By Fathin Ungku and Rozanna Latiff
SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The Singapore government's laws limiting critical speech and peaceful assembly are overly broad and make the country a repressive place severely restricting what can be said and published, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
In its first wide-ranging report on Singapore in 12 years, the group called on the government to amend or repeal laws and rules that restrict speech and assembly and drop charges against individuals for peaceful expression and gatherings.
Singapore's Ministry of Communications and Information did not have an immediate comment on the report. The government has held the position that Singapore's laws and regulations were needed to maintain social order and harmony.
The Singapore attorney-general's office has started contempt of court proceedings against the prime minister's nephew and authorities are prosecuting a prominent human rights activist for organising assemblies without permits.
"Beneath the slick surface of gleaming high-rises, however, it is a repressive place, where the government severely restricts what can be said, published, performed, read, or watched," the 133-page report said.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said in a statement: "Singapore promotes itself as a modern nation and a good place to do business, but people in a country that calls itself a democracy shouldn't be afraid to criticise their government or speak out about political issues."
The group called on the Singapore government to amend or repeal in entirety laws that it said were too broadly worded and used to "arrest, harass, and prosecute critical voices", including the Sedition Act and the Public Order Act.
The report is partly based on interviews with civil society activists, journalists, lawyers, academics, and opposition politicians, many of whom declined to be identified "due to fear of possible repercussions", the group said.
Singapore authorities charged human rights activist Jolovan Wham in late November for organising public assemblies without a police permit.
In August, the Singapore attorney-general's office began court proceedings against Li Shengwu, the grandson of the country's founder, over a Facebook post in which he said the government is "very litigious and has a pliant court system".
"I think the situation is getting worse. The prosecution of Jolovan Wham and the continued investigation of people involved in the protest with him indicates a new push by Singapore to go after a new group of activists," Robertson told reporters in a news conference in Kuala Lumpur later on Wednesday.
"We haven't seen that many prosecutions related to the Public Order Act in the past two years," he said.
(Reporting by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Jack Kim and Neil Fullick)