Friday, 22 September 2023

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In Which Benjamin Cheah Gets Overwhelmed By His Own Imagination

This writing first appeared at Lianainfilm’s website in response to an article posted on TOC website.

By Lynn Lee

I don’t like to draw attention to poorly written articles, but then this piece appeared in The Online Citizen today and it happens to be about me. On top of being very pompous and very cheong hei, it’s also riddled with mistakes, half-truths and made-up facts. And so, even though I’d rather spend my Saturday drinking tea and eating pork buns, here I am, writing a response to the most bizarre piece of journalism (?) I have ever come across.

Benjamin Cheah, for whatever reason, has decided that my little encounter with the Singapore Police is something he needs to talk about. Cheah has a right to his opinions. What’s dangerous though is the fact that his article is based on shoddy research and conjecture. He even gets wrong, simple facts that can be easily gleaned from my blog entry about the saga.

Clearly Cheah feels that my reaction to the investigation was unjustified. The problem is, he doesn’t bother to ask me directly for my opinion. He doesn’t even try to read my post properly.  Instead, Cheah does something completely inexplicable: he imagines what my thoughts or actions might be, and then he convinces himself that he is right, and then he builds an article around his fantasies.

1. Cheah writes: “The narrative around the incident was almost single-handedly constructed by one person: Lynn Lee. She live-tweeted events as they occurred, from the moment the police arrived at her doorstep, to her visit to the Police Cantonment Complex, until she returned home.”

Cheah makes it sound as if I was regaling the public with updates about the investigation for three straight days. I don’t have a Twitter account and was thus not able to tweet, let alone ‘live-tweet’. If anything got onto Twitter, it was because friends, who were texting and calling me during my second interview, decided to post updates. I didn’t even know this was happening until pretty late in the afternoon.

As stated in my blog post, I was interviewed at Police Headquarters in Irrawaddy Road, not the Police Cantonment Complex.

2. Cheah asserts: “Lee’s accusation of harassment is based on her subjective opinion, and bolstered by subjective public opinion. The police were acting according to established legal standards, and are primarily judged by those standards. Lee does not make this distinction.”

Am scratching my head trying to remember when, exactly, I accused the police of “harassment”. The word doesn’t even feature in my blog post or Facebook updates. Perhaps this happened while I was ‘live-tweeting’ from my imaginary Twitter account?

I blogged about the investigation. I raised a few questions in my post. I also made very clear – to a colleague who rang me during the second interview, to a Yahoo reporter and on Facebook – that the police did not mistreat me. What I did write in my blog post was that they were “over zealous”. Cheah interprets this to mean ‘harassment’. His word, not mine.

3. Cheah writes: “Having inserted herself into an ongoing case, Lee made herself both a witness and a suspect.”

Last I checked, the police said I was not being investigated. Did they tell Cheah something different? If so, he should include in his article, a direct quote from the relevant person stating that I have become a “suspect” in their investigation. If not, Cheah should stop pretending he knows what the police are thinking.

4. Cheah writes: “Lee is neither a lawyer nor a police officer. She has neither the authority nor the expertise to determine what material is relevant or not.

No, I am not a lawyer, but I do have a law degree from NUS and I did pass the Practical Law Course. I have a tiny bit more expertise than even Cheah himself. 

5. Cheah writes: “When four drivers incited an illegal strike, the public cheered them on. When they were arrested, the public booed the police—just because they enforced the law against a popular cause.”

Here, Cheah strays dangerously into fiction. Cheering and booing? By the public? Got meh?

6. Cheah writes: “In Dr George Thompson’s Verbal Judo, Lee would be called a Difficult Person. Difficult People are argumentative, pernickety, and always demand to know why. Thompson writes, “When Difficult People challenge your authority, it is usually pointless to explain why you’ve asked them to do something. They may not even care that you are authorised to make your request. They may not even care about the consequences of failing to obey.”

In Cheah’s imagination, my exchanges with the police were probably highly charged, emotional, full of wailing and gnashing of teeth. A bit of ‘Verbal Judo‘ might have helped things. The truth is far less exciting. Everyone was civil and polite. I asked questions. The police were unable to answer some of them. In between waiting for clarification during their second visit, some of the officers even played with my dogs. I called lawyer M Ravi, when I felt uncomfortable about handing over my laptop, phone and computer. The result? I was able to keep my electronic devices. Cheah might prefer to just obey. I prefer to safeguard my rights.

The police, as Cheah himself points out, are imperfect men and women doing their jobs. Their work is important and I have no doubt, a lot of it is difficult, delicate and even thankless. But Cheah does them a disservice if he assumes they expect complete, slavish compliance to their every whim and demand. They are human and therefore imperfect. I’m willing to bet my last dollar that even they know that. As citizens, we are not overstepping the line by asking that they explain their actions.

As readers, it is also not too much for us to ask that Cheah gets his facts right. The Online Citizen does no one any favours by allowing him space to run this long, overwrought, overly presumptuous article. The police have a job to do. Cheah thinks I hindered them by asking questions. The truth is, he does them a greater disservice by making things up.

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