Singapore High Court Dismisses Opposition’s Appeal Over Fake-News Law

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Singapore’s High Court on Wednesday dismissed an appeal against the government’s use of correction notices over alleged falsehoods posted online by an opposition party, in the first legal challenge to the city-state’s new fake news law.

The office responsible for implementing the law -- at the request of the Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo -- issued orders in December against the social-liberal Singapore Democratic Party for content posted on its Facebook page and official website. The party, which was accused of making false statements about local employment trends, was legally required to carry the correction notice at the top of each post and later appealed the decision.

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act has been used several times since it was enacted in October. Some opposition politicians are worried the law will suppress dissent ahead of elections that must be held by April 2021, while rights groups say it is the latest attempt by the government to curtail free expression. Singapore’s government has said it is not aimed at stifling free speech and is enforced independently of the election cycle.

“I am of the view that subject statements which were identified from the SDP material are in fact false in the face of the statistical evidence against them,” Justice Ang Cheng Hock said in a written judgment. “I reiterate that the appellant has not challenged the accuracy of the statistical evidence, and has instead sought to critique it on other grounds. I do not find those grounds convincing.”

The Ministry of Manpower posted a statement in response to the judgment, saying “the SDP has tried to confuse and mislead the public by suggesting several different meanings to its statements. The SDP has also tried to confuse by saying that it was ‘interpreting’ statistics, when it was actually purveying falsehoods, as found by the court.”

In bringing its case to the court, the opposition party cited an “abuse of the law” after the Ministry of Manpower dismissed its application to rescind the order in January.

“We are, of course, very disappointed with the verdict,” the SDP wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday, adding it was considering appealing the decision. “We reiterate our case” that the law “must only be applied to clear cut cases of falsehoods, not for interpretations of statistical data.”

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