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Academics around the world call on PM Lee to drop case against New Naratif in open letter

An open letter signed by 52 academic experts on Southeast Asia was sent to PM Lee

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A group of 52 academics from around the world sent an open letter to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (30 Sept), urging him to put an end to the police case against socio-political website New Naratif.

Last month, the Elections Department’s (ELD) filed a police report against New Naratif over an alleged breach of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) during the July election.

The ELD, which is under the Prime Minister’s Office, said that five paid Facebook advertisements New Naratif put up during the election period contravened the PEA since the publication was not authorised by any candidate or election agent in the General Election to conduct election activity.

The police summoned the website’s founder and managing director, Dr Thum Ping Tjin, for investigations at Clementi Police Station on 21 Sept. The interview reportedly lasted about four-and-a-half hours. Police officers subsequently escorted the historian to his home, where they seized his laptop and mobile phone.

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Several prominent individuals and organisations, including two political parties, came forward to express concerns over the action. This week, an open letter signed by 52 academic experts on Southeast Asia was sent to PM Lee.

Queen Mary University of London’s Dr Lee Jones, who organised the open letter, called the action against New Naratif a “clear attempt to intimidate independent media and potentially destroy Dr Thum personally.”

The academics who signed the letter expressed dismay at the government’s treatment of Dr Thum and his website and asked Mr Lee to “reform the Parliamentary Elections Act to narrow its scope and protect media freedom” on top of dropping the case against New Naratif.

Read the letter in full here:

Dear Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong,

We write as academic experts on Southeast Asia to express our dismay at your government’s treatment of New Naratif and its founder, Dr Thum Ping Tjin.

We consider New Naratif to be an important and innovative contribution to Southeast Asia’s media landscape. Free discussion of social and political issues is essential for a healthy society and to allow political leaders to respond to the concerns of the people.

Singapore’s media freedom is already limited in many ways, and the use of the Parliamentary Election Act to harass New Naratif will only restrict it further.

We urge you to drop the case against New Naratif and to reform the Parliamentary Elections Act to narrow its scope and protect media freedom.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Lee Jones, Queen Mary University of London
Dr Ryan Pesigan Reyes, Centro Escolar University
Dr Charan Bal, University of Western Australia
Dr Nicholas Harrigan, Macquarie University
David Kloos, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian & Caribbean Studies
Prof Kanishka Jayasuriya, Murdoch University
Dr Agnes Khoo, Independent Scholar
Netusha Naidu, University of Cambridge
Dr Adrian Heok, Asia Development Alliance
Dr Tom Hoogervorst, KITLV
Lorraine Yang, University of Leeds
Dr E Kramer, University of Sydney
Prof Garry Rodan, University of Queensland
Dr Philip Kreager, Oxford University
Dr Jori Breslawski, Brown University
Prof Emeritus Francis Loh Kok Wah, Universiti Sains Malaysia
Associate Professor Anthony J. Langlois, Flinders University
Dr Sol Iglesias, Independent Researcher
Dr Michael Buehler, SOAS, University of London
Dr Jay Koh, iFIMA
Dr Jessica Soedirgo, Georgetown University
Dr Chong Wu Ling, University of Malaya
Prof Thomas Pepinsky, Cornell University
Prof Linda Lim, University of Michigan
Bill Hayton, Royal Institute for International Affairs
Prof Emeritus Henk Schulte Nordholt, Leiden University
Dr Roger Montgomery, London School of Economics
Dr Dorothy Guyot, Yale University
Dr P R Preston, Lithoscapes Archaeological Research Foundation
Prof Meredith Weiss, University at Albany, SUNY
Dr Carlo Bonura, SOAS, University of London
Dr Marc Rerceretnam
Dr Robert Yates, University of Bristol
Prof Paul Joseph Lim
Prof Kevin Hewison, UNC-Chapel Hill
Prof Adriaan Bedner, Leiden University
Anne Booth SOAS, University of London
Associate Professor Shahar Hameiri, University of Queensland
Howard Lee, Murdoch University
Prof Emeritus Thongchai Winichakul, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Prof James C. Scott, Yale University
Dr Sikko Visscher, KILTV
Dr Bridget Welsh, University of Nottingham Malaysia
Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat
Dr Charlie Thame, Thammasat University
Prof Lily Z. Rahim, Georgetown University and Monash University Malaysia
Dr Michael Magcamit, Queen Mary University of London
Dr Nicola Suyin Pocock, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Prof Edmund Terence Gomez, University of Malaya
Dr Scott Edwards, University of Bristol
Winnifred Wong, National University of Singapore
Dr Show Ying Xin, Australian National University

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