Singapore to launch tougher public order law

SINGAPORE (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 (APEC) 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.

Under the proposed law, police could prevent activists from leaving home if they knew they were going to a political rally. 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 criticize 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 (PAP) 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 dramatized 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.

Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Bill Tarrant