The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) has decided not to prosecute the male Singaporean student who was responsible for releasing a fake announcement of the supposed death of Lee Kuan Yew.
On 18 March, the student posted a doctored screenshot of an earlier 2010 media statement by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). It stated: “Mr Lee Kuan Yew, age 91, passed away at Singapore General Hospital, Intensive Care Unit at 5.30 pm today.”
He was identified within 24 hours and assisted police in their investigations.
The police issued a statement on Tuesday, 7 April, after it had completed its investigations.
“In consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the Police have issued him with a stern warning in lieu of prosecution,” the statement said.
In a separate statement issued by the AGC, it was revealed that the student did not hack the PMO website and that he had no intention to mislead the public.
He had doctored the screenshot because “he was frustrated with the frequent rumours about the demise of Mr Lee. He wanted to demonstrate to his friends how easy it was for a hoax to be perpetuated,” said the statement.
He had shared it with his friends and informed them that it was a fake. However, the image was circulated widely on social media beyond his control.
The student did not hack into any website, which suggests that the AGC might not have been able to prosecute under Section 4(1) of the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act, Chapter 50A. Section 4(1) states:
“4.—(1) Any person who causes a computer to perform any function for the purpose of securing access to any program or data held in any computer with intent to commit an offence to which this section applies shall be guilty of an offence.”
Since there was no hacking involved, this law — widely touted as the one he had broken in the aftermath of the hoax — appears to have no relevance to the student’s actions. Penalties include a maximum jail sentence of 10 years.
Nevertheless, the AGC issued a stern warning to him, in the presence of his parents. It said that it made this decision after “careful consideration of all relevant factors” including his personal circumstances and readiness to accept responsibility.
The student is below 16 years old and would have been tried as a minor had the AGC chosen to prosecute.
The widespread circulation of the doctored screenshot had prompted the PMO to lodge a police report within hours. It is not clear whether they were aware that their website had not been hacked at the time they made the report.
CNN and CCTV had also picked up the news that Mr Lee had died and were criticised for not verifying the information using an official source, such as from the PMO website itself, and instead relying on an image that could easily have been photoshopped.