The Singapore Elections Department, which is not independent but part of the Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, filed a police report against New Naratif alleging that New Naratif “publish[ed] paid advertisements that amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity” in Singapore’s 2020 General Election. New Naratif believes that the Prime Minister’s Office is abusing the law to attack us as part of a long-standing campaign of intimidation and harassment against New Naratif by the Singapore government.
In this page, you can learn the details of this event and what you can do to help.
Latest: Dr. Thum interrogated by police for 3 hours
Dr. PJ Thum was interrogated by the Singapore Police for three hours on Friday, 5 March 2020. We urge everyone to use the image below and share it on social media, tagging @newnaratif and using the hashtags #ImWithPJThum #JournalismIsNotACrime. Please monitor our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates.
Please also consider taking the actions listed below. These include writing to the Prime Minister, the nearest local Singaporean diplomatic representative, joining New Naratif as a member or donating to New Naratif.
To learn about this case in more detail, please see:
- An FAQ explaining in detail about the law, the alleged “advertisements” and other background.
- A video interview with Dr. Thum Ping Tjin on this incident, explaining how this fits into a broader pattern of attacks by the PAP government on independent media, critics and New Naratif specifically.
- The Prime Minister’s Office alleges that New Naratif broke the Parliamentary Elections Act by boosting Facebook posts containing elections-related content during the election.
- Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, the definition of the “election activity” and “election advertising” is so broad that it effectively criminalises all political speech during the election period as being illegal. This allows senior politicians/officials to take selective action against critics and independent media.
- New Naratif boosted 13 Facebook posts during the election, all of which contained elections-related content. Of these 13, only five were ordered to be taken down by the Elections Department.
- Other organisations boosted posts with elections-related content during the election. Those posts were not subject to a takedown order, nor have police reports been filed against them. AsiaOne (a Singaporean media company partly owned by government-controlled Singapore Press Holdings) boosted around 240 posts, of which around 150 were directly related to the elections, during the election period.
- The Prime Minister’s Office did not, at any time, write to New Naratif to inform New Naratif that posts had been taken down, why they had been taken down, or to establish clear guidelines and boundaries as to what constitutes election activity/advertising.
- New Naratif does not deny boosting the posts, and the evidence is entirely online, yet the Singapore Police still found it necessary to interrogate Dr. Thum Ping Tjin for four and a half hours, invade Dr. Thum’s home, and seize his mobile phone and laptop.
- New Naratif thus believes that the Prime Minister’s Office is abusing the law to attack New Naratif and that this is part of a long-standing campaign of intimidation and harassment against New Naratif by the Singapore government.
Timeline of Events
3 July 2020
The Singapore Elections Department (part of the Prime Minister’s Office) released a press statement that it had issued a notice to Facebook to remove “unauthorised paid Internet Election Advertising” by New Naratif. This referred to boosted posts by New Naratif on facebook. The press statement did not specify which post the notice was issued for. At this time, New Naratif had five boosted posts running but only one was taken down. This was a satirical video which explained how Singaporean laws are written so broadly as to effectively make a huge swath of legitimate political activity illegal without a permit, giving discretion to senior officials and/or politicians to take action against critics but ignore supporters.
4 July 2020
New Naratif acknowledged the takedown notice on Facebook. The other four boosted posts continued to run. No other boosted posts by any other organisation were, to our knowledge, the target of an equivalent press release. This arbitrary takedown of one boosted post of one media organisation, we argued, proved the argument made in the video.
Noting that only one boosted post had been taken down, New Naratif does not re-run that specific post. Instead we boost six more posts which are similar to the four posts which had not been taken down.
The Singapore Elections Department orders the takedown of four of the six newly boosted posts. New Naratif is not informed and only receives a pro forma email from Facebook saying that the boosted posts “do not comply with Facebook advertising policies”. New Naratif does not attempt to re-boost those posts. Over the election period (30 June to 10 July), New Naratif boosted a total of 13 posts. Five were taken down. Eight were not.
The five Facebook boosted posts that received takedown notices from the Elections Department:
- A satirical video titled “Discretion”, posted on 17 April, boosted 26 June, taken down 3 July.
- A post collating articles about the PAP’s Destructive Politics, posted 3 July, boosted 4 July, taken down 8 July
- A post collating articles about Transparency and Accountability in Singapore, posted 2 July 2020, boosted 4 July, taken down 8 July.
- A post with a video by Dr. Thum, originally released 8 May, warning about the use of POFMA during the election period. The post noted that POFMA had since been used 17 times during the election. It was posted 6 July, boosted 6 July, and taken down 9 July.
- A post collating articles about Racial Discrimination and the Continuing Legacy of Colonialism in Singapore, posted 6 July 2020, boosted 6 July, taken down 9 July.
The eight Facebook boosted posts that continued to run:
- A satirical video titled “Lisa the Clairvoyant Malayan Sun Dog”, boosted 27 June to 2 July.
- An educational comic titled “Pragmatism”, boosted 26 June to 1 July 2020.
- A notice for New Naratif’s Election Watch Parties and Democracy Classrooms, boosted 30 June to 5 July 2020.
- A post collating articles about How Singapore’s Elections Operate, and Why, boosted 29 June to 4 July.
- An educational comic, “New Naratif Explains The Singapore Elections”, boosted 29 June to 4 July.
- An educational comic, “What is Politics? (And Why You Can’t Get Away From It)”, boosted 1 to 6 July.
- A post collating articles about “Inequality, Poverty, and Social Welfare”, boosted 4 to 8 July.
- A post collating articles about “Gender and Age Discrimination in Singapore”, boosted 5 to 10 July.
