The PJ Thum saga: A post-Select Committee timeline

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Obbana Rajah

7 April 2018 – An open letter drafted by Dr. Lee Jones, Reader in International Politics at the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary College was written in defence of PJ Thum and signed by more than 300 academics around the world.

Petitioning for PJ Thum – An Open Letter

17 April 2018 – The trustees of Project Southeast Asia made an online statement in support of Dr Thum Ping Tjin.

17 April 2018 – Chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, Charles Chong responded to the anonymous open letter. He said, “Dr Thum is entitled to his views. But when he puts them before a Select Committee, he must expect to be questioned about them. And indeed Dr Thum wrote that he was willing to appear before us. It is therefore surprising that the letter suggests Dr Thum was questioned “without warning”.

20 April 2018 – Charles Chong responded to the online statement made by the trustees of Project Southeast Asia.

He said, “Your statement is based on a factually inaccurate premise. You wrote
that Dr Thum “found that the contents of his submission were not the object of
[our] inquiry, and were never directly questioned.” It would be surprising if
Dr. Thum found it so, and it would be untrue if he had said that to you. It was
Dr. Thum who submitted to us that the Singapore Government is the chief
source of fake news in Singapore.

21 April 2018 – After Charles Chong’s response was sent to the trustees, a Professor Jeff Burley, a trustee of Project Southeast Asia, wrote to Dr Philip Kreager asking,
“Has PJ seen all the correspondence? If so, what is his response to this official message from Singapore? There comes a point in any discussion like this where you can just draw a line and say we tried.

“Pursuing things to the bitter end is more likely to be bitter for us than for a government and the University is unlikely to want a pitched battle.”

22 April 2018 – Dr Philip Kreager (a fellow director with Dr Thum of a company called Observatory Southeast Asia UK Ltd (OSEA UK) ) replied:

“I have kept continuous contact with PJ on all of this, he has amongst other things suggested a draft reply for me, which I will turn to on return…and which point I shall write to all the trustees on recent developments, which are several and positive.

“There is a lot of traction, but I need to think about next steps, which I can’t just now, as the meeting is a small but intense historical workshop…but there will be a lot of historians from the meeting who will be signing the petition, and I am hopeful that several of them will be circulating our statement and the online letter for signature to their many colleagues here …”

22 April 2018 – Media website The Online Citizen published an article about Russian operatives. They reported Dr Jones as saying that Charles Chong’s reply was sent via Russian bots.

TOC headlined the relevant paragraphs: “Strange event”: involvement of Russian online bots

“Curiously, your response reached most of our signatories through a coordinated online campaign involving what we understand to be Russian bots, which somehow identified the signatories’ email addresses and sent them messages using fake accounts based in Switzerland,” Dr Jones was quoted as saying.

“Perhaps your committee should consider investigating this strange event. We are working with computer experts to trace the origins of this bot campaign and will be happy to share the results with you, and the wider public.” ”

Kirsten Han shared this on her Facebook page as well.

30 April 2018 – The open letter signed by 265 academics was officially sent to Charles Chong, who had already replied earlier in the month.

2 May 2018 – A statement was released from the Oxford Co-Supervisors and Examiners of Thum’s DPhil thesis.

3 May 2018 – PJ Thum released a follow up Submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, Parliament of Singapore

PJ Thum releases a follow up submission to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods


obbana@theindependent.sg