New Naratif’s Managing Director, Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, has been summoned again for questioning by the Singapore Police. He will report to the Clementi Police Station at 10 a.m. on Friday, 5 March 2021. We condemn this continued harassment of our Managing Director and urge the Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, to stop its politically motivated attacks on freedom of expression.
About the Investigation
Dr. Thum has been summoned for questioning by the Singapore Police for the second time in less than six months. The ongoing investigation pertains to New Naratif’s alleged illegal conduct under s83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) during the 2020 General Election. The police are interrogating Dr. Thum over five elections-related Facebook posts boosted by New Naratif in July 2020.
This investigation began on 18 September 2020, when the Elections Department, part of the Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, released a press statement stating that the Assistant Returning Officer had filed a police report against New Naratif. The report 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”.
By contrast, the Singapore government-controlled media organisation AsiaOne boosted a total of 240 elections-related posts during the election period, of which around 150 were directly related to the elections, but no inquiry has been made against them.
During the first interrogation on 21 September 2020, Dr. Thum was questioned for four hours. Following this, his home was raided, and his phone and laptop seized. The Singapore Police have yet to return the laptop and phone.
We question the necessity of interrogating Dr. Thum and seizing his laptop and phone as all evidence needed to investigate this matter can be found online. The continued harassment of Dr. Thum is an intimidation tactic with the intention to silence criticism and alternative voices in Singapore.
More information on this attack on New Naratif is available at https://newnaratif.com/new-naratif-under-attack/
About Singapore’s Elections
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 Election 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 and the continued investigation 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 to adopt the recommendations proposed by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.
About 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.