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Although no law has been located specifically concerning the protection of journalists against online harassment in Singapore, harassment of various forms can be prosecuted under an anti-harassment law enacted 2014. The Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) provides for criminal and civil remedies against harassment, including online harassment, and includes a new offense of unlawful stalking. An offense under POHA is punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.

A victim of harassment may also make an application to the court for issuance of a protection order against a harasser to stop the harassment or stalking. Where a false statement of fact has been published, the victim may apply for a court order to stop the publication.

The courts in Singapore have jurisdiction to try offenses committed outside Singapore and to grant a protection order or expedited protection order if the conditions under POHA are satisfied.

On May 7, 2019, the Parliament of Singapore passed the Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Act. The amendment criminalizes “doxxing,” which involves the publication of identity information in order to harass, threaten, or facilitate violence against the victim—and establishes a specialized court, the Protection from Harassment Court.

I. Introduction

A. Freedom of Expression

Article 14(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore guarantees to Singapore citizens the rights to freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly without arms, and association, subject to restrictions imposed by laws made by the Parliament of Singapore under article 14(2).[1] In terms of the right to freedom of speech and expression, the Parliament may impose “such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offense.”[2]

The Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom in the World report designates Singapore as “partly free.” According to the report, the country’s legal framework limits freedoms of expression, assembly, and association. Domestic newspapers, radio stations, and television channels are all owned by companies linked to the government. Free speech on social media is deterred by the threat of defamation suits and related charges.[3]

B. Protection from Online Harassment of Journalists

No law or cases have been located specifically concerning the protection of journalists against online harassment. Nevertheless, in 2014, Singapore enacted the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) amid a noted significant rise in bullying, cyber-bullying, and harassment of a general nature.[4] The Act gives Singapore’s netizens “a new legal weapon to defeat the ‘trolls’ of the Internet” by providing for criminal and civil remedies against harassment, including online harassment.[5] The Act also includes a new offense of unlawful stalking.[6]

Before the enactment of POHA, harassment was a criminal offense under the Miscellaneous Offenses (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, but it was not clear whether online harassment was covered under that Act. POHA repealed and re-enacted certain provisions of the Miscellaneous Offenses (Public Order and Nuisance) Act and made it clear that harassment includes acts done online.[7]

Official statistics shows that POHA has been an important legislative tool in protecting victims of harassment by giving them effective redress. Since the Act came into force in 2014, more than 3,000 Magistrate’s Complaints were filed under the Act; over 1,700 prosecutions have been brought; and about 900 convictions have been obtained. There have been 500 applications for protection orders filed under the Act, of which over 200 were granted.[8]

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II. Criminal Offenses

A. Intentionally Causing Harassment, Alarm, and Distress

It is an offense under POHA to, with intent to harass or cause alarm or distress to another person, use threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior, or to make any threatening, abusive, or insulting communication, thereby harassing or causing alarm or distress to the victim.[9] The offense is publishable by a fine of up to SG$5,000 (about US$3,612), imprisonment of up to six months, or both.[10] It is a defense if the accused person can prove that his or her conduct was reasonable.[11]

“Communication” includes any words, image, message, expression, symbol, or other representation that can be heard, seen, or otherwise perceived by any person.[12]

B. Harassment, Alarm, or Distress

It is also an offense to use any threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior, or to make any threatening, abusive, or insulting communication, which is heard, seen, or otherwise perceived by any person and likely to harass or cause alarm or distress to that person.[13] The offense is publishable by a fine of up to SG$5,000.[14] It is a defense if the accused person can prove either that he or she had no reason to believe that the words or behavior used, or the communication made, would be heard, seen, or otherwise perceived by the victim, or that his or her conduct was reasonable.[15]

C. Fear or Provocation of Violence

It is an offense to, by any means, use towards another person (the victim) any threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior, or make any threatening, abusive, or insulting communication to the victim, either

(a)  with the intent —

(i)   to cause the victim to believe that unlawful violence will be used by any person against the victim or any other person; or

(ii)  to provoke the use of unlawful violence by the victim or another person against any other person; or

(b)  whereby —

(i)   the victim is likely to believe that such violence referred to in paragraph (a)(i) will be used; or

(ii)  it is likely that such violence referred to in paragraph (a)(ii) will be provoked.[16]

The offense is publishable by a fine of up to SG$5,000, imprisonment of up to twelve months, or both.[17]

