Activist Jolovan Wham has claimed that the seizure of historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin’s laptop by the police was to “strike fear” and disrupt his life, in a Facebook post published on Monday (21 Sept).
The police seized Dr Thum’s laptop as part of its investigations into a complaint lodged by the Elections Department (ELD) against New Naratif – a socio-political website he founded in 2017.
In a press statement released last Friday (18 Sept), the ELD said that New Naratif published five paid advertisements on Facebook during the election period that “amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under s83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA).”
Any election activity meant to promote one or more political parties or candidates or prejudice the electoral prospects of other parties or candidates can only be conducted with the written permission of the candidate or his election agent, under the PEA.
The ELD, which is under the Prime Minister’s Office, holds that New Naratif breached the PEA since neither the organisation nor its representatives or agents “were authorised by any candidate or election agent in this General Election to conduct election activity.”
The police summoned New Naratif founder and managing director, Dr Thum Ping Tjin, up for investigations at Clementi Police Station on Monday morning (21 Sept). Later in the afternoon, police officers escorted the historian to his home and seized his laptop.
If convicted, Dr Thum may be liable to up to 12 months’ jail and/or a fine of up to S$2,000.
In a statement published on its website, New Naratif asserted that the police report against it 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.”
Questioning the independence of the ELD, New Naratif said that the use of the PEA against it is “a demonstration of the broad and arbitrary nature of the law.” The publication, which has had a number of run-ins with the establishment in the past, added:
“The PAP (People’s Action Party) lost the argument at the ballot box, and Prime Minister Lee promised humility. Instead, the Prime Minister’s Office is taking revenge against leading critics and independent media. They are repeating tired old tactics by abusing the Parliamentary Elections Act, just like after both the 2015 and 2016 elections when investigations were launched against critics.
“Singaporeans deserve better. We sent a clear message that we want a good, clean, effective government which governs on behalf of all Singaporeans, not petty thuggery and abuse of power.”
Sharing a photo of the police officers at Dr Thum’s home, Mr Wham wrote on Facebook that it is not unusual for the police to seize electronic equipment belonging to persons who are under investigation. Claiming that the aim behind the practice is to discourage the public from political activism, Mr Wham said:
“Pingtjin Thum’s electronic equipment being seized by the police as part of the investigation. It is not unusual for them to do this, the purpose of which is to strike fear, disrupt your life, and signal to the public that political activism is not welcome.”
Mr Wham has had run-ins with the authorities in the past, himself. Just last month, he served a ten-day jail sentence for organising a 2016 indoor event without a police permit.
This is also not the New Naratif’s first brush with the authorities. The organisation, which was barred from registering in Singapore, has had two correction orders issued against it under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).
Pingtjin Thum 's electronic equipment being seized by the police as part of the investigation. It is not unusual for…