On 28 Feb last month, international news agency Al Jazeera did a story on Singapore politics.
In it, there was a video interview with renowned historian Dr PJ Thum (at 19:00), saying that he was privately informed by someone senior in National University of Singapore that he “would never be able to work in Singapore as an academic… again” after he began publishing and giving lectures about his research on late Lee Kuan Yew.
The research had been critical of Mr Lee for the use of detention without trial. Dr Thum, who had worked at the NUS’ Asia Research Institute from 2012 to 2014, said his research had “proved that (Mr Lee) had lied about his use of detention without trial from the 1960s onward”.
NUS told Straits Times on Wednesday (14 Mar) that it was “not aware” of any private exchange that allegedly took place between its former research fellow Dr Thum and a senior staff member.
The NUS spokesman declined to comment on the validity of the claims in the Al Jazeera report that Dr Thum had been penalised for his critical research on Mr Lee. She only disclosed that Dr Thum had “resigned” from the institute in October 2014.
The Chairman of NUS’ Asia Research Institute during the term where Dr Thum had been working there, is Prof Chong Chi Tat. Prof Chong was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Gold) in Singapore’s National Day Awards 2002.
Dr Thum: Major “fake news” from the govt
Dr Thum Ping Tjin is a Rhodes Scholar and an academic at the Oxford University.
Recently he submitted his own views to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, taking issue with the PAP government for spreading “fake news” themselves, especially for political gains.
Dr Thum said, “‘Fake news’ is not a problem in Singapore — with one major exception: the People’s Action Party government has, historically, spread ‘fake news’ for narrow party-political gain.”
He gave examples of the numerous detentions sanctioned by the PAP government under the Internal Security Act.
“Beginning with Operation Coldstore in 1963, (PAP) politicians have told Singaporeans that people were being detained without trial on national security grounds due to involvement with radical communist conspiracies to subvert the state,” he noted.
“Declassified documents have proven this to be a lie. Operation Coldstore was conducted for political purposes, and there was no evidence that the detainees of Operation Coldstore were involved in any conspiracy to subvert the government,” he added. Note that Dr Thum himself has done numerous research in Malaya history with the help of declassified British archive.
“On the contrary, then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew tacitly admitted to the British Commissioner in private meetings that the purpose of Operation Coldstore was political gain,” Dr Thum continued.
“None of the approximately 2,500 people detained under the various clauses of the Internal Security Act between 1963 and 1987 was ever put on trial for the charges they were detained under. The Internal Security Department has never produced any evidence that any of its detainees were involved in any illegal conspiracy. The numerous detainees who continue to try to clear their names have been met either with denials or silence.”
And commenting on Operation Spectrum sanctioned by the PAP government in 1987, Dr Thum noted that the PAP politicians have abused their power by using the ISA to detain political opponents and cripple opposing political movements. One of those “crippled” was Francis Seow from WP, who contested and nearly won Eunos GRC in the 80s.
Dr Thum concluded, “The official statements that these were national security detentions designed to stop communist conspiracies is ‘fake news’: a major falsehood, for major political gain, which has destroyed the lives of many honest Singaporeans. Yet no (PAP) politician has ever faced sanction for any of these falsehoods.”
Hence, Dr Thum feels that any solution to the problem of ‘Fake News’ must therefore start with the education of Singaporeans. He would like to see Singaporeans to be “more skeptical of all information, regardless of source”.
He also wants to see more diversification of responsible news sources in Singapore as well as greater transparency in government and accountability for those in official positions.