SINGAPORE: A new Bill to manage public law and order has been passed in Parliament.
It rationalises current rules for public assemblies and processions by moving away from rulings based on the number of persons involved in these activities.
Instead the focus is on whether the activity may have a disruptive effect on the public.
Scenes of disruption like those at international meetings such as the G20 meeting in London and more recently, the failed ASEAN Summit in Thailand’s Pattaya, are common.
But that’s exactly what Singapore, which will later this year host the APEC meetings where many world leaders are expected to attend, wants to avoid.
That is why it is introducing new legislation at this time.
The new Public Order Act rationalises the existing two Bills – the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act (PEMA) and the Miscellaneous Offences Act (MOA).
At the heart of the Public Order Act is one key philosophy.
Second Minister for Home Affairs, Mr K Shanmugam, said: "The approach is to seek the optimal balance between the freedom to exercise political rights while not affecting public safety security and not affecting stability.
"Have we gotten that balance right? Well, ask yourselves two questions. In our region, which country would you rather be in? And amongst the countries in the world which became independent in the 1950s and 60s, which country would you rather be in?
"The answer to these questions would be the answer to the main question I asked."
Under the new Bill, three types of activities will require permits: Those that demonstrate support for or against views or actions of any person, group of persons or any government; those that publicises a cause or campaign; and those that mark or commemorate any event.
Many sporting and recreational activities will be exempted. This means that 50 per cent of activities that now require permits will no longer be regulated by permit.
There will also be changes to the penalty regime. First-time offenders will be fined and repeat offenders will face stiffer penalties.
The Act will also give police officers new powers to issue pre-emptive "move-on" orders, which will be in written form, ordering demonstrators not to congregate at the intended rally area, or give them a chance to leave without getting arrested.
Currently, police can only observe and warn a person if an offence has been committed and follow up with investigations after the event. The police can only arrest the person on the spot if it is a seizable offence such as for carrying weapons.
Mr Shanmugam said: "If a person complies with the order and leaves the designated area, no offence will be made out against him. By giving the person in the first instance, an opportunity to cooperate with the law enforcement authorities, the move-on powers bridge the current gap of ‘doing nothing’ and ‘outright arrest’."
The police will also get special powers for international events, which Mr Shanmugam describes as "trophy targets for terrorists", where they can search people and personal property.
And learning from the Mumbai terrorist incident, the police will have powers to stop the filming of ongoing security operations and seize such materials so that operations are not compromised.
Police could even take such a person, who is believed to have such a film or picture, into custody if he refuses to stop filming or surrender his materials. But this does not apply to routine police duties.