Singapore is a parliamentary republic where the People’s Action Party, in power since 1959, dominates the political scene. The Elections Department declared Halimah Yacob president in 2017; she was the only candidate who qualified for the ballot, which was reserved that year for an ethnic Malay. Observers considered the 2020 general election to be free and open; the People’s Action Party won 83 of 93 parliamentary seats with 61 percent of the vote. The president subsequently reappointed party leader Lee Hsien Loong as prime minister.
The Singapore Police Force, under the direction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, maintains internal security. The Singapore Armed Forces, under the Ministry of Defense, have trained for deployment alongside the Home Affairs Ministry for certain domestic security operations, including joint deterrence patrols with police in instances of heightened terrorism alerts. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no credible reports of abuses by members of the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: preventive detention by the government under various laws that dispense with regular judicial due process; monitoring private electronic or telephone conversations without a warrant; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminal libel laws; restrictions on internet freedom; substantial legal and regulatory limitations on the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; and existence of a law criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, although not enforced.
The government prosecuted officials who committed human rights abuses and were involved in corruption. There were no reports of impunity for such abuses.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.
The law mandates imprisonment and mandatory caning for approximately 30 offenses, such as certain cases of rape, robbery, and drug trafficking. Caning is discretionary for convictions on other charges involving the use of force, such as kidnapping or voluntarily causing grievous hurt. Caning also may be used as a punishment for legally defined offenses while in prison if a review by the Institutional Discipline Advisory Committee deems it necessary and the commissioner of prisons approves. Women and girls, men older than 50 years and boys younger than 16, men sentenced to death whose sentences were not commuted, and persons determined medically unfit were exempt from caning.
Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. The government took active steps to investigate and file charges against members of the security services when it deemed their behavior inappropriate or illegal.
The trial of Central Narcotics Bureau officer Vengedesh Raj Nainar Nagarajan began in late 2020 and was still underway as of December. Nainar was charged with three counts of voluntarily causing hurt by seeking to extort a confession concerning drugs found in a suspect’s possession in 2017.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The law permits arrest without warrant and detention without trial in defined circumstances. Persons detained under these circumstances have a right to judicial review of their case, but the scope is limited by the law. The government generally observed the laws.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
In most instances the law requires issuance of an authorized warrant for arrests, but some laws, such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), provide for arrest without a warrant if the government determines the suspect acted in a manner prejudicial to the security of the country. The law specifies that some offenses, such as robbery or rape, do not require an arrest warrant.
Those arrested according to regular criminal procedure must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours or be released. Authorities expeditiously charged and brought to trial the majority of those arrested. A functioning bail system existed.
Persons who face criminal charges are allowed access to counsel within a “reasonable,” but undefined, period of time. Any person accused of a capital crime is entitled to free counsel assigned by the state. The government also funded a Criminal Legal Aid Scheme run by the Law Society that covers additional, but not all, criminal offenses.
Arbitrary Arrest: Some laws, such as the ISA and the Criminal Law (temporary provisions) Act (CLA), have provisions for arrest and detention without a warrant, trial, or full judicial due process in defined circumstances when there is evidence that a person is associated with any of the criminal activities listed in the law that pose a threat to public safety, peace, and good order. ISA cases are subject to review by the courts to provide for compliance with its procedural requirements. Authorities invoked the ISA primarily against persons suspected of posing a security threat and employed the CLA mostly against persons suspected of organized crime activity or drug trafficking.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was not excessively long. Some individuals, however, were in prolonged detention without trial and with minimal judicial due process under laws that allowed for such detention.
The ISA and the CLA permit preventive detention without trial for the protection of public security, safety, or the maintenance of public order.
The government used the CLA against serious criminal activities involving narcotics, loan sharks, or criminal organizations. The law specifies the criminal activities for which individuals may be detained without trial or placed under police supervision. Before issuing a CLA detention order for an initial period of one year, the home affairs minister must obtain the consent of the public prosecutor. A Supreme Court judge chairs a committee that reviews all cases and conducts hearings at which detainees or their lawyers are present. The country’s president considers the committee’s recommendations when deciding whether to cancel, confirm, or amend the detention. The president may extend detention for unlimited additional periods of up to one year at a time. Each detention, however, is reviewed by a separate advisory committee on an annual basis. The CLA lapses unless parliament renews it every five years.
