression of their faith and a commitment to peace. It's important to note that while Jehovah's Witnesses refuse military service, they are generally law-abiding citizens in all other aspects and contribute to society in various other ways. They prioritize activities such as evangelism, community service, and charitable work, where their beliefs align with their moral and religious values.

It's worth mentioning that the conscription policy in Singapore has been in place since 1967 and is seen as critical for national defense and maintaining a strong military deterrence. The government places great emphasis on National Service and considers it a duty of citizenship.

Imprisoning conscientious objectors for refusing military service is widely considered a human rights violation because it infringes upon several fundamental rights and freedoms. The imprisonment of conscientious objectors goes against internationally recognized laws and articles that protect individual rights and promote freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. International Laws and Articles Condeming Singpors Treatment of Conscientious Bbjectors : 1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): - Article 2: Prohibits discrimination on the basis of conscience, religion, or belief. - Article 18: Affirms the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. - Article 19: Protects the freedom to hold opinions and seek, receive, and impart information and ideas. 2. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): - Article 18: Protects the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. - Article 26: Guarantees equal protection under the law, without any discrimination. 3. United Nations Human Rights Committee General Comment No. 22: - Emphasizes that the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion includes the right to manifest beliefs in worship, observance, practice, and teaching. 4. European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): - Article 9: Protects the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. 5. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC): - It does not directly address conscientious objection, but it recognizes crimes such as persecution and inhumane treatment. Singapore Laws Not Alligned with Human Rights Laws: The specific laws and regulations in Singapore include: 1. Enlistment Act (Chapter 93): - Under this act, all male citizens and permanent residents are required to register for enlistment and serve in the SAF. 2. Penal Code (Chapter 224): - Section 188 criminalizes disobedience to an order lawfully promulgated by a public servant. It is important to note that Singapore's position on conscientious objection is not aligned with international human rights standards, and thus has been subject to criticism by human rights organizations and activists.

Restrictions on freedom of expression remain a pressing human rights issue in Singapore. The government's use of defamation laws and restrictive regulations on public gatherings, protests, and online speech stifle dissenting voices and limit the possibilities for open dialogue and criticism. By loosening these restrictions and allowing for more freedom of expression, Singapore can foster a more vibrant and inclusive public discourse, promoting transparency and accountability.

Another area of concern is the criminal justice system's aspects. The use of mandatory death sentences, restrictions on due process rights, and the use of caning as a form of punishment are all human rights violations. Singapore should work to reform its criminal justice system, ensuring fair trials, eliminating outdated and inhumane forms of punishment, and promoting rehabilitation instead of harsh penalties.

Furthermore, the treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses and other conscientious objectors raises concerns about freedom of religion and belief. Currently, Jehovah's Witnesses are denied the right to perform alternative national service, resulting in discrimination and persecution. Singapore should revise its laws and policies to accommodate the beliefs and practices of different religious communities, ensuring equal treatment and protection for all individuals.

Additionally, restrictions on freedom of assembly and association hinder the ability of civil society organizations and activists to mobilize and advocate for social change. By relaxing these restrictions and allowing for more peaceful protests and demonstrations, Singapore can foster an environment that encourages civic participation and collective action, strengthening democracy and social progress.

In conclusion, although Singapore has achieved remarkable economic growth and stability, it is crucial to address the human rights concerns that persist within its society. By recognizing these concerns and engaging in open dialogue with relevant stakeholders, Singapore can work towards building a more inclusive and rights-respecting society. Promoting freedom of expression, reforming the criminal justice system, accommodating conscientious objectors, enhancing LGBT rights, and relaxing restrictions on freedom of assembly and association are essential steps in this journey towards a more equitable and rights-based Singapore.


bottom of page