New Singapore anti-terror law can order media blackout

SINGAPORE — A new law that gives the police special powers during terrorist attacks, including widely banning journalists and members of the public from reporting on the scene, took effect in Singapore on Wednesday.

The law gives the police the power to block all communications on-site, ranging from photographs to videos, text and audio messages, for up to a month if authorities feel security operations could be compromised.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, which drafted the law, said Tuesday that the country faces a "clear and present terrorism threat, posed by home-grown radicalized individuals and foreign terrorists."

"It is therefore important to equip the police with powers to ... respond swiftly and effectively to attacks of any scale and of varying tactics, and minimize the chances that their security operations are compromised," the ministry said.

Individuals who flout the new law face a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of 20,000 Singapore dollars ($14,891).

The ministry said the law would make the police more effective in responding to terrorist threats. It cited previous attacks in Mumbai and Paris, where live broadcasts allegedly allowed terrorists to anticipate the next move of security forces.

During the 2008 Mumbai attacks, videos of security forces preparing to storm the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel allowed gunmen to anticipate the move, it said. In the 2015 attack on a deli in Paris, a terrorist who had taken several hostages was able to watch live television broadcasts showing police preparing to enter the deli, the ministry said.

Singapore, located close to the Muslim-majority nations of Malaysia and Indonesia, with Islamic State group sympathizers, has effectively checked terrorist threats.

Lawmakers have said the new law will be used sparingly, and that selected media outlets and journalists will be given access to the scene.

Rights groups fear that the new legislation would limit press freedom. "No one disputes the need for special measures in the event of a terrorist attack, but it is not the interior ministry's job to decide what journalists can broadcast or publish," said Daniel Bastard, who heads the Reporters Without Borders' Asia-Pacific office.

Singapore is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in the group's world press freedom index.

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