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Singapore’s jurisprudence of political defamation and its triple-whammy impact on political speech

by Assoc. Prof. TEY Tsun Hang

Singapore’s governing People’s Action Party (PAP) leadership has always been sensitive towards political criticism. Singapore has a highly sophisticated legal framework that imposes close and strict regulation on the local press and media system. The foreign media is also subject to considerable political control. Informal “out-of-bounds (OB) markers” had been mentioned and reported in the local press, in an attempt to give some clarity to the boundary of what the Singapore political leadership considered to be legitimate political criticism.

There have been consistent criticisms that the frequent use of defamation actions by the Singapore political leadership against opposition leaders and newspapers has the effect of silencing political dissent from within or without. It has been argued that this trend of political defamation actions is a violation of the fundamental constitutional right to freely hold and peacefully express one’s political opinions, and that it amounts to severe restrictions on freedom of expression that cannot be justified under international standards, seriously compromising the fundamental right to make political expression freely in public without fear of reprisal.

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