D. Public Servant or Public Service Worker

The Act specifically prohibits harassment of government officials and public service workers. According to the Act, it is an offense to use any indecent, threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior, or make any indecent, threatening, abusive, or insulting communication to a public servant or public service worker (the victim) in relation to the execution of the victim’s duty.[18] Public service workers are individuals providing services that are essential to the well‑being of the public or the proper functioning of Singapore, such as healthcare workers, educators, and transportation workers.[19]

To commit this offense, the person must know or ought reasonably to know that the victim was acting in his or her capacity as a public servant or public service worker.[20] The offense is publishable by a fine of up to SG$5,000, imprisonment for up to twelve months, or both.[21]

E. Unlawful Stalking

Under POHA, unlawfully stalking another person is prohibited.[22] The offense is publishable by a fine not exceeding SG$5,000, imprisonment not exceeding twelve months, or both.[23]

Unlawful stalking occurs when the accused person engages in a course of conduct that “involves acts or omissions associated with stalking”; harasses or causes alarm or distress to the victim; and intends to harass or cause alarm or distress, or knows (or reasonably should know) that the conduct is likely to harass or cause alarm or distress, to the victim.[24]

POHA provides examples of acts or omissions associated with stalking, including but not limited to (1) attempting or making any communication to the victim or a related person, relating or purporting to relate to the victim or a related person, or purporting to originate from the victim or a related person; or (2) keeping the victim or a related person under surveillance.[25] The Act also includes the following specific illustrations of unlawful stalking:

(a)  Y repeatedly sends emails to Y’s subordinate (X) with suggestive comments about X’s body.

(b)  Y sends flowers to X daily even though X has asked Y to stop doing so.

(c)  Y repeatedly circulates revealing photographs of a classmate (X) to other classmates.[26]

F. Enhanced Penalties for Repeat Offenders

A person who has been convicted of the above offenses will face a fine of up to SG$10,000 (about US$7,224), imprisonment of up to two years, or both for a subsequent conviction.[27]

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III. Civil Remedies

A victim of harassment may make an application to the court for a protection order under POHA. The court may issue such an order if it is satisfied that there has been a contravention of the relevant provisions of the Act, the contravention is likely to continue, and a protection order is just and equitable considering all the circumstances.[28] Where the circumstances require an urgent intervention, the court may grant an expedited protection order.[29]

Where a false statement of fact about any person (the subject) has been published, the subject may apply to the court for an order to stop the publication.[30] The court may make the order if it is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the statement of fact is false and it is just and equitable to do so.[31]

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IV. Offenders Outside Singapore

The courts in Singapore have jurisdiction to try offenses committed outside Singapore and to grant protection orders or expedited protection orders if the conditions under POHA are satisfied.[32] For example, where the offender was outside Singapore when any of the acts or omissions associated with unlawful stalking occurred, the court has jurisdiction if the victim was in Singapore when any of those acts or omissions occurred and the offender knew or had reason to believe that the victim would be in Singapore at that time.[33]

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V. New Developments

On May 7, 2019, the Parliament passed an amendment to POHA, the Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Act 2019 (Amendment Act).[34] The Amendment Act, among other things, targets online harassment, noting the “scourge of technology when not handled properly.”[35]

A. Doxxing

The Amendment Act added a new offense of “doxxing” to the POHA. Doxxing involves the publication of identity information in order to harass, threaten, or facilitate violence against the victim.[36] Identity information means any information that, whether on its own or with other information, identifies or purports to identify an individual, including but not limited to (1) the individual’s name, residential address, email address, telephone number, date of birth, national registration identity card number, passport number, signature (whether handwritten or electronic), or password; (2) any photograph or video recording of the individual; or (3) any information about the individual’s family, employment or education.[37]

According to the Amendment Act, an individual or entity must not, with the intent to harass or cause alarm or distress to another person (the target person), publish any identity information of the target person or a person related to the target person.[38] The Amendment Act adds the following illustrations to POHA:

(c)  X and Y were formerly in a relationship which has since ended. X writes a post on a social media platform making abusive and insulting remarks about Y’s alleged sexual promiscuity. In a subsequent post, X includes Y’s photographs and personal mobile number, intending to cause Y harassment by facilitating the identification or contacting of Y by others. Y did not see the posts, but receives and is harassed by telephone calls and SMS messages from strangers (who have read the posts) propositioning Y for sex. X is guilty of an offence under section 3(2) in relation to each post.

