Repressive Singapore is the perfect place for Trump and Kim to compare human rights records

Singaporean restaurants using the mildest form of satire for the Trump-Kim summit.
Singaporean restaurants using the mildest form of satire for the Trump-Kim summit.
Image: AP Photo/Wong Maye-E
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One is the leader of one of the world’s worst dictatorships. The other is pro-torture (paywall), calls the media “the enemy of the American people,” and once dismissed the United Nations—which wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

The agreed meeting location of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and America’s Donald Trump on June 12? Singapore, a bastion of censorship. The city-state was selected over other politically neutral locations like Mongolia, Switzerland, Sweden, and the demilitarised zone (DMZ) for security reasons, according to the White House. It might help that it’s relatively close to North Korea and keeps a tight grip on public demonstrations.

In a scathing report on the lack of freedom of expression in Singapore last year, Human Rights Watch wrote: “Beneath the slick surface of gleaming high-rises…it is a repressive place, where the government severely restricts what can be said, published, performed, read, or watched.”

Singapore has been ruled by the People’s Action Party for more than 50 years. There, a single person demonstrating on their own can be deemed an “illegal assembly,” and people criticizing the judiciary or late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew have been handed fines and prison sentences. The government has also stoked fears of mass surveillance with a plan to install 100,000 cameras with facial recognition software on lampposts around the city.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore below Russia—151st out of 180 countries—in its 2018 press freedom index; the government has launched defamation and contempt suits against foreign and domestic media, and banned the Far Eastern Economic Review in 2006 over an article criticizing the government.

It’s unclear (paywall) whether, when dealing with Kim, Trump will stick to the long-held US practice of insisting on improved human rights in North Korea as a proviso for better relations. Singapore is unlikely to be an inspirational backdrop.