Singapore government triggers online falsehood directive at another opposition politician

Just days after it issued correction notices to an opposition political party, the Singapore government has now instructed opposition politician Lim Tean to publish a correction notice for two of his Facebook posts about the country's spending on grants and scholarships.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

The Singapore government has issued yet another correction notice against an opposition politician, this time, involving Lim Tean over two Facebook posts he published on December 12. The directive comes just days after an opposition political party also received similar orders regarding online posts it published, which the ruling government deems to contain false statements. 

Issued under the country's Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), the correction notices against Lim were ordered by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, the POFMA Office said in a statement Monday. The directives required Lim to publish the correction notices, in full, at the top of the Facebook posts in question. 

On his part, the opposition politician -- who is a member of the Peoples Voice -- described the directive as a "pathetic demand" by a government that was anxious about the public response to data he highlighted in his posts. Specifically, Lim highlighted figures he said indicated the Singapore government had spent more on grants and scholarships for foreign students than it did for local students. 

The politician said he was mulling over his legal options regarding the correction notice. Lim said on his Facebook page: "It is clear to me that POFMA is being used by this government ahead of the upcoming General Elections to silence its opponents and chill public discussion of unpopular government policies."

Meanwhile, he has complied with the directive, enclosing the correction notice at the top of his Facebook posts.

In disputing data highlighted in the posts, the Ministry of Education said almost half of its annual budget of SG$13 billion went towards Singapore citizens, while Lim's cited figures had referred only to bursaries for local tertiary students. The government ministry described his post as "false and misleading".

In response, Lim said the data pointed specifically to spending on grants and scholarships, not the country's overall spending on local students. 

The Singapore government has invoked POFMA five times since the law came into effect in October, two of which have targeted political opponents Brad Bowyer and the Singapore Democratic Party

Under the legislation, two criteria requirements must be met for the laws to apply: there must be a false statement of fact and it must be in the public interest to act. The criteria does not cover criticisms, satire or parody, and opinions. Comments on falsehoods also are excluded, though, the Law Ministry has cautioned that "care" should be exercised to "avoid repeating" falsehoods. The ministry has also made assurances that the Act would not be used to punish people for sharing falsehoods "in ignorance [and] good faith".

The Bill had passed amidst strong criticism that it gave the government far-reaching powers over online communication and would be used to stifle free speech as well as quell political opponents.


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