Editorial: Response to speech on TOC by Home Affairs and Law Minister

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In Parliament on Tuesday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam described The Online Citizen (TOC)’s investigation into the death of teenager, Benjamin Lim, as a “planned, orchestrated campaign using falsehoods”. (Link to Ministerial statement)

We would like to respond to some of the points highlighted by the Minister.

Confidentiality”

First, the Minister said Benjamin’s family wanted privacy. He said that out of respect for the family, his ministry had refrained from commenting on the case until now. They also wanted to protect the alleged victim.

TOC spoke to Benjamin's father, Mr Lim, after the parliamentary session today (1 March). This is what he told us:

"The confidentiality that I want is for our family, for our identity to be kept confidential to better protect my two school going children. Whether the media report on the case, we have no question except that we urge the reports must reflect the truth"

Police attired in shirts with the words "Police"

The Minister took particular issue with an article published by TOC on 5 February this year.

Titled “Student said plainclothes officers at school wore t-shirts with “police” at its back.”, the piece contradicted a police statement asserting that the officers who went to Benjamin’s school were in plain clothes.

The article was written after we spoke with a Ms Mary Anne Pereira. She had posted a comment on the Singapore Police Force (SPF)’s Facebook (FB) page.

We did not just take Ms Mary Anne Pereira’s post from the SPF FB page. We made the additional effort to reach out to Ms Pereira to verify what she said through messaging her on FB.

Ms Pereira told us that her son, who is attending Benjamin’s school, had seen men with the word “POLICE” on the back of their t-shirts on the day Benjamin was taken away. We reported what she told us, and made clear that the information was provided by a student at Benjamin’s school. We also said that Ms Pereira informed us she was aware that the school was affiliated to a community-based police subdivision, and that she wasn’t certain if some members of that subdivision might have been at the school at the time. (Link to article)

Prior to publishing the article, we reached out to the police, Mr Shanmugum, and other officials for comment. However, we did not receive any reply.

We are thus puzzled as to why Mr Shanmugum would label the article “dishonest”. We understand that Ms Pereira has since retracted her statement, but at the time of publication, there was no indication that she had made a mistake.

Until the Parliamentary session today, no official from either the Home Affairs or Law Ministry attempted to clarify the matter with TOC. Neither did the police or any government official instruct us to take down the article.

We would have run any updates, facts or clarifications the Home Affairs or Law Ministry would have provided us with.

Orchestrated Campaign” by TOC

The Minister said today that the overall narrative and impression conveyed by TOC’s articles are that:

  1. The police were lying;
  2. The police intimidated Benjamin
  3. The police put pressure on Benjamin to confess to a crime that he did not commit.

In all, TOC published a total of 25 articles related to Benjamin’s case and discussion on police procedures. Only four were written in-house. The rest were letters and opinion pieces contributed by members of the public. Benjamin’s story triggered a strong reaction among our readers. This is evident in the number of submissions we received following the first article.

TOC prides itself on being an open platform. We welcome contributions and have very little control over what the public choose to write about. In Benjamin’s case, questions were raised, and people wanted answers. Their reactions were spontaneous. It was hardly an “orchestrated campaign”.

Had the police, Home Affairs or Law Ministries, or anyone from the government written to TOC or responded to our requests for comment, we would have been happy to present their views too. Mr Shanmugum has chosen to characterise our efforts at reaching out as “tactics” to get the police to comment on Benjamin’s case. This is not correct. We believe in giving all sides a chance to speak. Soliciting answers to pressing questions isn’t a “tactic”. It is merely journalism.

Finally, we would like to point out that “inaccuracies” are not the same as “falsehoods”. Given the dearth of information available to us, it is natural that some of our reports were not fully accurate. It would have been clear from our articles that the story was still developing as we were yet to be in possession of the full facts, and we were doing our best to do so with the information we had. We are happy to correct any mistakes we might have made in our articles. However, the word ”falsehoods” implies a deliberate attempt to mislead. TOC rejects any such suggestion.

List of articles

Reports

14-year-old jumps to his death after unaccompanied police interrogation
What MSM reported wrongly about case involving the death of 14-year-old student
Student said plainclothes at school wore T-shirts with "Police" at its back
Benjamin Lim's case would have died down if not for social media, says family
Personal accounts highlight systematic issue with police procedure and practices
Questions about Benjamin Lim's case, Home Affairs Minister and SPF cannot answer
Ministers to talk and answer questions about 14-year-old death in parliament
Police to review procedures on police interview with minors
Review on system, not just about Benjamin's death, Law Society's president
MOE: Schools obligated to cooperate with police and not stand in the way of law
14-year-old's death spurs a mother to speak up on son's similar experience

Statements

CAN: Special safeguards needed for criminal cases involving minors
AWARE: Statement on the rights of minors in criminal investigations
SDP: Minister's silence on Benjamin Lim's suicide troubling

Commentaries and Letters

Where is the compassion?
Uneven playing field of Singapore politics and law, a cause for concern for every citizen
Militia-like-mentality renders any individual helpless feaful and forsaken in the eyes of the law
Experience with the police after being locked up at the station twice
Open letter from Benjamin's family to clarify what transpired on 26 January
Father with dementia forced to confess to an offence by police
Benjamin's death out of the mouth of ministers
COI needs to be held to determine level of accountability of police
13-year-old locked up in detention cell with other offenders for alleged molest
Re-examine the role of school counsellors in criminal investigation of students.
The police could show more compassion and finesse in dealing with teenagers