Human Rights Watch 'biased' and 'untruthful': Singapore

Singapore (AFP) - Singapore on Friday slammed Human Rights Watch for a "pattern of issuing biased and untruthful statements" about the city-state as the government mulled new laws to fight fake news.

The Ministry of Law zeroed in on a report by the New York-based HRW last year which said that while the financial hub was an economic success, it was time to relax tough regulations which are not in line with international human rights standards.

The rights group said harsh laws in Singapore were stifling free speech and had been used more frequently in recent times.

This included prosecuting human rights activist Jolovan Wham for organising public protests without a permit and launching legal action against the grandson of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew over a Facebook post linked to a family feud.

In a statement, the law ministry criticised HRW for not sending a representative to a parliamentary committee examining possible measures, including legislation, to tackle false online information.

The rights watchdog was among scores of individuals and organisations invited to testify and give input.

The ministry said HRW agreed initially to send a representative but later declined when it was told it would have to defend its report.

"HRW's stance is disappointing, but not surprising. HRW has a pattern of issuing biased and untruthful statements about Singapore," the ministry said, adding the organisation "knows that its report will not withstand any scrutiny".

"HRW, by its conduct, has shown that it cannot be taken seriously as a commentator or interlocutor on issues relating to Singapore," it said.

HRW was not immediately available for comment.

Singapore is among several countries looking at legislation to rein in fake news but critics have cautioned this could be used to curb free speech. The government has denied it is trying to restrict free speech.

Executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter appeared before the committee Thursday, and are among scores of experts, academics and activists called to testify over eight days.

Singapore is ranked 151 on the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. Officials in the city-state, however, say local media outlets enjoy high levels of credibility according the Edelman Trust Barometer Index.