Singapore: Controversial foreign interference bill passed

The so-called Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act (FICA) has been passed by Singapore’s parliament on October 4, with the new legislation allowing authorities to compel media platforms and internet providers to block content, release user information and restrict access to applications. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the bill, which has dire implications for Singapore’s already deteriorating press freedom.

A CCTV security system is seen on the Marina Bay promenade in Singapore on March 17, 2021.  Credit: Roslan Rahman / AFP

The FICA passed after ten hours of parliamentary debate led by His People’s Action Party (PAP), who have governed Singapore for over 60 years. The bill was first raised three years ago but was only tabled in the last three weeks, attracting 75 ‘yes’ votes, 11 ‘no’ votes and two abstentions at the conclusion of the parliamentary session. It will be enacted after confirmation from President Halimah Yacob.  

The vaguely defined legislation targets content that has the potential to cause ‘immediate and significant harm to Singapore’, such as hostility or incitement of violence.  It also allows Singapore's government to deem certain individuals or organisations as 'politically significant persons' and requires internet service providers to block local access to content deemed harmful.

The Ministry for Law and Home Affairs stated the law only applies to foreign entities and would not be imposed on Singaporeans expressing their personal political views. “This Bill is intended to address a serious threat that concerns our national security and sovereignty" said K. Shanmuam, Minister for Law and Home Affairs. 

However, Singapore’s main opposition, The Worker’s Party, called for legislative reform, believing increased transparency was needed. “While the Workers’ Party believes in the legitimate need to counter malign acts of foreign interference, we disagree with the current form of the Bill in achieving the said objective,” said the party.  

Many press freedom organisations have denounced the FICA, condemning its ambiguity, arbitrary approach and lack of judicial oversight. It is believed the legislation could be easily turned against domestic critics in future.  

Singapore has suffered from deteriorating press freedom and lack of independent media. Last month, prominent news website The Online Citizen, was suspended by the government for failing to declare its sources of funding. In its Freedom of the World 2021 report, Freedom House afforded Singapore a score of 48 out of 100, with a status of ‘partly free’.  

The IFJ said: “The passing of the proposed foreign interference bill is a grave blow against press freedom in Singapore, with independent journalists and media workers in the firing line. Critical voices and independent reporting must not be stifled. The IFJ condemns the new legislation and calls on Singapore’s government to provide greater clarity over the scope and implementation of the FICA.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram