Singapore-based civil rights group Function 8 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.
Last Friday (18 Sept), the ELD said that five paid advertisements New Naratif published on Facebook during the election period “amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under s83(2) of the PEA.”
The ELD, which is under the Prime Minister’s Office, holds that New Naratif contravened the PEA since it was not authorised by any candidate or election agent in the 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). The interview reportedly lasted about four and a half hours.
Right after the interview, police officers escorted the historian to his home and seized his laptop and mobile phone. If convicted, Dr Thum may be liable to up to 12 months’ jail and/or a fine of up to S$2,000.
Function 8 is the latest to express opposition to the action against the website and its founder. Earlier, a number of activists, political parties and organisations, like the International Press Institute, expressed concerns over the authorities’ actions.
In a statement published on Thursday (24 Sept), Function 8 said it considers the action brought on by the ELD a form of “harassment” against Dr Thum. Condemning the action, Function 8 asserted that Dr Thum should not have been called up to the police station nor have his electronic devices seized since he “has not committed any offence”.
Calling on the police to immediately cease its investigations and return Dr Thum’s personal devices, Function 8 asserted: “Dr P J Thum is not the first, nor will he be the last victim of the Prime Minister’s Office unless this abuse of the law committed by the very people who are entrusted to keep law and order is stopped.”
STOP HARASSMENT OF DR P J THUMFunction 8 condemns the harassment of Dr P J Thum, founder of independent media New…
New Naratif expressed similar views, that the action against it is tantamount to harassment, in a statement released in response to the police report.
Questioning the independence of the ELD, 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.”
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.”