S’pore law granting police special powers takes effect

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SINGAPORE — The Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act (POSSPA) came into force yesterday, some two months after it was passed in Parliament, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Tuesday.

The law empowers the police to protect the secrecy of tactical operations during serious incidents such as terrorist attacks, by issuing a “communications stop order” to prevent the public and media from taking videos, pictures, audio recordings, or text messages that could compromise ongoing security operations. Those who breach the order can be jailed for up to two years or fined S$20,000 (RM59,065), or both.

It also grants the police powers to direct building owners to take certain actions, such as closing their premises, to facilitate security operations.

The Act is part of the authorities’ continuing efforts to combat terrorism, the MHA said in a statement.

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

The Act provides for a “two-tier unlocking mechanism”, which will kick in under a “high threshold”, it said.

To activate the POSSPA, the Minister for Home Affairs must first authorise the use of the powers in the Act. Thereafter, each special power under the Act has to be unlocked by the Commissioner of Police “only as and when he assesses that the situation requires it”.

The Act, which replaces the Public Order (Preservation) Act (POPA) enacted in 1958, also allows the police to stop individuals and demand information from them if they are near a security incident.

Earlier this month, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam had cited the POSSPA as an example of how Cabinet ministers have the “ultimate decision-making responsibility” to do what is right and “not be sidetracked” by a vocal minority. The Act was criticised by some quarters, such as civil society activists, as an overreach of police powers.

Expressing confidence that introducing POSSPA was the “right thing to do”, he added that such laws were possible in Singapore because “people trust the police and that we will exercise powers responsibly and you need those powers to deal with the situations that are evolving”.

On Tuesday, the MHA said Singapore continues to face a clear and present terrorism threat posed by home-grown radicalised individuals and foreign terrorists who view Singapore as a prized target.

The ministry said it has been reviewing, updating and introducing legislation to ensure that the security agencies here have the necessary powers to prevent and deal with the terrorism threat as effectively as possible. — Today