The CLA allows for supervision within the community through means such as curfews, residence limitations, requirements to report regularly to authorities, and limitations on travel.
The ISA authorizes the home affairs minister, with the consent of the cabinet and with formal endorsement from the president, to order detention without filing charges if the minister determines that a person poses a threat to national security. The initial detention may be for a maximum of two years, after which the minister may renew the detention indefinitely. ISA detainees are permitted legal counsel. An independent advisory board consisting of a Supreme Court judge and two other presidential appointees reviews each detainee’s case within three months of initial detention and at intervals of no longer than 12 months thereafter. If the advisory board recommends that the detainee be released but the minister disagrees, the president has discretion regarding the detainee’s continued detention.
As of October the government held 19 persons under ISA orders of detention for alleged involvement in terrorism-related activities, and one person was under ISA detention for espionage-related conduct.
In January authorities disclosed the detention in December 2020 of a boy age 16 under the ISA for planning to attack two mosques using a machete on the anniversary of the March 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand attacks. The government stated this was the first case of a far-right inspired terrorist plotting an act in the country and that he was the youngest detainee held under the ISA. The detainee was reportedly self-radicalized online and had taken concrete steps to prepare the attack.
In February, following a tip-off from the Ministry of Defense, authorities detained a man under the ISA for planning to attack and kill Jewish worshippers at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue (see section 6, Anti-Semitism).
In April authorities detained Ruqayyah binti Ramli, a 34-year-old woman, under the ISA for planning travel to Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Ruqayyah, a former teacher at a religious school, had been subject to an ISA restriction order (see below) since August 2020 after she was radicalized by her Malaysian husband, who was detained under the ISA in July 2020 and deported to Malaysia. According to the government, Ruqayyah failed to respond to religious counseling and rehabilitation. Instead, her radical behavior escalated, and she continued communication online with overseas ISIS supporters.
In addition to detention, the ISA allows for issuance of restriction orders that require an individual to seek official approval for a change of address or occupation, overseas travel, or participation in any public organization or activity. Individuals subject to restriction orders could be required to report regularly to authorities. As of October, 28 individuals were subject to such restrictions for terrorism-related conduct. This number included both released ISA detainees and alleged terrorists whom authorities never detained.
In March the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that Sheik Heikel bin Khalid Bafana was released on a restriction order following detention since 2019 for his active involvement in the civil war in Yemen. In May Kuthubdeen Haja Najumudeen, a follower of Sri Lankan preacher Zahran Hashim, was released on a restriction order following his detention since 2019. Also in May, Ahmed Hussein Abdul Kadir son of Sheik Uduman was issued a restriction order after completing a prison sentence for terrorism financing offenses. He was previously detained under the ISA in 2018 before being charged with supporting ISIS and sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment in October 2019.
There is also a category of restriction called “suspension direction” that replaces a suspended order of detention and may prohibit association with specified groups or individuals and overseas travel without prior written government approval. Suspension directions also include reporting conditions. As of October, one individual was subject to suspension directions for terrorism-related conduct.
In May, Mohamed Faishal bin Mohd Razali was released on a suspension direction after his detention under the ISA since 2018 for his aspiration to pursue armed violence in overseas conflicts.
The drug laws permit the involuntary admission of drug addicts to an approved institution for treatment and rehabilitation without judicial approval. If a suspected drug abuser tests positive for an illegal drug or displays signs of drug withdrawal, the director of the Central Narcotics Bureau may commit the person to a drug rehabilitation center for a six-month period, which a review committee of the institution may extend for a maximum of three years. By law the bureau director may order treatment for up to six months of a person determined by blood test or medical examination to be an abuser of intoxicating substances. The detained individual has the right to file a complaint to a magistrate who can issue an order to release the individual from the institution.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution provides the right of habeas corpus in regular criminal law, although not in ISA or CLA cases.