(d)   X records a video of Y driving recklessly in a car on the road. X posts the video on an online forum, where people share snippets of dangerous acts of driving on the road. X posts the video with the intent to warn people to drive defensively. X has not committed an offence under this section.[39]

Furthermore, an individual or entity must not by any means publish any identity information of another person (the victim) or a person related to the victim, either intending, knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe that it is likely (1) to cause the victim to believe that unlawful violence will be used against him/her or any other person, or (2) to facilitate the use of unlawful violence against the victim or any other person.[40]  The Amendment Act provides the following illustrations:

(a)  X and Y are classmates. X writes a post with threatening and abusive remarks against Y on a website accessible to all their classmates. X writes a subsequent post on the same website, stating Y’s identity information and stating “Everyone, let’s beat Y up!”. X is guilty of an offence under this section in respect of the subsequent post.

(b) X writes a public post on a social media platform containing threats against Y. X publishes a subsequent public post stating A’s home address and a message “I know where you live”. X is guilty of an offence under this section relating to conduct mentioned in section 5(1A)(a)(i) if X intends the subsequent post to cause Y to believe that violence will be used against A, or an offence under this section relating to conduct mentioned in section 5(1A)(b)(i) if X knows that it is likely that Y will believe that violence will be used against Y as a result of X’s subsequent post.

(c)  X writes a post (on a social media platform to which Y does not have access) containing threats of violence against Y and calling others to “hunt him down and teach him a lesson”. B posts Y’s home address in reply to X’s post. B is guilty of an offence under this section.

B. Other Changes

As a result of the Amendment Act, a specialized court, the Protection from Harassment Court, will be established, which will be dedicated to dealing with harassment matters, whether online or offline. The court will have oversight of all criminal and civil cases under POHA.[41]

Among other things, the Amendment Act also clarifies that entities can be liable in proceedings for harassment-related behavior, improves the protection order and expedited protection regime, and enhances the penalties for offenses against vulnerable persons and intimate partners.[42]

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Laney Zhang
Foreign Law Specialist
September 2019


[1] Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1999 Reprint) art. 14, https://perma.cc/3CHY-NK5L.

[2] Id. art. 14(2).

[3] Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2019: Singapore Country Report, https://perma.cc/WHV6-8ER3.

[4] Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), ch. 256A (revised May 31, 2015), https://perma.cc/CZ44-WBC7; 8 Halsbury’s Laws of Singapore: Criminal Law 574 (2018 Reissue).

[5] Mong Palatino, Singapore Criminalizes Cyber Bullying and Stalking, The Diplomat (Mar. 24, 2014), https://perma.cc/6T8J-A2Y2.

[6] Press Release, Singapore Ministry of Law, A New Protection from Harassment Bill to Be Introduced to Strengthen the Laws Against Harassment (Feb. 26, 2014), https://perma.cc/M93K-FLPB (scroll down for text).

[7] Halsbury’s Laws of Singapore, supra note 4.

[8] Second Reading Speech by the Senior Minister of State for Law, Mr. Edwin Tong, on Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Bill (May 7, 2019), https://perma.cc/6CZE-QMUX.

[9] POHA s 3(1).

[10] Id. s 3(2).

[11] Id. s 3(3).

[12] Id. s 2.

[13] Id. s 4(1).

[14] Id. s 4(2).

[15] Id. s 4(3).

[16] Id. s 5(1).

[17] Id. s 5(2).

[18] Id. s 6(1).

[19] Id. ss 6(5) & 6(6); Protection from Harassment (Public Service Worker) Order 2014 (Nov. 15, 2014), https://perma.cc/9TCU-6Q9D.

[20] POHA s 6(2).

[21] Id. s 6(3).

[22] Id. s 7(1).

[23] Id. s 7(6).

[24] Id. s 7(2).

[25] Id. s 7(3).

[26] Id.

[27] Id. s 8.

[28] Id. s 12.

[29] Id. s 13.

[30] Id. s 15(1) & (2).

[31] Id. s 15(3).

[32] Id. s 17.

[33] Id. s 17 (6).

[34] Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Act 2019, No. 17 of 2019 (Amendment Act), https://perma.cc/4KNC-KVZ8.

[35] Second Reading Speech by the Senior Minister of State for Law, supra note 8.

[36] Amendment Act §§ 4(a) & 6(d).

[37] Id. § 3.

[38] Id. § 4(a).

[39] Id. § 4(e).

[40] Id. § 6(d).

[41] Second Reading Speech by the Senior Minister of State for Law, supra note 8.

[42] Id.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020