Netizens have been asking whether the Workers’ Party (WP) will stand in solidarity with the socio-political website and its founder, as soon as it was announced that the authorities have lodged a police complaint against New Naratif late last week.
Last Friday (18 Sept), the Elections Department’s (ELD) revealed that it lodged a police report against New Naratif, for allegedly breaching 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 “amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under s83(2) of the PEA.”
The authority is arguing 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.
Several prominent individuals and organisations, including two political parties, came forward to express concerns over the action but all eyes were on what stance the WP would take, being the only elected opposition party in Parliament.
Amid the party’s silence a week after the ELD announced the police complaint, a non-profit arts group has asked whether WP chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh will condemn the action against the publication in Parliament.
Singapore Unbound (SU) – a literary arts organisation that runs events like the Singapore Literature Festival – has denounced what it calls the “People’s Action Party government’s harassment” of Dr Thum. In a statement penned by founder Jee Leong Koh, the group pointed out that the PEA is framed too broadly “that almost any kind of paid public comment could be construed to run foul of it”.
Asserting that the PEA law “leaves too much power in the hands of senior civil servants and elected officials to decide on what constitutes election advertising,” SU urged the PMO to withdraw the police report against New Naratif for the sake of all Singaporeans who deserve the right to information and the freedom of expression.
The statement said: “To function properly as a deliberative democracy, we need different perspectives and critical voices. To survive as a country, we need independence of thought and the courage of one’s convictions.
“By harassing and intimidating its critics, instead of debating them, the People’s Action Party is setting Singapore on a course of decline in order to maintain its grip on power.”
SU further said that the results of the July election are a clear signal that more Singaporeans are against such “bullying.” Claiming that the Govt made Mr Pritam LO after the watershed election to possibly “seduce the Opposition into a brand of respectability politics,” the group asked:
“Would the Leader of the Opposition condemn the harassment of PJ Thum and New Naratif in Parliament? We shall see.”
Urging all Singaporean writers, artists, and arts organizations to demand the Prime Minister’s Office to withdraw the police complaint on behalf of all Singaporeans, SU added:
“If every writer, artist, and arts organization takes the same stand, the government cannot remove all our funding, since that is tantamount to destroying the entire arts sector.”
Read the statement in full HERE.