A mobile phone and laptop have been seized by the Singapore Police from Dr Thum Ping Tjin, managing director of New Naratif, on Monday afternoon (21 Sept) after he was interviewed by the Police for over four hours at the Clementi Police Station.
The investigation on Dr Thum is in relation to a police report filed by the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) in the General Election 2020 against New Naratif for publishing paid advertisements. The ARO had issued three notices to Facebook on 3 July, 7 July, and 8 July 2020 to remove five unauthorised paid advertisements published on its platform by New Naratif.
The ARO alleges that this amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under s83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) during the recent election.
Under the PEA, the conduct of any election activity requires prior written authority signed by a candidate or their election agent. “Election activity” includes any activity which is done for the purpose of promoting or procuring the electoral success at any election for one or more identifiable political parties, candidates, or groups of candidates; or prejudicing the electoral prospects of other political parties, candidates, or groups of candidates at the election.
Neither New Naratif nor its representatives or agents were authorised by any candidate or election agent in this General Election to conduct election activity, said ELD.
On Monday, the Police made their way over to Dr Thum’s residence upon conducting a four-and-a-half-hour interview with him where they then seized his laptop as evidence. The phone had been earlier seized by the Police.
In a video shot soon after the Police “raided” his house, Dr Thum shared that he is okay as he thanked his supporters along with those who had been there with him at the station.
He said, “It’s never a good feeling when the place that you live is invaded. It is definitely very disquieting. But fortunately that’s all over now. I want to reiterate that this was an abuse of the law by the Prime Minister’s Office, and I condemn the continuing abuse of the law to intimidate and harass activist and independent media in Singapore, and I urge the Elections Department, which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office, to drop this case to withdraw their police report, and I urge the People’s Action Party government to stop harassing independent media and critics of the Government.”
PAP repeating old tactics, says New Naratif
In a statement issued last Saturday (19 Sept), New Naratif wrote:
“The PAP lost the argument at the ballot box, and Prime Minister Lee promised humility. Instead, the Prime Minister’s Office is taking revenge against leading critics and independent media. They are repeating tired old tactics by abusing the Parliamentary Elections Act, just like after both the 2015 and 2016 elections when investigations were launched against critics.
“Singaporeans deserve better. We sent a clear message that we want a good, clean, effective government which governs on behalf of all Singaporeans, not petty thuggery and abuse of power.”
New Naratif was founded by three Singaporeans in 2017 as an act of love for their home, country, and region. It provides evidence-based, in-depth research, and reporting on Southeast Asia in a variety of formats and languages.
While it has been repeatedly attacked by Singapore’s PAP government since 2018, it asserted that it will not deviate from its mission of informing and empowering the people of Southeast Asia.
“We urge the Singapore government to drop its long-standing campaign of harassment against New Naratif,” said the publication.
Any person convicted of an offence under PEA may be liable to a fine of up to S$2,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 12 months.
Investigations in GE2015 took ten months
The ARO from ELD during the GE2015 had made police reports in May 2016 against socio-political site The Independent Singapore and two individuals, Teo Soh Lung and Roy Ngerng, for “several online articles and postings that may be tantamount to election advertising, on Cooling-Off Day and Polling Day of the recent Bukit Batok by-election”.
Ngerng and Teo were called up for a two-hour interview at the Cantonment Police station, after which the Police escorted the two back to their respective homes to raid their premises. In total, three laptops, one desktop, two hard drives, memory cards, and both their mobile phones were seized by the Police.
In the end, a stern warning was issued to them, and the devices were returned to them by the Police only after ten months of investigation.