(New York) – Singapore’s government further restricted freedom of expression and assembly in 2014, and turned back gains in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, Human Rights Watch said today in its 2015 World Report. However, Singaporean citizens increasingly sought to assert their rights in public spaces and through social media.

“The Singapore government is pulling strings behind the scenes to hinder citizens from going online to get news and engage in political discussion,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should wake up to the fact that Singaporeans, especially youth, are increasingly disenchanted with government restrictions on what they can see, read, and say on the Internet.”

In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.

Government restrictions on free speech in Singapore take many forms, Human Rights Watch said. The government has sought to restrict Singapore-focused news websites in the country by preventing them from receiving any “foreign funding.” The government also banned an award-winning film “To Singapore, With Love,” and sought to remove and destroy children’s books allegedly supportive of LGBT rights before a public outcry forced the government to retreat.

Although the authorities ended the permission requirement in September 2008 for demonstrations at the Speakers Corner, permission was withdrawn from organizers of an event protesting alleged mismanagement of the state’s pension fund. When the event went ahead without permission, police charged the two organizers with unlawful assembly and causing a public nuisance, and charged four others with public nuisance. 

Singapore’s criminal justice system still uses caning, a brutal beating punishment that violates international prohibitions on cruel and inhuman punishment. Lawyer M. Ravi has filed a constitutional claim on behalf of Yong Vui Kong, who was sentenced to 15 strokes of the cane, in addition to a life sentence, for low-level drug running.

LGBT rights in Singapore endured several setbacks in 2014. Government leaders claimed that the country was not ready to accept LGBT rights. The Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge that the ban on gay sex is discriminatory, as well as a challenge to discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. For the first time in six years, the annual Pink Dot Festival faced an organized counter-protest, and the police forced cancellation of an event tied to the LGBT Pride celebration “in the interest of public order.”

“When it comes to ensuring legal protection and respect for LGBT people’s rights, Singapore is headed in the wrong direction,” Robertson said. “Singapore’s position shows that while it claims to be a modern developed country, its record on rights falls far short.”