January 6, 2020 / 8:23 AM / 7 months ago

Coincidence that fake news law applied to politicians, Singapore minister says

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore’s communications minister said on Monday it was a coincidence that the first few cases brought under a new fake news law were against political figures and parties.

The law came into effect in October amid concern among rights groups and opposition politicians it could be used to silence criticism of the government ahead of a general election expected within months.

The government has denied such suggestions saying the law, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), only tackles falsehoods and that legitimate criticism and free speech would not be affected.

“The first few POFMA actions appear to have been issued against individuals that are either politicians or affiliated with political parties, or political parties. I would say that that is a convergence, some might say an unfortunate convergence, or coincidence,” S Iswaran, minister of communications and information, told parliament.

“But whatever the case may be, that is the situation today but it does not mean that is going to be the situation going forward.

The minister was replying to a question from a nominated member of parliament on perceptions of partisan political bias over recent applications of the law.

Since the law was invoked on Nov. 25, three figures linked to the opposition and an opposition party have been told their online posts must carry a banner stating that they contain false information.

In one case, the opposition Singapore Democratic Party has appealed against the decision and said it is prepared to take legal action in what would be a first under the law.

Reporting by John Geddie in Singapore; Editing by Robert Birsel

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