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MARUAH expresses “Deep Concern” over action taken by the ELD against PJ Thum

“If restrictions continue in this way, people will still be driven to take risks in expressing themselves as there is just too little legitimate space given for expression,” said the human rights NGO

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MARUAH, a local human rights NGO, has taken issue with the statement issued by the Elections Department (ELD) of the Singapore Prime Minister’s Office alleging that New Naratif (NN) had breached the Parliamentary Elections Act during the course of the General Elections 2020, the actions taken by the Singapore Police Force, the takedown order given by Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to Facebook, and Facebook’s censorship of New Naratif through compliance on IMDA’s takedown order.

In a statement of their own, released on Monday (Oct 12), they questioned the intentions of the ELD and wrote: “MARUAH asks if a discussion with NN to seek clarifications from NN would not have sufficed? We wonder why ELD preferred to make a police report”.

In a press statement released on Friday (Sep 18), 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.

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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.

On Monday (Sept 21), Dr Thum uploaded a video of himself noting he was being questioned at the Clementi Police Station for the lodged police report.

Explaining that there was no need to seize Dr Thum’s belongings because New Naratif did not deny that the posts belonged to them, the NGO added: “we are troubled at the actions taken by the Singapore Police Force, in its response to the police report made on NN”.

“Besides an interrogation for more than four hours, there was also a confiscation of personal items such as the mobile phone and laptop and entering the home of Dr Thum Ping Tjin to remove his belongings for investigations. The evidence is entirely digital and available online, and New Naratif has not denied that the boosted posts in question belonged to them”, they added.

“We ask if investigations have to be carried out in this intimidating and intrusive manner without a thought for the individual’s civil rights” the human rights NGO questioned.

“ELD and the Ministry of Home Affairs demonstrate a high-handedness in handling the allegations”, the organization said in its statement.

Asking the ELD to clarify its regulations, it wrote: “MARUAH believes that the first step is to publicise the codes that can ascertain ‘prejudicial’ content in elections. It is also equally important to situate any assessment in an environment of multimedia technology, with many media organisations delivering news and a more critical and aware public”.

“If restrictions continue in this way, people will still be driven to take risks in expressing themselves as there is just too little legitimate space given for expression”, MARUAH wrote.

If convicted, Dr Thum may be liable to up to 12 months’ jail and/or a fine of up to S$2,000. /TISG

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