Singapore opposition party says it is ready to challenge fake news notices in court

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A Singapore opposition party said on Thursday it was prepared to legally challenge a government order to attach correction notices to its online posts, accusing the government of using a new fake news law to stymie political debate.

FILE PHOTO: People pass the skyline of the central business district along the Marina Bay Promenade in Singapore April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su

This would be the first time such a case could head to court since the law came into effect in October.

The Singapore Democratic Party, which has no current representation in parliament, was told last month to issue the notices on an article on its website and related Facebook posts that discussed white-collar jobs in the city-state.

The law requires recipients of correction orders to comply even if they intend to appeal. The SDP attached the notices, but said on Thursday it stood by its content and asked for the correction notices to be retracted by the manpower ministry.

“We call on the Minister to not only retract the Correction Directions but also issue an immediate, unambiguous and public apology to the SDP... failing which we will be obliged to pursue the matter in a court of law,” the party said in a statement on its website.

The manpower ministry said it had not received any application from the SDP to vary or cancel the correction direction, adding that there is a process under the law for them to do so if they wish.

“The facts remain that SDP published specific falsehoods,” a ministry spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Surayah Akbar, an SDP spokeswoman, said the party planned to make an official application to cancel the correction direction shortly.

The law empowers ministers to ask online media platforms and users to carry corrections or remove content the government deems false and harmful to the public interest.

Rights groups fear the law may curb free speech, and opposition politicians say it could give the government too much power as elections loom.

Singaporean diplomats have recently defended the law in letters sent to global media outlets like the South China Morning Post and Britain’s The Economist, saying the correction directions do not restrict debate.

The SDP accused the manpower ministry of using the law for “political-partisan purposes to stymie legitimate criticism”.

The law has been used four times since it came into effect - with figures linked to other opposition parties also told their online posts must carry a banner stating they contain false information.

Singapore must hold its next general elections by early 2021, but the government is widely expected to call for a vote in the next few months.

Reporting by John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan. Editing by Gerry Doyle and Frances Kerry