By comparison, during the elections period (30 June to 10 July), AsiaOne (a Singaporean media company partly owned by government-controlled Singapore Press Holdings) boosted around 240 posts, of which around 150 are directly related to the elections. These include “Explainers” on the election of great similarity to New Naratif’s posts.
18 September 2020
The Singapore Elections Department, Prime Minister’s Office 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.” The specific posts under question were again not specified.
19 September 2020
New Naratif responds to the allegations by the Singapore Elections Department. It condemns the recent police report made by the Singapore Elections Department against it as a politically motivated attack on freedom of expression.
20 September 2020
The International Press Institute (IPI) urges Singapore to order the Elections Department to immediately withdraw the police complaint against New Naratif as it is a blatant attempt to silence a leading independent media and demonstrates the intolerance of the government towards critical voices.
21 September 2020
At 10 a.m., New Naratif’s founder and managing director, Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, arrives at Clementi Police Station in Singapore for questioning.
Around 2:45 p.m., four police officers escorted Dr. Thum to his apartment to confiscate his laptop.
5 March 2021
Dr. Thum Ping Tjin is summoned to Clementi Police Station in Singapore for a second round of interrogation. At this point, the police have not yet returned the phone or laptop they seized in the first round of questioning.
- Academics around the world urge PM Lee Hsien Loong to drop case against New Naratif in open letter — Online Citizen Asia, 1 October 2020
- How they deal with a defiant media in Singapore’s ‘democracy’ — Crikey, 2 October 2020
- International and regional civil society organisations urge Singapore Govt’ to withdraw police report against New Naratif, claiming that the law is “particularly problematic” — Online Citizen Asia, 2 October 2020
- New Naratif’s PJ Thum speaks out against police harassment in Singapore — Southeast Asia Globe, 8 October 2020
List of Solidarity Statements
A list of statements in support can be found here:
- Human Rights Watch, Forum Asia, and Scholars at Risk
- PEN International
- A news article from CIVICUS
- International Press Institute
- A further Open Letter from the International Press Institute
- Singapore Democratic Party
- Red Dot United
- PEN Malaysia
- Singapore Unbound
- Suara Peranakan
- Asia Art Tours
- Jolovan Wham
- Subhas Nair
- Peony Zine Singapore (Instagram Story)
- Your Head Lah Magazine (Instagram Story)
Call to Action
Hungry for action? You can participate in our campaign, join our movement, and/or donate whether you are Singaporean or Non-Singaporean.
Social Media Campaign #ImWithPJThum #JournalismIsNotACrime
No matter where you are in the world, join us in solidarity with a message of support for New Naratif with the hashtag #ImWithPJThum #JournalismIsNotACrime.
New Naratif is an independent media organisation, and provides Singaporeans with important information. Stop the harassment! #ImWithPJThum #JournalismIsNotACrime
Media freedom in Singapore is already limited. The use of police reports against New Naratif or any independent media in this manner is an intimidation tactic. Stop the harassment! #ImWithPJThum #JournalismIsNotACrime
I believe Singaporean citizens are mature enough to have access to a variety of opinions. I urge the Singapore government to drop the investigation against New Naratif. #ImWithPJThum #JournalismIsNotACrime
You can also share your favourite New Naratif articles along with your message of support.
Write a Letter, Upload to Social Media, and Send It!
Send a letter to a Singapore Member of Parliament (for Singaporeans) or Singapore Ambassador/High Commissioner (for non-Singaporeans). You can find the addresses on this page. If you wish to publish your letter to social media, you can find the official visual templates. Create and personalise them on your own!
If you’re Singaporean, write to your Member of Parliament to clarify their position on this issue. Find the contact information for your Member of Parliament here. Here’s a template that you can customise:
I am a constituent in ____ constituency. I am writing to you about the recent police report filed against New Naratif. New Naratif is alleged to have conducted illegal election activity under s83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) during the recent 2020 General Election. However, under the PEA, the law is written very broadly and states: “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, …”
As a constituent I am concerned that this law is too broad and curbs free speech in Singapore. I believe Singaporean citizens are mature enough to have access to a variety of opinions. [You can also add a reason why you think New Naratif’s work is important here.] I would like a clarification on your position as my elected representative on this issue. Do you believe the police report made against New Naratif is legitimate? Do you believe that the Parliamentary Elections Act is too broad in its definition of election material? I would also like you to raise this matter in Parliament.
If you’re not Singaporean, you can write to the Singaporean Ambassador/High Commissioner in your country. Find the contact information for the Singapore Overseas Mission in your country here. You can use this customisable template:
Print and Write Your Own Postcard (A6)
I am a citizen in _____ with a great interest in Singapore. I am writing to you about the recent police report filed against New Naratif. New Naratif is alleged to have conducted illegal election activity under s83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) during the recent 2020 General Election. However, under the PEA, the law is written very broadly and states: “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, …”
As someone who considers themselves a friend of Singapore, I am concerned about this latest development. Media freedom in Singapore is already limited. The use of police reports against New Naratif or any independent media in this manner is an intimidation tactic. The PAP government has ample space in the mainstream media to refute New Naratif’s claims if they are inaccurate. I urge the Singapore government to drop the investigation against New Naratif.
If you want to publish your statement via social media, you can tag these accounts:
Singapore Government’s Facebook
Singapore Government’s Instagram (@gov.sg)
Singapore Government’s Twitter (@govsingapore)
Lee Hsien Loong’s Facebook
Lee Hsien Loong’s Twitter @leehsienloong
Lee Hsien Loong’s Instagram @leehsienloong
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