SINGAPORE, Singapore – The first legal challenge to Singapore's law against online misinformation was rejected Wednesday, February 5, a blow to opponents who say it is being used to stifle dissent before elections.
The controversial legislation gives authorities the power to order corrections be placed next to posts they deem false.
It has been slammed by rights groups and tech giants, including Facebook, who claim it curbs free speech.
Since the law came into force in October, several opposition figures and activists have been ordered to place a banner next to online posts stating they contain inaccurate information.
The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), one of a handful of small opposition groups in the country, mounted the challenge after a government minister told it to correct 3 online posts about employment.
The posts, on Facebook and the party's website, said many Singaporeans had been displaced from white-collar jobs by foreigners – claims the government said were "false and misleading".
Immigration is a hot-button issue in the city-state, where the government is regularly criticized for the large presence of foreign workers.
But the High Court dismissed the challenge, with Justice Ang Cheng Hock ruling that the SDP's statements were "false in the face of the statistical evidence against them".
"The appellant has not challenged the accuracy of the statistical evidence, and has instead sought to critique it on other grounds," he added.
The party said it was "very disappointed" with the decision and was considering an appeal.
The government insists the misinformation law is necessary to stop falsehoods from circulating online that could sow divisions in the multi-ethnic, multi-faith country.
But political activists and opposition parties such as the SDP say it is being used to suppress criticism ahead of elections, expected to be called within months.
While it is praised for its economic management, affluent Singapore's government is also regularly criticized for curbing civil liberties.
The People's Action Party has ruled Singapore for decades and looks set to comfortably win the next polls, with a fragmented opposition seen as little threat. – Rappler.com