Salil Tripathi is the author of The Colonel Who Would Not Repent: The Bangladesh War and Its Unquiet Legacy (2016) and two other books. He chairs PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee. He is writing a book about Gujaratis. (August 2018)
Ambassador Mirpuri: Singapore’s deep concern about online falsehoods is shared with many countries around the world. Some have taken measures that are more sweeping than Singapore’s. But our law is not meant as a model for the rest of the world.
Salil Tripathi: Nobody who wishes well for Singapore would want the city or its people to be harmed. But fake news is a nebulous term. There will be genuine curiosity among governments around the world about how Singapore implements POFMA, because Singapore’s efficient use of laws is a matter of significant interest among many countries that would indeed like to replicate the Singapore model.
On May 8, Singapore’s parliament passed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), with an audacious aim— to defeat “fake news.” The new law empowers any minister to demand corrections from anyone who has generated content that the minister believes is fake and to dictate the words and phrases of that correction; the government can also ask for the content to be taken down, and require Internet service providers or platforms to prevent access to it. The implications of Singapore’s law, however, go far beyond a family row and even the governance of Singapore itself. Around the world there are plenty of governments that would love to wield such powers. They will be watching how Singapore uses its new law—with keen interest and considerable envy.
The renowned photojournalist Shahidul Alam is supposed to be in New York on October 28 to receive a humanitarian award from the Lucie Foundation, which honors photographers every year. There is no guarantee, however, that Alam will be able to attend the ceremony. Late on August 5, plainclothes security officers raided Alam’s home in Dhaka and arrested him. Hours earlier, Alam had given an interview to the Al-Jazeera network in which he had criticized the government crackdown on students who were protesting against worsening road safety. When he was taken to court the next day, Alam was limping. He shouted to journalists that he had been beaten up in custody: “My bloodstained shirt was washed and put back on me.”