[HRC48 Side Event] Civic space obstructed: Singapore’s fundamental freedoms through the lens of the UPR
24 September 2021 1:47 pm


Date: Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Time: 13:30 – 15:00 (CEST, Geneva) / 18:30 – 20:00 (ICT, Bangkok) / 19:30 – 21:30 (SGT, Kuala Lumpur/Singapore)

Register here: l.forum-asia.org/HRC48SG

Live via: Zoom, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube


Singapore’s government has continued to arbitrarily restrict the peoples’ rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Singapore was rated as 160th out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. Its Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong has been tagged as a press freedom ‘predator’, for targeting journalists and for controlling access to information.

The government has used various laws such as the Printing Presses Act, Protection Against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), Public Order Act, Penal Code, Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, criminal defamation and civil defamation lawsuits to unduly curtailing the freedom of expression of members of civil society, the media and anti-establishment critics.

For its third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), States called on Singapore to protect fundamental freedoms, ensure compliance of its domestic legislation with international human rights law and standards, and end the use of criminal and administrative lawsuits that curtail fundamental freedoms. The government has so far ‘noted’ calls by member states arguing that it needs to strike a balance between ‘freedom of speech’ and the ‘need to preserve a harmonious society‘.

Ahead of its formal UPR adoption scheduled for the 48th regular session of the Human Rights Council, the government has continued to restrict civic space. On 13 September 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs proposed the non-human rights compliant Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (FICA Bill), which will allow the government to take down content, block user accounts and force platforms to disclose information on users.

Furthermore, the government has continued targeting independent, socio-political media outlets. On 14 September 2021, the class license of The Online Citizen was suspended, allegedly for failure to comply with regulations to declare all sources of funding. On 15 September 2021, the police issued a stern warning to New Naratif for reportedly running unauthorised paid election advertisements during the 2020 General Election campaign.

Join this virtual side-event as we discuss the situation in Singapore—particularly focussing on emerging threats and opportunities—and also providing recommendations for the Singaporean government, as well as the international community on how to ensure Singapore takes steps towards protecting civic space.


  • Cornelius Hanung, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Asia, CIVICUS

  • Linda Lakhdhir, Legal Advisor, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch

  • Daron Tan, Legal Consultant, International Commission of Jurists

  • Kirsten Han, We, The Citizens

Moderator: Joy Anne Icayan, Programme Officer, FORUM-ASIA

This is a UN side event at HRC48 organised by FORUM-ASIA, CIVICUS, Human Rights Watch, ICJ, Access Now, and ThinkCentre.

Media contact: For more information or to set up an interview with any of the speakers, please contact Melissa Ananthraj, Communication and Media Programme Manager, FORUM-ASIA at [email protected]

About the organisations: 

  • The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a network of 82 member organisations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. It has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and a consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. The FORUM-ASIA Secretariat is based in Bangkok, with offices in Jakarta, Geneva and Kathmandu.
  • CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. www.civicus.org
  • Human Rights Watch investigates and reports on abuses happening in all corners of the world. HRW are roughly 450 people of 70-plus nationalities who are country experts, lawyers, journalists, and others who work to protect the most at risk, from vulnerable minorities and civilians in wartime to refugees and children in need. HRW direct its advocacy towards governments, armed groups and businesses, pushing them to change or enforce their laws, policies and practices. www.hrw.org
  • The International Commission of Jurists is an international human rights non-governmental organization. It is a standing group of 60 eminent jurists—including senior judges, attorneys and academics—who work to develop national and international human rights standards through the law. icj.org
  • Access Now is a non-profit founded in 2009 with a mission to defend and extend the digital civil rights of people around the world. Access Now supports programs including an annual conference on Human Rights, an index of internet shutdowns, and providing exit nodes for Tor network. accessnow.org
  • Think Centre is the internet portal of Think Centre, an independent non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Singapore. First registered as a business (RCB) on 16 Jul 1999 and today as a society (under ROS) on 20 Oct 2001, the Centre aims to critically examine issues related to political development, democracy, rule of law, human rights and civil society. Think Centre’s activities include research, publishing, organising events and networking. https://www.thinkcentre.org/