Following a lengthy investigation by the Singapore Police, and with the concurrence of the Attorney-General’s Chambers, New Naratif was cleared of all allegations made against it by the Singapore Prime Minister’s Office. The case has been closed, and no charges will be filed against New Naratif. We call upon the Prime Minister’s Office to make a formal apology to New Naratif for its harassment and attempted intimidation of New Naratif over the past year.
On 18 September 2020, the Assistant Returning Officer filed a police report against New Naratif. In a press statement explaining this, the Elections Department, which is part of the Singapore Prime Minister’s Office, 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”.
There was never any need for an investigation: all the evidence was online, and New Naratif never denied boosting the posts. Yet over the past year, New Naratif’s founder and managing director Dr. Thum Ping Tjin was interrogated twice for a total of over seven hours, had his home raided by the police and had his laptop and mobile phone confiscated. As of this press statement, his property has yet to be returned to him. These events have clearly vindicated New Naratif’s assertions that the police report was a politically motivated attack on freedom of expression and independent media.
New Naratif was founded by three Singaporeans in 2017 as an act of love for their home, their country and their region. We provide evidence-based, in-depth research and reporting on Southeast Asia in a variety of formats and languages. We have been repeatedly attacked by Singapore’s PAP government since 2018, but we will not deviate from our mission of informing and empowering the people of Southeast Asia.
We urge the Singapore government to drop its longstanding campaign of harassment against New Naratif and respect the independence of the media.
The Allegations Against New Naratif
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”.
Multiple experts and observers, including the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, 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. Police reports were filed against critics alleging that they had violated the PEA following the 2015 general election and the 2016 by-election.
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 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 was a continuation of the PAP government’s attempts to intimidate independent media and was 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.
The PAP 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 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; it 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, K Shanmugam, Minister for Law and Home Affairs, 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, 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 Communications and Information, 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 titled “An Interview with Dr Paul Tambyah”. We were forced to comply with this order and responded in a statement.
For further detail on the PAP’s campaign against New Naratif, please visit this page.