Under the CLA, the decision by the minister for home affairs regarding a suspect’s engagement in criminal activities is final and not subject to appeal, as is the minister’s subsequent decision on whether detention is necessary for reasons of public safety, peace, and good order, once concurrence by the public prosecutor is secured. The courts can review the decision, but only based on the tests of illegality, irrationality, and procedural impropriety.
Persons detained under the CLA and remanded for trial may apply to the courts for a writ of habeas corpus. Persons detained without trial under the CLA may challenge the substantive basis for their detention only to the CLA advisory committee, which is chaired by a Supreme Court judge.
Under the ISA, detainees may challenge their detention in the judicial system only by seeking judicial review of whether their detention complied with procedural requirements of the ISA; they have no right to challenge the substantive basis for their detention through the courts. Detainees under the ISA have a right to legal counsel and to make representations to an advisory board chaired by a past or sitting judge of the Supreme Court. The ISA specifically excludes recourse to the normal judicial system for review of a detention order made under its authority.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Some civil society activists and government critics expressed concern regarding undue government influence in the judicial system. Laws limiting judicial review, moreover, permitted restrictions on individuals’ constitutional rights.
The ISA and CLA explicitly preclude normal judicial due process and empower the government to limit, on broadly defined national security grounds, other fundamental liberties provided for in the constitution.
The law provides for a fair and public trial, except for persons detained under the ISA, CLA, and similar legislation. The judiciary generally enforced this right when applicable. Some commentators observed a small number of exceptions in cases involving direct challenges to the government or the ruling party. The judicial system generally provided an efficient judicial process.
In most circumstances the criminal procedure code requires that when a defendant is first charged in court, the charges must be framed, read, and explained to the defendant. After the charges are filed in court, the accused may seek advice of counsel before deciding whether to plead guilty or request a trial. At a pretrial hearing no earlier than eight weeks after criminal charges have been made, a judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial and sets a court date.
Criminal defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence in most cases. Cases involving narcotics are an exception; the law stipulates that a person who possessed narcotics shall be assumed to be aware of the substance and places the burden on the defendant to prove otherwise. The law also stipulates that if the amount of the narcotic is above set limits, the defendant must prove he or she did not have the drug for trafficking purposes.
Trials are public and heard by a judge; there are no jury trials. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to be represented by an attorney. The Law Society administered a legal aid plan for persons facing criminal charges who could not afford an attorney. The state did so for anyone facing a capital charge. Defense lawyers generally had sufficient time and facilities to prepare an adequate defense. Criminal defendants who do not speak or understand English, or who have limited proficiency, are provided with translation services at no cost. Defendants have the right to question prosecution witnesses and to provide witnesses and evidence on their own behalf.
Defendants enjoy the right of appeal, which must be filed within 14 days in most cases. The criminal procedure code provides for an automatic appeal process for all death sentence cases. Those sentenced to death may ask for resentencing under certain circumstances, and judges may impose life imprisonment instead. The courts may offer certain offenders the option of probation or paying a fine in lieu of incarceration.
Persons detained under the ISA or CLA are not entitled to a public trial. Proceedings of the ISA and CLA advisory boards are not public.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Access to the courts is open, and citizens and residents have the right to sue for infringement of human rights.
The constitution does not address privacy rights; statutory or common law provide remedies for infringement of some aspects of privacy rights. Several laws safeguard privacy, regulate access to and processing of personal data, and criminalize unauthorized access to data. Public agencies, however, are exempted from these data protection requirements; subject to public sector-specific laws, they can intercept communications and surveil individuals if it is determined to be in the national interest or necessary for investigations or proceedings.
The government generally respected the physical privacy of homes and families. Normally, police must have a warrant issued by a court to conduct a search but may search a person, home, or property without a warrant if they decide that such a search is necessary to preserve evidence or permissible according to discretionary powers of the ISA, CLA, and other laws.
Law enforcement authorities have broad powers to search electronic devices without judicial authorization, including while individuals are in custody. In 2020 Privacy International stated that, “Singapore has a well-established, centrally controlled technological surveillance system.” Law enforcement agencies, including the Internal Security Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, had extensive networks for gathering information and conducting surveillance and highly sophisticated capabilities to monitor telephone, email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private. No court warrants are required for such operations and the law gives police access to computers and decryption information under defined circumstances.