On 18 September 2020, the Elections Department, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, released a press statement stating that the Assistant Returning Officer had filed a police report against New Naratif and alleged that New Naratif published “paid advertisements that amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under s83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) during the recent 2020 General Election.”

Updates: Please visit this page for updates on this situation.

Multiple experts and observers, including the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), have previously questioned the independence of the Elections Department and its politicisation as part of the Prime Minister’s Office, and condemned Singapore’s Elections as “neither free nor fair”. Specifically, APHR’s report noted that “the government also controls the media, uses restrictive laws to judicially harass dissenting voices and critical journalists, and regulates the Internet” and cited the use of the PEA against opposition supporters and media personnel. Following the 2015 General Elections and the 2016 By-Election, police reports were filed against critics alleging that they had violated the PEA.

Equally, New Naratif has previously noted how Singaporean laws are written so broadly as to effectively make a huge swath of legitimate political activity illegal without a permit, with the discretion to take action in the hands of senior officials and/or politicians. The PEA states that “…such material shall be election advertising even though it can reasonably be regarded as intended to achieve any other purpose as well and even though it does not expressly mention the name of any political party or candidate, …” Its use against New Naratif is a demonstration of the broad and arbitrary nature of the law. 

This police report is a continuation of the PAP government’s attempts to intimidate independent media, and is an abuse of the PEA designed to strike fear into the hearts of the government’s critics and citizenry.

We condemn the abuse of the law to harass independent media and critics. We denounce the lack of independence of the Singapore Elections Department. We urge Singapore’s government to make Singapore’s elections free and fair, and adopt the recommendations proposed by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

 

Background: The People’s Action Party Government’s campaign against New Naratif

In making these allegations and filing a police report against us, we are of the opinion that this is a continuation of the PAP government’s ongoing harassment campaign against New Naratif, an independent media organisation that has been critical of the PAP government. The following is a partial list of attacks on New Naratif by the government of Singapore, and does not include the numerous attacks against PJ Thum and other founders and staff.

  • On 11 April 2018, Singapore’s Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) denied New Naratif’s attempt to register in Singapore, on the grounds that it would be contrary to national interests for the authorities to permit our registration, and attacked us as “being used by foreigners to pursue a political activity in Singapore”. We refuted this in a statement. 
  • On 25 September 2019, Minister for Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam, questioned our motivations and funding in a speech talking about the need for a law to guard against foreign interference in Singapore.
  • On 13 May 2020, Mr Shanmugam ordered a Correction Direction issued under Section 11 of the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act against Episode 8 of “The Show with PJ Thum”. We were forced to comply with this order and responded in a statement.
  • On 5 July 2020, Aubeck Kam (Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Manpower) ordered a Correction Direction issued under Section 11 of the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act against an episode of New Naratif’s “Political Agenda” podcast entitled “An Interview with Dr Paul Tambyah”. We were forced to comply with this order and responded in a statement.

 

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New Naratif is a movement for democracy, freedom of information, and freedom of speech in Southeast Asia (see our manifesto). Our articles report on issues that are often overlooked or suppressed by the mainstream media in Southeast Asia. We rely on our members for their support. Every cent of your membership fee goes to supporting our research, journalism, and community organisation activities. Your support enables us to be editorially independent and to conduct hard hitting independent research and journalism. It allows us to give a voice to the powerless and to hold the powerful accountable. Our members are active participants in our movement, helping us to create content and informing us about important issues, which shapes our coverage and content. Join our movement and let us, together, build a better Southeast Asia. Please subscribe to New Naratif—it’s just US$52/year (US$1/week) or US$5/month—and it only takes a minute. If you’d like to learn more, and read more articles, please start here! Thank you!

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