Singapore-based civil rights group Function 8 on Thursday (24 September) condemned the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO)’s purported harassment of historian and Southeast Asian media platform New Naratif co-founder Thum Ping Tjin.
Dr Thum was summoned to the Clementi Police Station for questioning on Monday. He was reportedly interrogated for four and a half hours.
The investigations pertain to a police report filed by the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) in this year’s General Election against New Naratif for allegedly publishing paid advertisements during the campaigning period.
The ARO had issued three notices to Facebook on 3 July, 7 July, and 8 July to remove five allegedly unauthorised paid advertisements published on its platform by New Naratif.
The ARO alleged that this amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under Section 83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act during the recent election.
Under the Act, 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, according to the Elections Department Singapore (ELD).
ELD is placed under PMO.
Function 8 in its statement today criticised the PMO — which it said is acting through the ELD and police — for its actions against Dr Thum, as he “had not committed any offence”.
Function 8 alleged that the immediate incident was not the first time the authorities had acted in such a manner, and opined that it was an “abuse of the law” especially by the people who are entrusted to enforce the law.
“Dr P J Thum is not the first, nor will he be the last victim of the Prime Minister’s Office unless this abuse of the law committed by the very people who are entrusted to keep law and order is stopped,” said Function 8.
The group urged the police to cease its investigations on Dr Thum and called on the police to return his mobile phone and laptop “in good order” immediately.
In a video message recorded soon after the police raid at his house, Dr Thum said that it is “never a good feeling when the place that you live is invaded”.
“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 activists and independent media in Singapore,” he said.
Dr Thum also called on the ELD 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”.
Any person convicted of an offence under PEA may be liable to a fine of up to S$2,000 and/or a jail term of up to 12 months.
Investigations in GE2015 took ten months
The ARO from ELD during the GE2015 made police reports in May 2016 against socio-political site The Independent Singapore and two individuals 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”.
Function 8’s director Teo Soh Lung and activist Roy Ngerng 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.