Public query of Dr Thum’s academic credentials, reeks of attempt by PAP govt to character assassinate his good reputation

In a statement on Friday (13 April), the Parliament noted that the Parliament Secretariat had written to Dr Thum Ping Tjin to seek his assistance in clarifying his academic credentials.

It noted that Dr Thum’s written representation had stated that he was, amongst other things, a Research Fellow in History at Oxford University.

The statement pointed that Dr Thum had informed the Selection Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods that, amongst other things, he held a “visiting professorship in anthropology”. He subsequently explained online that he was a “visiting research fellow in history within the dept of anthropology.”

The Parliament wrote, “In view of these varying accounts, clarifications have been sought to ensure that the Committee’s report correctly reflects Dr Thum’s positions, and to ensure that the Committee is accurately apprised.”

To put the matter into context, one has to note that it was Minister of Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam who first questioned Dr Thum’s background for record purposes. The video seen below is the part of the hearing where the Minister sought clarification from Dr Thum on his current position at Oxford University.

The Minister asked Dr Thum if he was still a Research Fellow in History and Coordinator of Project Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford had said, “As of last year, I actually switched to anthropology…”

Now, if you were to refer to Dr Thum’s submission, you will note that Dr Thum’s submission to the Select Committee was not as the position of “Research Fellow in History at Oxford University” but based on his experience as an academic and member of civil society, as well as his involvement in facilitating dialogue sessions on the issue of “fake news” and “deliberate online falsehoods” in Singapore over the past two months.

The hearing which is to determine the government’s course of action to address deliberate online falsehoods was not held to contest interpretations of historical events. This makes it very puzzling why the Parliament Secretariat has to make such a public statement to seek clarification from Dr Thum on his current position in Oxford.

Furthermore, Dr Thum had already noted in the hearing that he had a change of position to the Minister and the Select Committee could simply reflect that update of status in their report.

This move by the Parliament reeks of an attempt by the People’s Action Party government to character assassinate Dr Thum by using the media to spread seeds of suspicion on Dr Thum’s academic credibility.

Indeed, as if there is a concerted effort to undermine Dr Thum’s public standing, various social media groups that are notorious for being pro-People’s Action Party have sought to discredit him through their postings.

Following the hearing on 29 March, over 170 academics around the world have voiced their support for Dr Thum in an open letter, which voiced deep concern at the Select Committee’s treatment of him at the hearing and the wider implications for freedom of expression and academic freedom in Singapore.

The open letter wrote, “Dr Thum’s work has emerged from this process, following training at two of the world’s best universities, Oxford and Harvard. The minister who interrogated Dr Thum has not undergone any such training; he is not even qualified to undertake a peer review of Dr Thum’s research.”

In his submission, Dr Thum wrote: “fake news” has not, historically, had much of an impact in Singapore — with one major exception: the People’s Action Party government has, historically, spread “fake news” for narrow party-political gain. Given these problems, any solution to the problem of “fake news” must therefore start with the education of Singaporeans to be more skeptical of all information, regardless of source; the diversification of responsible news sources; and greater transparency in government and accountability for those in official positions.”

Referring to Operation Coldstore in his submission to the Select Committee– a subject which Dr Thum had dedicated much time and effort to research and sifting through recently declassified documents by the British government, Dr Thum wrote:

Beginning with Operation Coldstore in 1963, 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. 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. 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. None of the approximately 2,500 people detained under the various clauses of the Internal Security Act between 1963 and 1987 were 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.

It is clear that politicians have abused their power by using the ISA to detain political opponents and cripple opposing political movements. 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.

And as they say, “old habits die hard”