The International Press Institute (IPI) has condemned the Elections Department’s (ELD) police report against socio-political website New Naratif, for allegedly breaching the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) during the July election.
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 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 contravened 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.”
The IPI, a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, expressed similar concerns in a statement published on Sunday (20 Sept). IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said:
“The police complaint against New Naratif is a blatant attempt to silence a leading independent media outlet and demonstrates the intolerance of the government towards critical voices in the country.
“Furthermore, the IPI global community is greatly concerned about the ongoing harassment of IPI member and New Naratif managing director, Dr. Thum Ping Tjin.”
Calling on the Government to immediately rectify the matter, she added: “The government of Singapore should order the Elections Department to immediately withdraw the police report against the news website.”